Here’s a question that arises frequently in our Facebook group:

What sort of process do you use to educate and acclimate new members in your church? Does your denomination set down any requirements? What sort of invitation do you extend to join, if any? And in these days of less “joining,” do you see that trend in your setting; if so, are you developing alternative paths to church involvement/engagement?

Dear Pastor of New Members,

It used to be true (and still is for many churches) that New Member classes included everything from denominational policies to church history to theological teaching to tours of the building (including “where are the bathrooms?” info) to spiritual gifts assessments to filling out forms about what committees this fresh meat new batch of members would like to join.

Nobody connects with a church so they can join committees. And while some of our new folks might be fascinated by Barth’s Church Dogmatics or the history of your denomination’s splits and reunions, every single one of our new people seek to belong to a community of faith where they can connect, make friends, deepen their faith, and feel safe. Other adult education classes can offer the church history and theology – if you ask me. But this is the one time to figure out what those new people are looking for. Great questions to discuss with them:

  • What makes you interested in joining a church at this time?
  • What do you see in our congregation that makes you feel/think that we might be a good fit?
  • How can we serve you?
  • If you could ask Jesus any question, what would it be? 
  • Who is the first person you met in this congregation and tell us about that.Just for starters. Have fun!

Jan at A Church for Starving Artists

Dear Inquiring Mind-

You're InvitedI started writing what I hoped was a clever list of things to do or avoid and I’ve erased it. Here’s why. I think the most important thing that we can do is tell our collective story to new folks and then help them to make it their story. That goes for the Biblical, theological and congregational history. Becoming a new member should be the first step in an ongoing process of belonging, not a hurdle to get past. I think invitations to belong should be personal and specific. Even the shyest of visitors wants to be noticed at some level. Invite them to tell their stories to you. For me, that’s when we become real to each other, when we can tell each other’s story and share a common narrative as well.

Heidi aka RevHRod

I think a lot depends on the size of your church, and your church culture. People who wander into a large church may need more help finding community than those who have been invited by friends or neighbors to a smaller church where they are being introduced around. Conversely, if that large church is friendly (really friendly, not just superficially so) and the smaller church is introverted, helping new folks acclimate will require a different approach. 

It’s important to communicate what your expectations of new members really are and to be sure you and your lay leadership are on the same page. No one wants to be welcomed to join and then be horribly embarrassed and surprised by a visit from the Stewardship Committee chair a few weeks or months later. If giving matters, be upfront about it. (By the way, I think it should, as a spiritual discipline but not as a way to rescue a particular church.)

Real Good ChurchOne pastor who has had great success bringing new people in and helping them feel a part of things is the Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette, a United Church of Christ minister and the author of Real Good Church, a book I highly recommend. Molly illustrates the adage “location, location, location” in all the work she does; her programs and meeting schedules are designed around the realities of the mostly younger and highly transient population of the inner ring big city suburb where she pastors. I highly recommend her book as a resource to inspire and illuminate, even when her particular practices may need adaptation for a different context. We’ve started having new members over to the manse (my spouse is also a pastor) and are hoping to move toward the more festive event she describes rather than the simple lunch after church that has been our first step.

Martha at Reflectionary

Readers, what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments. And if you have a question for our panel, please send it to askthematriarch at gmail dot com.

3 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: About New Members

  1. I would hope that in addition to “how can we serve you” we are also using the new member education/conversation/acclimation time to help them see how they can serve through the church. I think it’s super important that we remind people they ARE the church, they don’t just COME to the church. In most cases, there isn’t some behind-the-scenes all-powerful institution ready to meet your every need…when someone says “I want the church to xyz” they need to realize that they are part of the church that makes that happen.

    Easier said than done, of course. But it’s never too early to combat the consumer-religion situation! 🙂


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