Friday, September 22, 2006

New Members: Beyond Hoop Jumping

At almost the last minute, we cancelled our scheduled new member class. This was not because there is no one out there who is interested in joining our church. We have a healthy list of folks who have indicated, one way or another, that they are, in fact, interested in just that very thing. What they are not interested in, (or at least unable to commit to), is two consecutive Sunday afternoons of New Member Class followed by a Sunday morning breakfast meeting with our Session to be officially received. Yes, child care was available for all three events.

So the chair of our Evangelism Committee and I started looking at the church calendar to see when we could reschedule. But after a minute, we realized we were having another conversation. Why "reschedule" something that doesn't seem to be working? I've only been here six months, but apparently it's been hard getting new member classes filled for a few years now. It's always the same issue: a nice list of folks who have indicated an interest, but can't fit our "hoops" into their busy lives. And each new member is assigned a sponsor to stand with them as they make their membership promises and to help integrate them into the life of the church--but this "sponsorship" in most cases seems to be one of those ideas that works well in theory, but not so much in real life.

When I think of most new member classes I've been part of, it often seems, in retropect, that they were hoops for the sake of hoops, so to speak. "We can't just take everyone who walks in the door and says they love Jesus! We have to have requirements! We have to give them information! We have make sure all those former Baptists/Catholics/Mormons/Non-denominationalists know what it meanst to be Presbyterian!" But mostly the classes seemed like something all of us were enduring rather than enjoying.

So, I'm looking for new ideas. What do you do? How do you receive new members into your church? Do you feel that what you are doing is life-giving and helpful? What moved you beyond hoops for the sake of hoops?

13 comments:

cheesehead said...

I'm going to be peeking in to see what the wisdom is on this, because I'm stumped.

This is the current process at St Stoic: A person indicates they are interested in joining. I go to their house, have a little meet and greet, get the church history on them, answer their questions about our little church. They come to the next regularly scheduled Session meeting to be "examined" by the elders. (Most of the elders sit there like bumps on a pickle, while I try to prompt some conversation.) We vote, and they pull out their calendars to pick a Sunday for us to receive them formally.

That's it. It's not very satisfying to me. I'd love something better.

Quotidian Grace said...

We used to be much better with new members than we are now. I had 4 session classes for visitors and new members--you didn't have to attend in order to join but most people did. The classes were during the Sunday School period.

But we no longer have the steady stream of new members we had a few years ago, so I had to cancel them because classes of one or two aren't very appealing to most people.

Now our process is much like Cheesehead's, except we have a called meeting between services as soon as possible once someone has indicated interest in joining the church. This makes me profoundly sad. I usually taught the new member classes and really enjoyed them.

ppolarbear said...

my sister's church offers "Presbytoobian 101 and First Presbytoobian 201" as Sunday School classes---not new member classes, but covers all the stuff about Presbyterianism you ever wanted to know but didn't ask. 6 weeks. Most folks interested in joining take it. Some who have belonged for a long time take it. Kids that want to be confirmed take it. Seems to work.

Then they have 2 elders and a pastor come out to the house to chat with folks that are interested in joining. (Two elders at one time, and pastor at another). The elders then present potential members to the session. The new member committee of session is one of the committees--these folks do the visits and also coteach the Presbyterian 101 class.

ppolarbear said...

my sister's church offers "Presbytoobian 101 and First Presbytoobian 201" as Sunday School classes---not new member classes, but covers all the stuff about Presbyterianism you ever wanted to know but didn't ask. 6 weeks. Most folks interested in joining take it. Some who have belonged for a long time take it. Kids that want to be confirmed take it. Seems to work.

Then they have 2 elders and a pastor come out to the house to chat with folks that are interested in joining. (Two elders at one time, and pastor at another). The elders then present potential members to the session. The new member committee of session is one of the committees--these folks do the visits and also coteach the Presbyterian 101 class.

revabi said...

Have the mentors meet with them for a meal and go over it with them.
We have the same problem and with other classes it seems.

Anonymous said...

Ditto here. After being installed the Session, acutally one woman on the Session, pushed me to offer a New Member's class even though my "gut" was telling me to offer a Basic Christianity. I also had one person show up -- she had been a member of the church for three years and was there basically to offer her support for the new pastor.

We are now offering a Basic Christianity course -- I am not teaching, but an Elder is and it is advertised for those who need a refresher course and those interested in uniting with the church. It starts Sunday we shall see how many come.

I wonder if there really isn't a need for on-going education in a variety of avenues for not only what it means to be a Christian, but specifically a Christian who has chosen to affiliate with a Presbyerian (Reformed) congregation. I have begun to do some of this in small groups, in Session, in church school classes and in sermons. I have noticed that usually each Sunday there is something in the sermon about what it means to be a member of a Reformed church. I am also much more prone to preach about doctrine and how they impact our daily life.

For our last couple of new members I met with them individually . . . discussed their faith history, their reasons for wanting to unite at that particular time and asked them to prepare to discuss their persaonal relationship with Jesus and the gifts they will bring to the ministry of the chruch when they meet with the Session.

I have been working with the Session and the congregation since I have been here on how to share our faith (not church, but faith) story with one another so we can eventually share it with others. Slow going.

Grace and Peace,

Lydia

Gannet Girl said...

I think we still have four consective Sunday morning classes followed by a meeting with Session. Sometimes we have had two longer Saturday afternoon classes instead.

I also think the classes are much more discussions of spiritual journeys by the participants than they are an imparting of information by the pastors and elderswho lead them. People seem to love coming to them.

OTH, we have offered a lot in our adult ed program in response to the many questions people have raised about Presbyterianism, church history in general, scripture, confessions -- and while the classes are packed, the people who've actually raised the questions seldom show up. Which I suppose means that people are more comfortable raising the questions than listening to the answers.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I also meet with people in their home. They should be attending worship for some time (6 months or so) before we get to the membership part - as a way of them getting to know us better and vice-versa. Primarily, I want to make sure they understand what they're joining (we are UCC) and can be comfortable with it.
I honestly turn away nearly as many people as we have join, very kindly, of course, because they have deep roots in Lutheran or Catholic traditions and find ours somewhat...odd!
We are a small church so we tailor what we teach - we have a young woman going through baptism intiation now, and we are teaching her Christianity 101.

Cath

Reformed Catholic said...

The church where where I was a member formerly, had a three hour Inquirer's Class, afterwhich those who wished to continue into membership met with the Session.

It was decided that there was not enough time devoted to Christianity, being a Presbyterian, ministries of the Church, Stewardship, etc. The class was then expanded, and split over a Saturday Morning (9am to Noon), and the following Sunday afternoon/evening (4:30pm to 7:00pm). A light breakfast & dinner is provided, as well as childcare. On Sunday evening, those who have made a decision, meet with the Session.

These classes are held quarterly, and usually have at least 5 to 10 attendees.

But as 'Rebel' said, you always have those who can't fit this time into their lives. This begs the question, are they then really interested in becoming true members of the church, that is, reaffirming their baptisimal vow to "declare their intention to participate actively and responsibly in the worship and mission of the church" (BOO, W-3.3603) ?

If they can't find time to learn about the church and its mission, will they find time to 'actively participate' in the life of the church? Will they be a disciple of Christ, or just another bu, er body in the pew ?

Songbird said...

At Small Church, I go and visit with someone if I suspect they might like to join. No.one.asks. It doesn't matter how many times opportunities for membership are written about in the newsletter. And that was true 35 years ago, according to something I read in an old newsletter!
Anyway, I arrange to visit and have a conversation, talk about the UCC and our polity, ask about their faith history and baptism. I bring the names of interested potential members to the Deacons (as required in our by-laws), but they are very uncomfortable being in the position of judging anyone and are happy to take the pastor's recommendation. I'm not thrilled by that, but if I waited for them to be more active, we would never have new members. In fact, they were shocked to learn the by-laws gave them this authority (and responsibility).

Susie said...

We're working on this too.... its kind of been "well, you're a member when you've been around long enough" - except in some people's minds, "long enough" is when your grandkids get baptized, even if you're in your early 30s.

So... we're doing a four-session thing. Three "inquirer's class" kind of sessions, on local and Episcopal church customs, getting to know each other, and that kind of thing. The fourth session is a potluck at a parishoner's home, and vestry members are invited as well as heads of a few other ministries (choir director, etc). Then we formally welcome people on Sunday mornings, twice a year.

Lorna said...

would a discussion with existing members help ... a sort of 'why we are presbeterians' ... or something

I think the sponsership thing is important - accountablity - being Paul / Paulina to someone new in faith ...

but in practice in our church the pastor meets a person on their own and they discuss some basic things ... it works but it also misses the point that we are baptised / accepted as a member into the body of Christ, our local church

Anonymous said...

I'm not a preacher.
I'm barley qualify as a church goer. But IMHO church classes are a waste of time - it takes 3 hours to get information that I could have picked up in 20 minutes.

Can't you do some sort of independent study booklet? Folks can read important doctrines or passages and do silly worksheets to prove they read and thought about it.

If you really want to get fancy, make the sponsors do a workbook too. (Or maybe sponsor/inductee can do the workbook pages together?)

What if some of the workbook "answers" were given in a sermon. (Or perhaps the "New Member Class" could be advertised as an easy way to get the worksheet answers ).