When I was in high school, all I needed to begin a dating relationship was to know a girl liked me. I didn’t consider other important factors, such as the girl’s character or relationship history. As a result, these relationships always ended badly.
Church membership is often treated this way. Many issues in our churches occur because we are often not clear with those seeking membership about what we believe and what we expect from them. Why? Because sometimes—like I was in high school—we’re just happy someone likes us. As a result, these relationships can often end badly.
That is why your membership process matters. At our church, we use a membership class to ensure people understand our expectations, what we believe, and how we operate. Here are a few best practices to consider if you are thinking about implementing a membership class or want to improve your existing membership process:
Be doctrinally firm
Doctrine is critical to maintaining unity in the church. Some doctrines are first-tier issues; others are second- or third-tier. A membership class is a great venue to be very frank about how your church views doctrine. Helping prospective members understand clearly what church leadership believes could save you much unnecessary heartache in the future.
Invite current members to the class
We ask our members to be table leaders in our membership classes. Table leaders interview incoming members, try to answer their questions, and ask them to dinner at their house. Church leaders and elders often conduct further interviews with prospective members when needed. Once the interview process is over, the table leaders present the prospective members to the congregation, share their testimonies, and recommend them for membership. We vote, we celebrate, and we welcome.
Careful in, beautiful out
One of our deacons leads an exit care ministry. His job is to follow up with members who are moving to other churches. We love these people and often cry as our deacon reads letters at our member meetings from these departing brothers or sisters telling us of the church they are moving on to and how they still love our church. These departures are both beautiful and hard. We always say, “If leaving wasn’t hard, then it wasn’t good.” This healthy attitude starts at our membership class.
Following these practices creates a huge win for our church. Not only are we helping prospective members clearly understand where our church stands on important doctrinal issues, but our current members get a refresher course on what it means to be a church member and take ownership in that process. At the same time, relationships are formed between existing members and new members.
We typically have at least one prospective member decide to not join the church each time we have a class. Some want to wait and pray before joining; others move on to other churches that agree with them on issues that are personally important to them.
I praise the Lord for all of this. I am glad for these people. I am grateful that the unity in our church has been protected, and I am thankful that our current members get to see—and participate—in this important process.