I taught our Discover class on Sunday. The class is designed for those who want to join or who are interested in learning more about our church.
I have a high view of church membership, and I hope to 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.
Making it Simple
In order to encourage people to attend our Discover class, we offer it during lunch on Sunday. The lunch is free, and we also provide free childcare. We eat from 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the duration of the class is about an hour, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. We hold the class about once a month, and we promote it often. Not only do we want potential members to attend, we also want existing members to hear regularly about the importance of membership. On occasion, we also offer the class during our Sunday morning Life Groups for those who may not be able to attend on a Sunday afternoon.
The majority of the time is spent on both doctrine and membership expectations.
Making it Meaningful
Our statement of faith includes eight points, and we expect members to hold to these doctrines.
We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament are the inerrant, inspired, and infallible Word of God. God’s Word is the final authority for faith and life.
We believe there is only one God, and He has chosen to reveal Himself as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
We believe man was created in the image of God and the sin of Adam (the first man) marred that image, creating an eternal divide between God and man. Every person is born in sin.
We believe the only way a person can have a true, forgiven relationship with God is through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus became man without ceasing to be God. Our right standing with God is made sure because of His literal, physical resurrection.
We believe in the literal, physical return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead.
We believe God offers eternal life as a free gift and that it must be received by faith alone through God’s grace alone. The life that comes from this gift is a permanent possession of the one receiving it.
We believe the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a local body of believers on mission to enlarge God’s kingdom. The local church is autonomous, free of any external authority of control.
We believe believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two ordinances of the church.
Similarly, our covenant involves seven expectations of every church member.
As a member, I commit to the body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 12:27; Romans 12:4-5). As a member at West Bradenton Baptist Church, I will fulfill the following expectations:
I will worship the one true God with other West Bradenton Baptist church members for as long as I am physically able (Hebrews 10:24-25; Romans 12:1). The goal of my regular weekly worship is to give God glory (Romans 11:36; Hebrews 13:15).
I will grow spiritually through regular involvement in groups and classes at West Bradenton Baptist Church in addition to regular personal devotional times. I understand the purpose of these groups and classes is building community with other believers and holding each other accountable (Acts 2:44-47; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
I will serve Christ through the mission work of West Bradenton Baptist Church. I am created to serve others through good works (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 4:10). I am commanded by God to make disciples of every nation, tribe, people, and language through the local church (Matthew 28:16-20; Revelation 7:9). I will support the church’s mission to go to the ends of the earth to share the gospel (Acts 1:8).
I will give to God abundantly and joyfully, recognizing God as the owner of all things (Proverbs 3:9; Psalm 24:1). Giving my tithe and time to God brings me closer to Him (Malachi 3:10; Matthew 6:19-24).
I will seek unity with other church members. I recognize God’s design for the church is unity in diversity, and I will put the interests of others above my personal preferences (Ephesians 4:1-6; 1 Peter 3:8-9). I will guard the reputation of the church and submit to discipline for any sin problems in my life (Matthew 18:15-20).
I will pray for and follow the leadership of West Bradenton Baptist Church (Hebrews 13:17-18). I will pray privately and with the church corporately. I will pray for people to accept Christ, and I will pray for more disciples to grow.
I will sacrifice by serving first, following the servant model of Jesus Christ (Mark 10:45). I will make my attitude that of Christ and through humility make the gospel my priority (Philippians 2:5-11).
Making a Commitment
At the end of every class, we ask those who want to join to consider four questions. These questions provide the filter for membership. In order not to put anyone on the spot in the moment, we follow up that week with those who attended the class.
Do you trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
Have you been baptized by immersion?
Are you in general agreement with the doctrine in our statement of faith?
Are you willing to fulfill the seven expectations in our covenant?
Feel free to use any of this language for your church.