Local churches are like families. Some are healthier than others. All have issues. Unfortunately, many churches are suffering from a serious case of consumerism. The cultural norm of too many congregations has become “How can you serve me?” rather than “How can I serve Christ and others?” But I believe many pastors and church leaders are to blame as much as their flocks. We pastors simply have not done a good job of communicating upfront what we expect of church members.
I have a high view of church membership, and I hope I lead my church to have the same view. As we assimilate new people into the body of Christ, the goal is to maintain a culture of high expectations of every church member. I believe the best starting point for setting these expectations is a new member class. Whatever descriptor you use for the class, whatever timeslot you choose to teach the class, every new member class should communicate three key points about your church: information, doctrine, and expectations.
Information gives new people an idea of the basics of your church: staff, worship style, ministry philosophy, and where the bathrooms are located.
Doctrine lets people know upfront what you believe. You can no longer assume people understand historical denominational differences. Additionally, churches within the same denomination in the same town can be quite different now. Don’t surprise people. Don’t downplay doctrine. Don’t confuse people. Be clear about what you believe and who you are.
Expectations are often neglected when we’re communicating with potential new members. After all, we don’t want to scare them away with a stack of sign-up sheets. But I believe the lack of clarifying expectations on the front end of membership is one of the main reasons why we’re encouraging an unhealthy culture of consumerism in the church.
So what should you expect of new members? I’ve listed the seven expectations I teach in my church’s new member class.
- I will worship. We expect people to attend worship services regularly, and we expect them to worship with the heart, the mind, and the will.
- I will mature. We expect people to grow spiritually through small groups. We desire for people to have a sense of belonging to our church.
- I will serve. God created us to serve. He gifted us to serve. And He commands us to serve. Every member should function in the body, and this functioning happens through service.
- I will give. Mature believers have a generous spirit. We expect all members to give their tithe, time, and resources for the mission of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
- I will seek unity. We have a wonderfully unified body of believers at my church. I tell new people I don’t want them to mess it up.
- I will pray. All members should pray corporately and privately. Above all, they should pray for gospel fruit.
- I will sacrifice. Membership means serving first. Sacrifice means putting gospel work above your preferences.
You do not join a church to see what you can get out of it. You join a church to sacrifice for the mission of God. And all churches should be clear about how they accomplish this mission. Set the expectations upfront, and you will likely see fewer people with a consumer mentality.