How Should We Think About Membership?


What does it mean to be a “member in good standing” in your congregation? This question has become increasingly difficult to answer. Back in the day, we used ugly code words to categorize church members like “Faithful Attender”, or “Sunday Only”, and reserved the lowest category for the unpredictable attender that we might even call a “Backslider”. These terms may make us cringe for many reasons, but they made sense to churches who valued membership, attendance, and giving above all else. For generations, we accepted the membership model as the way we defined congregational belonging.

If this way of thinking about congregational engagement represents the way you continue to view the value of the people of your church, you may need to adjust. Quickly. The latest Unstuck Church report notes that one in five churches surveyed has discontinued membership commitment as a connection point to their church. That number is likely to grow as Millenials and GenZ reject group membership as a meaningful way to form a community. 

Churches aren’t the only organizations that are suffering from this generational behavior change. Rotary clubs, political parties, even bowling leagues are experiencing similar steep declines in membership. We addressed this question in the Post-Quarantine Church Forums sponsored by Heritage21 and the Christian Chronicle. In our final session last August, Dr. David Wray, a church elder and a team member of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University said that discipleship, not membership, is the key to church strength. While this has always been true, churches of all kinds have been able to passively exist through membership programs for decades. Those days are over.

As you lead your congregation into this new year, I hope you will consider what it means to be a “member in good standing”. Place less emphasis on programs designed to bolster membership and prioritize the mission given to us by our Lord to make disciples instead. Not only is this the right way, the data is telling us that our friends and neighbors and the coming generations are seeking a new way to belong.

Heritage21 is committed to assisting churches like yours that are coping with dramatic changes such as these. Let us assist you by connecting you to our growing network of thoughtful and expert leaders who seek to advance the Kingdom of God. May 2022 usher in a revival among the people of God and be a positive turning point in your ministry.

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