This week’s question is about healthy assimilation of an influx of new members. The back-story of some of the new members presents a challenge. Perhaps there are several challenges. Read on:
Our church is the midst of unexpected and glorious growth. Attendance up 20% and giving up in equal proportion. Some of this growth has occurred because a neighboring church, of the same denomination, fired a long time employee and we hired her. We are working hard for good integration of the newer people but some of the old timers feel a bit displaced. Any words of wisdom or ways you could recommend to make sure we are one church, not two churches in the same building? The pastor at the neighboring church and I are colleagues and I have been in contact with him about the hire and the membership transfer but it is a bit awkward at district gatherings.
Our matriarchs offer their/our ideas:
Kelley Wehmeyer Shin:
I rejoice with you as you celebrate new growth in your congregation. It is a delicate situation with the neighboring church and your colleague so proceed with grace and humility, as I know you will, because it is God who brings the growth. I think the most important way to help new members and long time members become one is to create small group opportunities for the new and the old to get to know each other: meals together, bible studies together, mission work together, worship together. Blessings in this time of renewal.
Jennifer Burns Lewis:
I agree with Kelley. Relationships, relationships, relationships will help this flourishing to continue. Careful attention to opportunities to engage people around experiences of spiritual depth while forging good relationships with one another will be important.
Sharon Mack Temple:
I enthusiastically second (and third) Kelley’s and Jennifer’s great advice about relationships, creating new experiences and acknowledging God’s role in the growth that is happening.
People can be called away from their current church just as surely as they can be called to a new one. It’s also possible that not all of your new members have come as a result of a holy call on their spiritual lives. The caution is that feelings, which are by nature fleeting, might continue to influence their church membership experience in this new context. Don’t be surprised if they start getting prickly for all kinds of weird reasons. The ministry opportunity: Clear expectations, expressed frequently across contexts, about church membership costs and joys.
I applaud your determination to attend to the relationship with your colleague. I encourage you to go more than halfway to keep on making that relationship even stronger. Same thing with your new employee. Those strong relationships will go a long way to keep triangles and “camps” from forming.
And, with all of this awesome growth going on in your congregation, there is an opening to challenge everyone to understand how God orchestrates church re-“new”-al every time even one person joins the church. Assimilation is a two way movement: not just folding new members into the existing congregation’s life, but stretching the current congregation to actually join with the new members. In my experience, even the friendliest and most well-meaning church folk
suck are not all that good at making theirs a new church with new members.
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That’s the word from the Matriarchs. What say you, dear reader? What has worked in your own congregation and what do you wish you had done (could do) differently? Let us hear from you in the comments below.
Is you church going through a big change? Could you use some extra ideas on a special project? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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