[Editor's Note: This article by Matt Capps was originally posted at MinistryGrid.com, a dynamic online platform for training all the members of your church. Also, if you are in need of a resource to aid in your membership classes, Thom Rainer's book I Am a Church Member is available for just $5 each when purchased in bulk at LifeWay.com.]
Joining a local church is an important decision. As pastors and leaders we need to not only help people understand that, but we also need to properly shepherd them through the process of uniting with a local church body. However, according to LifeWay research 64% of churches either have nothing to assimilate new members, or no systemic plan to move people towards membership. This is where a church membership class can be beneficial.
Membership Classes Help Guard the Purity of the Church
In our culture the statement “I am a Christian” can mean ten thousand things, therefore it is important to make sure as humanly possible that everyone desiring membership in your church understands and believes the gospel. It is not uncommon to hold a membership class and find that some have never heard the gospel clearly articulated – even people that grew up in church. For this reason it is beneficial to hear someone’s testimony along with their understanding of the gospel before they join your church. A membership class provides a church the opportunity to explain the gospel for the benefit of the attendants evangelization or edification.
Membership Classes Help People Understand the Church
Membership classes help everyone in the church enter “on the same page.” I believe that a prospective member should know what the church believes on essential and non-essential doctrines, how a church works, and how it makes decisions. Therefore, communicating the church vision, core values, and explaining its ministry philosophy can be an important aspect of helping someone make the decision to join the church. By implication, teaching these things can also help people learn what they can expect from the church leaders, processes, and its ministries.
Membership Classes Help People Plug In to Serve the Church
Membership classes are also an effective environment to plug people into serving the local church. When someone first joins a church it can be difficult to figure out where to get involved. Too many churches just assume that a new member will automatically want to get involved in ministry and will know how to do so. In a membership class people should learn that the church expects them to get involved, and learn of entry level opportunities for service.
Membership Classes Help Guard the Unity of the Church
Most churches emphasize membership expectations in their membership class. Not only can churches raise the bar of membership by holding a class, but also by talking about what would happen if church members did not live up to membership covenant and expectations. Being clear in the membership class as to what the church expects goes a long way in setting the church member relationship on the right path. It is important to note that the membership class can serve to preempt potential church discipline issues.
Membership Classes Help People Assimilate Into the Church
The membership class is an opportunity to encourage prospective members to get to know other potential members of the church as well as leaders in the church. Obviously, the primary purposes of a membership class are church orientation and teaching doctrine. However, relational orientation to the churches leaders and other potential members should not be overlooked. The significance of connecting with others in the class can pay dividends for a long time to come.
Perhaps you are involved in or are a leader a church that doesn’t currently offer a membership class. The good news, according to Chuck Lawless in his book Membership Matters, is that most church leaders face little opposition when starting a required or encouraged membership class. It has also been noted by Thom Rainer, in his book High Expectations, that churches who require or encourage membership classes have a much higher retention rates than churches that do not.
The writers of the New Testament always assumed that the local churches to whom they were writing had a clear understanding of who was a member of the church and who was not (1 Corinthians 5:2; Colossians 4:5; Galatians 6:10). Church membership classes are one of the most effective ways to examine, assimilate, and clearly demarcate new members into a church family.