One of the comments being made about our last family gathering is that there were very few non-members there - a handful at best. A couple of people have suggested that non-members probably wouldn't come unless they were given a personal invite - and there might be some truth in this, though I invited a couple of couples and neither of them came!
I wonder whether there is a residual feeling among those not in formal membership that it's not their place to participate in members' meetings. This suggests that perhaps there is something about our way of doing things that is distinctively baptist and that if you aren't a baptist, you don't feel safe or welcome coming to a members' meeting; and if you are a baptist from another church, you know not to come until you are a member.
There's been lots of intelligent stuff on the other baptist blogs - namely stuart's and Brodie's - that's been teasing out whether there is anything left of a distinctive baptist identity. Douglas McBain used to talk of many of the new churches being baptistic - in that they were largely independent, practiced believers' baptism and were low on liturgy.
One thing, of course, they were weaker on was any notion of congregationalism. And perhaps that is at the core of whatever we mean by baptist identity. I was intrigued top read Bishop Tom Wright's withering attack on a group of evangelicals in the church of England who have recently issued a covenant (the details of which are too complicated to go into!). Suffice to say that a key plank of Tom's attack is that the covenant is congregationalist which is not an Anglican value!
Sean Winter has written about this in his reflection on Baptist/Anglican conversations that have taken place over recent years. He argues that baptism is not the key divider between our traditions but the baptist insistence on congregational government and opposition to episcopacy (you'll have to check out Sean's beautifully nuanced argument on his blog and in his article on ambiguous genitives in Romans).
I wonder whether a key distinctive of our way of being church is that we seek to move forward together, having discerned the mind of Christ as a community (along the lines outlined in 1 Cor 2). This, of course, is why there always seems to be a tension in baptist churches around the roles of leaders and possibly why some baptists - whose sympathies lie more with the new churches - struggle with the church meeting.
I have a more practical struggle with the church meeting and that's attendance, representation and finding a model that works. Undoubtedly, our lunchtime gathering worked. We'll do it again. But it was still less than 50% of the membership. How do we hear the voices of those who are members but who do not come to church meetings? Have they excluded themselves from decision-making by not attending? But if we take that attitude, how will we persuade them to come on board with the direction the church has discerned from there Lord as it gathered?
Some of our younger families have expressed the view that we have too many church meetings, that leaders have been elected to lead and that only big decisions (not clearly defined) need to come to the church meeting. Maybe this has something going for it.
I also wonder how we might use the website for conversations about what the church is doing and where it's going. Maybe there's a place for virtual conversations in getting ideas aired and viewpoints expressed ahead of the church coming together to decide something. Perhaps ideas expressed online could be fed into the discussion when we gather.
We are certainly using our mid-week programme between now and Easter to talk about this whole issue of belonging, membership and baptism (I'll blog about that sometime soon) and those conversations will be recorded in some way so that wisdom expressed there is not lost to the wider discussions.