It's good to know there's lots of people out there thinking about this issue. I've found all the contributions really helpful.
It was cafe church on Sunday and we did a very simple meditative evening on location, location, location. Taking Romans 6 as our spring board, we thought about our life of faith in terms of location and journey. We ended by signing a covenant, committing ourselves to being family to one another, helping each other walk in newness of life (the words came from Gathering for Worship). Of course, we didn't link signing the covenant with joining the church!
The interesting thing for me was the reaction of most of the worshippers - a mature crowd as most of our young adults were away at the wedding of one of their own. Many said it was the best cafe church we'd ever had. some talked of the profound way it helped them to think about their journey. One person said it took them back to their baptism and made them think about what it had meant then (a long time ago) and what it means now.
I think through the course of this conversation - both through this blog and with my team and others in church - I have become much more aware of how important baptism as a theological tool was to Paul as he explained the life of faith to his converts around the Eastern end of the empire.
Unpacking Romans 6 on Sunday evening, we looked at baptism as emigration - moving from one location (the land of sin and death) to another (the land of grace and resurrection). We looked at Jesus as the means of that emigration - the one able to pay the fare, get the exit visa, manage the crossing. We reflected on Paul's likening of baptism to the exodus (cf 1 Cor 10:2) and hence of the baptised being God's new pilgrim people, walking the journey of freedom from slavery to the promised land - in our case the redeemed world (Romans 4:13, 8:17).
All this being true, the obvious response was that we committed ourselves to journey together, watching over one another in love. I have been struck time and time again as I have read Paul over the past few weeks how close the link is between personal response in baptism and the group life of the followers of Jesus. There is no personal response to Jesus without equally personal commitment to his followers.
So, I left Sunday evening thinking that we must forge a closer link between baptism, discipleship and our life together and that the most obvious way of doing this was to link 'membership' to some kind of commitment to walk together as disciples.
For me this offers the opportunity to empty membership of all the stuff that associates it with status, being an insider over against outsiders, being more important to the church than attending non-members, while at the same time filling membership with helpful connotations of covenant commitment to God and one another, of active participation in the life of the church so that we are built up and help to build up others.
The only hurdle left is: how do you introduce such thinking into a pretty traditional baptist church that has at best an ambivalent attitude to embracing change?