3 Practices to Build Community in your Membership Class

I'm always amazed when I hear of churches whose membership process consists of little more than one or two classes. I've heard one large church pastor say, "Why make it hard to become a member? Why make people sit through a bunch of classes?" I don't agree with that approach. Not that we need people to sit through a bunch of classes.  But I think we lose something really important when we rush people through into membership.

Photo by barry.pousman (Creative Commons)Photo by barry.pousman (Creative Commons)And that's because membership has nothing to do with being a "member" of an organization in the modern sense of the word. Rather, it has to do with being a body part (that's what a "member" is, after all) in the body of Christ.

Why bother with membership?

A friend of mine asked me several years ago what the point of becoming a member was. It just seemed so "institutional," he said. That question made me really think hard about why we ask people to become members of our churches. What I discovered was that it has nothing to do with belonging to an organization. Instead, it has to do with belonging to a community.

So, when I developed a membership class for Northminster Presbyterian Church in San Diego where I serve as pastor, I made sure to include three key practices that help build community. And it works. At least, it has worked for us every time we lead people through our membership class.

3 Practices

So, how do you build community among the participants of a membership class? Here are three key practices that we use:

1. Don't rush your membership class. We do it over the course of 8 weeks. Some people think that's too long. I think it's just long enough to allow the time it takes for people to get to know each other and feel like they belong to one another.

2. Spend time dwelling in Scripture each time you meet. Here's how this works for us. We begin each meeting by reading Romans 12. Someone different reads it each week. Then we take about 30 seconds of silence to look over the passage and reflect on what part of the passage got our attention. The we spend about 10-15 minutes sharing how the passage connected with us that morning. And, yes, we do that same passage every week. It's amazing how God opens up the Scripture in new ways each time.

3. Tell each other your stories. The first thing we do in our membership class--before there is any teaching on Jesus, Christianity, membership, or our denomination--is share our stories with one another. After our first meeting, I tell them this is the only week they will have homework. Their job is to write out their story on one page. I ask them to share about key moments in their lives, how they first became Christians, and what their relationship with God is like right now. After each person reads their story, the rest of the group responds with statements of positive affirmation ("I relate to that"; "That reminds me of...") and questions of clarification ("Could you say more about...?"). This experience is such a blessing every time we do it.

It's truly amazing to me how well these three practices work. I don't even have to try to build community. A sense of community, friendship, and belonging are the natural outcome of these three practices.

How does your church do membership classes? What other kinds of practices have you experienced that help build strong community?

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