I attended a church growth seminar last year in which the speaker made a joke about trying to grow a church by reaching inactive members. I'm confident that on a practical level the speaker's joke is on the mark. Attempting to reconnect with inactive members and reestablish a meaningful relationship typically meets with less than desirable results. Nevertheless, Hebrews 13:17 haunts me. As the pastor of a church, I must give an account for every member of my congregation - from the faithfully active to the woefully inactive, and all those in between. The towering truth of Hebrews 13:17 overshadows the pragmatic dream of jettisoning efforts with inactive members.
Last year I became so burdened by this reality that I began praying through steps I could take to lead my congregation in the direction of meaningful membership. What would God have me do in my situation to help his people see the value of his church? First, I began preaching through Ephesians. This little book is all about meaningful membership in the church. Almost every week the text allows me to speak about God's glory in saving people and the effects of that salvation in the life of a believer. One of these effects is being vitally related to the people of God as a group (i.e., the church). I'm able to highlight words that say things such as, "What we are doing here as a group is important, because Christ died for the church (Eph. 5:25)."
The second step I took to lead toward meaningful membership involved challenging the leaders of our church. During one evening in a retreat setting, I constructed for the leaders the foundation of meaningful membership. What it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a member of a local church, the importance of church discipline and the pastor's accountability before God all of these are foundational truths on which a church with meaningful membership builds. Highlighting these truths for the leaders forced them to grapple with God's expectations for his church.
The following morning, after the leaders began to feel the weight of our responsibility to our members, they were eager to discuss practical ways to build a framework on this biblical foundation. Four things resulted from our discussion about the framework for meaningful membership. (1) Draft a functional covenant to be adopted by the church. The covenant outlines the ethics we intend to uphold as a congregation and will be agreed upon by every member. This will provide accountability among members as well as a basis for church discipline sometime in our future. (2) Institute a membership class prerequisite to membership. In this class we will discuss with prospective members our church's doctrinal position and covenant, along with ministries and responsibilities. (3) Develop and implement a strategy for checking on the spiritual well-being of the 1300 inactive members on our role. (4) Begin studying the topic of church discipline.
Being a member of our church is slowly becoming more meaningful. We have a long (but exciting) journey ahead and several obstacles yet to overcome, but by God's grace we are moving in the right direction.