If what I said in my previous is anything like accurate - and I think it probably is - it raises a number of fundamental questions about membership of our churches.
Here are a few I raised with my leadership team at recent get-together by the seaside.
Many people feel they ‘belong’ to our church but they don’t see any need to become ‘a member’ – and they might walk away if ‘membership’ in the formal sense were pressed.
At the same time, many long-standing ‘members’ feel that they no longer ‘belong’ in the way they once did because the church has changed in ways they aren’t sure they like they like since they joined it.
Then, more and more people are coming from traditions that practice Christian initiation in a way different from Baptists. After all, denominational loyalties appear to be decaying. So how do we help such to 'belong' and come into 'membership'?
Lots of churches are finding that many members are unable or unwilling to come to members’ meetings for a whole variety of reasons. If only 70 out of 400 come to a church meeting, what is the quality of the decision-making? How might members who can’t/don’t come be heard?
Many who ‘belong’ but haven’t become ‘members’ feel disenfranchised, even second class, because they are not allowed to come to members’ meetings. How do we involve newcomers in helping to create the kind of church that keeps them (having attracted them in the first place) and attracts others like them when it is only ‘members’ who can vote at church meetings?
And maybe the most pressing - though invariably unasked question - is this: what does financial giving do to a person's relationship with the church? If I give on a regular basis because I feel as though I belong but have not become a member, does that give me the right to a voice in how that money is used? Those who live in a consumer culture would suggest that it does. Those wedded to the traditional baptist view of membership might think the question to be in very poor taste indeed.
I wonder if John Drane might not be on to something when he suggests that we use the language of stakeholding to talk about involvement in church.
If we understand stakeholders to refer to ‘all those inside or outside an organization who are directly affected by what it does’, Drane asks ‘who are our stakeholders?’ And he offers this list – God, people who come to church, their friends and relatives, church members, Sunday school teachers, ministers, leaders, children and young people who come on Sunday or mid-week, people who come to mid-week activities (parent and toddler groups, social projects, lunch clubs, etc). It’s a big and diverse list.
And it brings a fresh set of intriguing questions: are all these people really stakeholders? If so, in what way? And, maybe most importantly, how do we hear their views and take them into account in our decisions about how we develop the life and work of the church?
Answers on a postcard please...