Several years ago, I completed a study and wrote a book about church membership classes. Since that time, I’ve continued to watch and listen as more and more churches develop a membership class. Here are several of the findings of that ongoing research:
- Some folks will disagree with having a membership class. Arguments vary from “There aren’t membership classes in the Bible” to “That’ll lower our number of new members,” but it’s likely somebody will question the necessity of this class.
- Well-designed membership classes are worth the effort. I’ve talked with leaders who regretted some aspect of their class (poor leadership, bad scheduling, too long or too short, etc.), but I’ve not heard a leader say, “We simply should have never had a class.” Many leaders have said, “We should have done it sooner.”
- Some other activity may need to be shelved to make room for this class. Because this class is important, it deserves priority of staffing and scheduling. Even if the church schedule is clear, involved staff may need to say “no” to something else to participate.
- Personally recruiting for the class is not a bad idea. Some attendees will come because they are ready to make a commitment to the church. Other attendees who are, in Josh Harris’ terms “dating the church,” may not take that step. Some of the same folks, though, will attend if they receive a personal invite from a church leader.
- The pastor/primary preacher needs to be involved. Class attendees have told us repeatedly, “We appreciated the time with our pastor.” In many cases, a membership class provides attenders the most intimate time they will have with their pastor. After that time, they will hear him differently in the pulpit.
- Relationships developed are significant. Think about it – several attendees who are considering the same membership decision (or who have made the decision already) come together during a similar part of their spiritual journey. Even a few hours together can help them develop lasting bonds.
- The class must include a clear presentation of the gospel. Don’t assume all potential “new members” are believers. Not only does a presentation make sure that all attendees have a chance to respond to the gospel, but it also helps them know how to present the good news.
- Assuming rather than teaching doctrine in the class is risky. We’ve seen classes that focus well on the church’s story and vision. They encourage involvement, stress giving, and talk about accountability, but give little attention to the church’s doctrine. That omission may well lead to problems later.
- Attendees should leave the class understanding both privileges and responsibilities of church membership. They should want to be a part of God’s local Body while also understanding that membership requires something. A lack of balance here can result in a distorted understanding of the church.
- Follow up is imperative. If the membership class exposes folks to ministry opportunities but no one helps them get connected, the class loses some of its punch. Likewise, someone must follow up after the class to enlist members for small groups, prayer teams, etc. (in fact, it’s best to do as much as possible during the class itself).
What other findings about membership classes have you discovered?
This piece was first published at Church Answers
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.