These conversations are helping to clarify my thinking - and at the same time raise even more questions (ah well, who said anything to do with church was simple?).
Into the belonging/membership/baptism matrix related questions to do with decision-making and legitimacy, the allocation of resources and the future shape of the church come creeping with all their potential to derail neat ideas.
BillyB -not the first member of my church to add his voice to this (but an astute observer all the same) - asks who has the hang up here - members, leaders or newcomers? The answer, I guess, is all three in different ways (though I'm not sure it's a hang up; I think it's a set of questions worth asking).
As a leader, the question for me arises in two specific areas. The first has to do with how we make decisions as a church. If most decisions rest with the church meeting which is attended by at best 20% of the membership, itself about 60% of the active and giving attenders of the church, what is the status of any of the decisions it makes?
How do we do congregational government in a way that takes account of the pressures on mortgage-paying, commuting, family raising Bromley people? I know that many will not be able to be able to make Wednesday evening gatherings - hence the Sunday meeting (but that only attracted a third of members).
So, I'd love to know how we can make use of new technology to have conversations between people who can't make a meeting in real space but can participate in cyberspace. Ideas on a post card or comment here, please.
The second reason it matters to me is that I've had conversations with non-members about joining where I've not been able to justify the intrusive interviewing method and reporting blind to a church meeting before we vote someone in. As one suggested to me, 'they get the right to see whether I measure up but I don't get to assess them in that personal way.' Others are reluctant to expose their life choices to the scrutiny of strangers for perfectly understandable reasons.
I think these are important questions to be asking and answering. It's not about replacing one tired and threadbare system of church organisation with one more attuned to our era that in turn will itself wear out. It's about asking what shape the church should be if it lives by the values of the gospel: how do we create community in a way that enables everyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus to feel welcome and at home, able to to get the resources they need to sustain their Christian discipleship in an increasingly complex environment?
The thought of getting an answer to these questions makes the conversation exciting and worthwhile.