“My church is the best!” “Please, join my church…”
Church members and leaders can sometimes speak and act in ways that sound desperate or even arrogant. We can sometimes give the impression that our church is better than all others, and we can sometimes make it sound like we can’t survive without adding a few more members next week. Neither of these is true, and we ought to resist the temptation to think or to speak or to act either arrogantly or desperately.
Many Evangelical churches in my area of East Texas are comprised of good people, church members who want to see people trust and love Jesus and who want to see their churches grow numerically. But, often, these same church members give little thought to the ways in which their practice of church membership actually works against the spread of the gospel and the spiritual growth of disciples.
When Christians are distinct from non-Christians, then people understand what it means to convert to Christianity. When Christians know the gospel well and articulate it clearly, then the gospel is more accessible and understandable. And when Christians live holy and humbly in meaningful relationship with one another, then Christians spiritually grow.
In an effort to take membership more seriously, and at the risk of saying really basic things about the responsibilities of church membership, let me offer four suggestions to those church members who want to do their part.
First, prioritize church meetings (maybe your church calls these business meetings or members’ meetings).
In a congregational church (which describes most of the churches near me), lots of decisions are made in those meetings, and lots of information is publicized. You’ll be a better informed and more knowledgeable member if you attend these meetings regularly.
The most important decisions made by a church are about membership (who’s in and who’s out) and members’ meetings are usually the time and place to make those decisions. This is one of the basic functions of church membership in a congregational church, and these decisions exercise Christian muscles we need to strengthen in order to grow as Christians.
Make it a priority to be present at church meetings, and pay special attention to the discussion and votes concerning membership.
Second, listen to peoples’ conversion stories.
There aren’t many things I enjoy quite as much as I enjoy hearing someone tell me how they began following Jesus. I love every aspect of a good conversion story. I love to hear the humility of a broken and contrite heart. I love to hear gratitude for others who took the time to plant and water gospel-seed. I love to hear the joy of freedom in Christ, and I love to hear about God’s ongoing transformative work.
Do you want to know how I’m able to hear so many conversion stories? I ask! I say something like, “So, tell me how you first came to believe the gospel and follow Jesus…”
Don’t just ask if someone is a Christian… Ask them to tell you about how they were converted. And then listen! Listen for sorrow and grief over sin. Listen for gratitude and gospel investments. Listen for joy in Christ above all else, and listen for continued life-transformation as they’ve followed Christ ongoingly.
Let’s never get tired of hearing conversion stories, and let’s never grow weary of telling our own.
Third, expect slow growth.
Taking church membership seriously means (among other things) taking members in slowly. There’s no rush, and we’re more interested in getting to know and love a new person than we are in just making them a statistic.
If you are a church member, you should expect your elders or pastors to take time in getting to know those who want to join your church, and you should expect to make an effort yourself. This kind of intentional effort inevitably leads to slower growth of membership numbers, but churches who take membership seriously will often grow more steadily.
Take time to genuinely get to know and love others, and wait to see how God might slowly and steadily grow your church.
Fourth, love the church family God gives you.
At the end of the day, we all have to decide to be part of a church family, but God is the one who ultimately brings us together. God has put us right where He wants us, and He has done so for our good and for His glory.
We should treasure the fact that there are other Christians in the world who have decided to take responsibility for the care of our souls. Your fellow church members, and those church members God will add in the future, are God’s gifts to you. And God intends you to be a loving gift to them as well.
Look for ways you can show love for your fellow church members by serving them and helping them follow Jesus.
These four suggestions aren’t going to make your church grow fast, and they aren’t going to win any awards for creativity or innovation. But applying these four suggestions will indeed make you a better church member, they will help your church to be healthier, and they will probably make you more content with God’s provision… rather than stressed about how in the world you can get more people to “please, join my church!”
Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.