I’ve recently finished Chuck Lawless’ Membership Matters and I would like to take this moment to recommend it. I’ve been and I am working on a membership project and have been working through a number of works on church membership over the last number of weeks. I found Membership Matters to be extremely helpful, illuminating, and convicting.
Membership Matters is essentially an apologetic for the creation of membership classes in local churches as well as a clarion call for the raising of membership expectations in the local church. It is based (as so many of these kinds of books are nowadays) on survey data that reveals a growing trend of churches who are rejecting cheap membership and turning instead to membership of substance, expectations, and accountability.
Let me add a caveat here: it is nice to read a book on the modern church that actually gives one hope and encouragement instead of constant jeremiads of doom. There is a kind of niche market for ecclesiological apocalyptic literature, the kind of literature that forever paints with broad strokes a picture of the church in North America as utterly bankrupt and souless. There is, of course, much evidence to support this kind of negative picture, but it is nice to be reminded (as Lawless’ book reminds us) that there are a number of churches seeking to reverse the trend of that consumer-driven churchmanship that has come to so dominate the church landscape today.
The book reveals some interesting things. It shows that churches which take membership seriously are healthier, stronger, and more effective in reaching people, on the whole. It revealed, interestingly (and sadly), that the majority of churches with membership classes are good at stressing accountability but that very few of these same churches stress church discipline. In other words, it is easy to tell people, “This is what we expect.” It is harder to say, “And if these expectations are violated or ignored, this is what happens.” But the articulation of membership expectations is a healthy thing that should be celebrated.
The book also gives some helpful suggestions on membership classes: on the need for the pastor to be personally involved, on the need to have a wholistic approach in terms of subjects taught, on the need for the church to buy into this vision.
The book is also not naive about the difficulties facing churches that move in this direction. It does reveal, however, (through a very helpful round-table discussion with a number of pastors) that the risks are worth it.
As I am personally involved in the research stages of a membership project that, I pray, will bring a number of practical reforms to the system as it is practiced in our own church, I found this work encouraging and helpful. I highly recommend it.