Today, most people associate the term membership with paying dues, meaningless rituals, silly rules, secret handshakes, and having your name on some dusty roll. The New Testament, however, has a very different image of membership. It’s not some cold induction into an institution, but rather becoming a vital organ of the living Body of Christ expressed through the local church (Rom.12:4-5; I Cor.6:15; 12:12-27).
This is the image of membership that we observe at PCC. In our membership class we deliberately position our church as a family, rather than an institution. Just as every family has family members, every church should be like an extended family. For us, church membership means family membership where people are accepted, cared for, and loved, not legal membership as a legislative branch of the non-profit organization.
Everywhere you look there are signs that people hunger for fellowship, community, and a sense of family. This “longing for belonging provides our church with a timely opportunity. Positioning PCC as an extended family, as “a place where you are cared for,” always strikes a sensitive chord in many lonely hearts.
A number of studies show that the WAY a person joins an organization greatly influences HOW they function in that organization after joining. This is true of joining a church as well. The manner in which people join
will determine the level of their commitment for years to come. Pace Community Church
The most important class in a church is the membership class because it sets the tone and expectation level for everything else that follows. The very best time to elicit strong commitment from church members is at the moment they join. If little or nothing is required to join, very little can be expected from them later on.
Just as a weak membership class will build a weak congregation, a strong membership class will build a strong congregation. Notice that a strong class does not have to be a long class. PCC’s membership class is about 3 ½ hours long and is taught in one day, yet it has always produced a high level of commitment in our membership because those who take the class find out exactly what is expected of them as members. The strength of a membership class is determined by its content and call for commitment, not its length.
For a number of reasons, the senior pastor should teach this class, or at least a portion of it. The opportunity to see the pastor’s vision for the church, to feel his love for the members, and hear his personal commitment to care, feed, and lead them is very important to new members.
Some churches’ membership class covers the wrong material. The content is based on spiritual growth or basic doctrine. These subjects are vitally important, but they are more appropriately covered in a new believers’ class or Christian doctrine class, both essential classes that should be separate from the membership class. For that reason, our membership class answers the following questions for newcomers:
What is the church? (Is it a family, fraternity, business, institution, or what?)
What are the purposes of the church?
What are the benefits of being a member?
What are the responsibilities of membership?
What is the vision or mission of this church?
How is the church organized?
How can I get involved?
Completion of a membership class is required for those wanting to deepen their involvement in the PCC family. People who are uninterested or unwilling to learn what our church stands for are failing to demonstrate the kind of commitment that membership implies. If they don’t even care enough to understand the responsibilities of membership, they will not fulfill these responsibilities after they join and should not be allowed to join. There are plenty of other churches they could join that offer meaningless membership.
After successfully completing our membership class, all new members are asked to sign our membership covenant. At PCC, we expect of our members only what the Bible clearly expects of all believers. We summarize theses expectations in our membership covenant.
Why do churches have so many people on their membership rolls who give little or no evidence of Christian commitment or even conversion? Why do churches find it difficult to motivate members to give, serve, pray, and share their faith? The answer is that the members were allowed to join with no expectations placed on them. You get what you ask for.
Some people may worry, “Aren’t you afraid that people will leave PCC when they are challenged with a membership covenant?” You’re right, people will leave. Some have. But people are going to leave our church no matter what we do. I’m not afraid of that. People walked away from Jesus. By adopting a membership covenant, we are getting to choose the kind of people that stay.