Membership: Basic Concepts
Membership Development requires fresh thinking and special attention to best practices. Many congregations have inherited or fallen into membership-related habits that are undermining other efforts. Here are some basic concepts in effective membership development:
1. Balanced and Energetic
Effective Membership Development is BALANCED and ENERGETIC. Balanced means a focus on three needs: retention, recruitment and transformation. None can exist without the other. Energetic means sustained and consistent effort, rather than the occasional grand gesture.
RETENTION of current members is the foundation for ongoing community and activity. Retention efforts aim at keeping members engaged in church life, at a level of involvement that is consistent with their needs and interests. As they say in business, “The easiest sale to make is to the customer you already have.” A “repeat customer” is a satisfied customer, that is, one who perceives their involvement as rewarding and worth continuing.
RECRUITMENT of new members compensates for normal loss of members due to transitions such as death and new jobs, provides fresh energy and ideas, keeps the congregation in touch with its larger community, and fulfills the Great Commission given by Jesus.
A healthy congregation is intentionally TRANSFORMING members' lives, by leading them deeper into faith, encouraging more ethical behavior, questioning their values and priorities, calling them away from normal self-serving and toward Godly self-sacrifice, and promoting open conversation about societal, cultural and political issues. In a sense, a transformed life is the "product" of church involvement.
A healthy congregation is proactive about SERVING its members, not passive in waiting for them to complain. Serving members doesn't necessarily mean pleasing them. Much of the Gospel is challenging, chastening and confusing. So is life. A healthy congregation will have tears, disagreements, resistance and “grinding of teeth.” But they will happen in response to the Gospel, not in response to the institution's weakness or orneriness.
Although some FUNDS are required for membership development, the heart of it is work done by persons in an organized program whose components are transparent to all.
RESISTANCE to growth must be addressed firmly and openly, not apologetically. Jesus formed open circles, not closed societies. When one person or group imposes its self-interest on the whole as an argument against growth or change, it compromises the church's future and violates God's trust. The pain caused by growth and change are addressed as a pastoral need, not as reason for standing still or erecting barriers.
TRANSPARENCY is critical. Members need to know what is being done and why, whether efforts are succeeding, and how the body is being affected. New members need to be introduced, for example. Membership statistics must be accurate and available to all.