Friday, 25 May 2012

To be a member or not to be a member....

This week we held an evening called "connect" it was an opportunity for some of the new people who had recently started to come and get involved in HBC to explore with us the concept of membership. We had a very encouraging last 6 months with over 60 adults and children within this category of new comers!! 40% of these are new to the City of Chester, 40% have started to come with no other church background and at various stages of their journey of faith and 20% have moved to us from other churches in the area. Only 1 of them has had any involvment in a Baptist Church before!! So the concept of membership was one that they really were not aware of.

Recently I read an article on the ekklesia website entitled Baptist church attendance goes up - as membership goes down. Between 2002 and 2008, attendance at churches in the Baptist Union rose by about 3.5 per cent from 148,835 to 153,714. However, over the same period, membership of Baptist churches fell by 7 per cent from 149,685 to 139,244. In addition, baptisms dropped by a staggering 23 per cent, from 4,654 to 3,601!!! Like many baptist church leaders I have reflected for awhile on the role and purpose of membership and in particular the place of the Church Meeting in the life of our church. I have to admit I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Church Meeting but I am looking for fully committed individuals who express a strong sense of belonging to a local church.

We have recently refocused our vision around the following statement: To be a congregation of believers: encountering God; building community; advancing the Kingdom. Our hope and dream is that as we work this out together we shall become more focused on being disciples and being missional. It was this vision and hope that we are looking for people to catch and get behind but it was also interesting to hear one of our other leaders talk about baptist history and how the earlier baptists gathered around principles not todissimialr to our present vision!

What was of interested to me was that approx 50% of our newcomers came to the evening but none of the under 30's came of which a third of the 40 adults are. Was there any significance in this? I'm not sure, in our present membership we have approx 20% under 30 and many fully engaged in the life of the church. Maybe the word member and membership are "outdated words" I must admit I personally I'm drawn to substituting the word "partner" for member. I know of one other baptist church who write this on their website  "we would love for you express that sense of belonging by becoming a Partner with us in our mission together. Our partners contribute directly to our decision making processes and enable your voice to be heard. Partnership is a very clear way of communicating to one another our support and encouragement by conveying that we are all “in this together,” committed to one another and to God’s purposes for us.

Maybe membership at HBC could be better expressed as "Partners in Mission." Now that's something to consider at my next Leadership Team meeting!!