In my post last Saturday, I presented the new findings by LifeWay Research on new member classes. The report was mixed. On the one hand, there does appear to be an increase in the number of churches offering the classes. On the other hand, most churches still do not offer or require new member classes. Only 14% of churches required them; another 21% encouraged new members to attend but did not require them to do so.
The Clear Demographics
One facet of the research was extremely clear. The churches least likely to offer the classes fit one or both of two categories. They were smaller churches and their pastors were older. Both make sense. Smaller churches tend to have leaders who perceive they lack the resources for such a class. And older pastors have led churches many years without new member classes; they thus see little need to make the change.
I am attempting to persuade church leaders differently.
The Reasons for the Advocacy
There is good anecdotal evidence and older research evidence to indicate new member classes are good for the health of congregations. They tend to "raise the bar" of church membership. Members in these churches are more likely to take membership seriously, to be involved in ministries, and to be better financial givers to the church.
A good new member class will not only provide information about what the church believes and how it functions, it will also provide clear expectations of the members. But still, only a relatively few churches have moved in this direction. What are the common objections and what are the responses to the objections?
Five Common Objections/Five Responses
One or more of these five themes are common in many churches that do not offer new member classes. As an advocate of the classes, I offer my responses.
1.We don't have the time or the resources. Some leaders in smaller churches offer this reason. But materials for these classes are abundant and relatively inexpensive. Smaller churches may do fine just to offer the class three or four times a year, certainly not too much time for any church.
2.Salvation is a free gift; we therefore should not expect works for church membership. There seems in this reason to be confusion between soteriology and ecclesiology. The Scriptures certainly make clear that salvation is not attained by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But the Bible is equally clear that we are to be functioning members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-30).
3.We've never done it that way before. It is true that tens of thousands of churches have not ever had any type of entry point class in their history. It is also true that most churches have struggling assimilation rates. I believe there is a connection between these two realities.
4.We won't get as many new members if we make them go through a new member class. I have yet to see any evidence of this objection. I can say with a high level of confidence that, without a new member class, you are more likely to lose those members you added.
5.We will have to do away with our public invitation/altar call if we have a new member class. Many churches today indeed do have public invitations at the conclusion of their worship services. New members are often presented after they respond to this invitation. A simple solution adopted by a number of churches is to continue the invitation, but present those who came forward as candidates for membership. They are then granted membership after they complete the new member class.
What Is Your Church Doing?
As I noted in the previous post, entry point classes go by a number of different names; I have chosen "new member class" for simplicity. I really would love to hear what your church is doing in this regard. Do you have new member classes? Are they required for membership? How often do you offer them? How long have you been offering them? What do you cover in them? Do you differ with my reasoning for new member classes?
I would love to hear from you if you could take time to answer one or more of my questions. And I would welcome hearing from any of you who may not agree with some of the statements I have made in my last two Saturday posts on new member classes.