•Sharing From the “Purpose Driven Church” Part 14

Turning Attenders Into Members



Ephesians 2:19) [LB] Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.

Romans 12:5) [NIV] so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.


Once we’ve gathered a crowd of attenders we must begin the important task of forming them into a congregation of members. The crowd must become the church. On the Life Development Process diagram this is called “getting people to first base.” It’s done through a process of incorporation, or assimilation.

Assimilation is the task of moving people from an awareness of our church, to attendance at our church, to active membership in our church.

  • The community talks about “that church.”
  • The crowd talks about “this church.”
  • The congregation talks about “our church.”

Members have a sense of ownership; they are contributors, not just consumers.


A NOTE FROM RICK: Many American Christians are what I call “floating believers.” Anywhere else in the world, being a believer is synonymous with being connected to a local body of believers – you rarely find a lone-ranger Christian in other countries. Many American Christians, however, hop from one church to another without any identity, accountability, or commitment. This is a direct expression of rampant individualism. They have not been taught that the Christian life involves more than just believing – it also includes belonging. We grow in Christ by being in relationship to other Christians. Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”


C.S. Lewis wrote an essay on church membership, and reminded us that the word membership is of Christian origin. Today it’s associated with paying dues, meaningless rituals, silly rules and handshakes, and having your name on some dusty roll.

The Apostle Paul had a very different image of membership.

Romans 12:4-5) [GNB] We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions.

5) In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.

I Corinthians 12:12-27) [GNB] Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts.

13) In the same way, all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit, and we have all been given the one Spirit to drink.

14) For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts.

15) If the foot were to say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body.

16) And if the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body.

17) If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell?

18) As it is, however, God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be.

19) There would not be a body if it were all only one part!

20) As it is, there are many parts but one body.

21) So then, the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Nor can the head say to the feet, “Well, I don’t need you!”

22) On the contrary, we cannot do without the parts of the body that seem to be weaker;

23) and those parts that we think aren’t worth very much are the ones which we treat with greater care; while the parts of the body which don’t look very nice are treated with special modesty,

24) which the more beautiful parts do not need. God himself has put the body together in such a way as to give greater honor to those parts that need it.

25) And so there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another.

26) If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.

27) All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it.

To Paul membership meant much more than some cold induction into an institution, it meant becoming a vital organ of a living body. WE NEED TO RECLAIM THIS IMAGE! Any organ detached from its body will shrivel up and die. Here’s a message for the “you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” crowd: Try telling a finger it doesn’t have to hang with the body to be a living finger.

The incorporation of new members into our church fellowship doesn’t happen automatically. If we don’t have a system and a structure to assimilate and keep the people we reach, they won’t stay long. We’ll have as many people going out the back door as there are coming in the front door.


Develop A Plan To Assimilate New Members:

Consider this verse:

Proverbs 20:18) [GNB] Get good advice and you will succeed; don’t go charging into battle without a plan.

Saddleback asked these 12 questions when forming a plan of assimilation:

  1. What does God expect from members of His church?
  2. What do we expect from our members right now?
  3. What kinds of people already make up our congregation?
  4. How will that change in the next 5 to 10 years?
  5. What do our members value?
  6. What are new members greatest needs?
  7. What are our long-term members’ greatest needs?
  8. How can we make membership more meaningful?
  9. How can we insure that members feel loved and cared for?
  10. What do we owe our members?
  11. What resources or services could we offer our members?
  12. How could we add value to what we already offer?

Our prospective members will also have questions. Those questions should influence our assimilation plan. Before people commit they want to know the answers to 5 questions:

1. Do I fit here? This is the question of acceptance. It is best answered by establishing affinity groups within our church so that people with similar ages, interests, problems, or backgrounds can find and relate to each other. We must show people we have a place for them.

2. Does anyone want to know me? This is the question of friendship. We can answer that question by creating opportunities for people to develop relationships within our congregation. People are not looking for a friendly church as much as they are looking for friends.

3. Am I needed? This is the question of value. People want to make contributions with their lives. They want to feel that they matter. When we can show people they can make a difference with their gifts and talents by joining our church, they will want to get involved. We need to position our church as a creative place that needs the expression of all sorts of talents and abilities, not just singers, ushers, and Sunday School teachers.

4. What is the advantage of joining? This is the question of benefit. We must be able to clearly and concisely explain the reasons and benefits of membership in our church. We should explain the Biblical, practical, and personal reasons for membership.

5. What is required of members? This is the question of expectations. We must be able to explain the responsibilities of membership as clearly as we state the benefits of it. People have a right to know what is expected of them before they join.


Communicate the Value of Membership:

Many people today believe it’s possible to be a good Christian without joining, or even attending, a local church. Membership these days is an act of commitment. We must show them the value-for-value benefits they will receive in return for their commitment.

There are numerous benefits to membership:

  1. It identifies a person as a genuine believer (Eph. 2:19; Rom. 12:5).
  2. It provides a spiritual family to support and encourage them in their walk with Christ (Gal. 6:1-2; Heb. 10:24-25).
  3. It gives them a place to discover and use their gifts in ministry (1 Cor. 12:4-27).
  4. It places them under the spiritual protection of godly leaders (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28-29).
  5. It gives them the accountability they need to grow (Eph. 5:21).

In chapter 6 Rick suggested that we personalize the purposes of the church. This is especially important when convincing attenders in the crowd to join our congregation. We need to emphasize that the church provides them with benefits they can’t find anywhere else in the world:

  • Worship helps them focus on God. It prepares you spiritually and emotionally for the week ahead.
  • Fellowship helps them face life’s problems by providing the support and encouragement of other Christians.
  • Discipleship helps them fortify their faith by learning the truth of God’s Word and applying Biblical principles to their lifestyle.
  • Ministry helps them find and develop their talents and use them in serving others.
  • Evangelism helps them fulfill their mission of reaching their friends and family for Christ.

There are many analogies for a Christian disconnected from a church:

1.      A football player without a team;

2.      A soldier without a platoon;

3.      A tuba player without an orchestra;

4.      A sheep without a flock;

5.      A child without a family (this is the best, most understandable and Biblical).

I Timothy 3:15) [GW] I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Ephesians 2:19) [LB] Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.

We must help people see church as a family, rather than an institution. Since the 1960’s Americans have become increasingly anti-institutional. The phrase “organized religion” is used contemptuously. Yet, people are also longing for a sense of family and community.

So many factors have eroded the nuclear family, things like divorce, the emphasis on individuality, “alternative” lifestyles, women working outside the home, and the high rate of mobility. People are no longer surrounded by the extended family of aunts and uncles, grandparents, and brothers and sisters that provided a safety net for previous generations.

When Rick wrote this book [1995], one Gallup Poll reported that 4 in 10 Americans admit to frequent feelings of “intense loneliness.” Americans, are in fact, the loneliness people in the world.

People are hungering for fellowship, community, and a sense of family. Beer commercials don’t sell beer; they sell fellowship. No one ever drinks alone; it’s always done in the context of enjoying each other’s company.

This “longing for belonging” provides the church with a timely opportunity. Positioning the church as an extended family, as “a place where you are cared for,” will strike a sensitive chord in many lonely hearts.


Establish A Required Membership Class:

A number of studies have shown that the way people join an organization greatly influences how they function in that organization. This is true of joining a church as well. The manner in which people join our church will determine their effectiveness as members.

Rick believes that the most important class is the membership class because it sets the tone and expectation level foe everything else that follows. The best time to elicit a strong commitment from our members is at the moment they join. IF LITTLE IS REQUIRED TO JOIN, VERY LITTLE CAN BE EXPECTED FROM OUR MEMBERS LATER ON. A strong membership class will build a strong congregation. A strong class doesn’t mean a long one. Saddleback’s membership class (Class 101) is only 4 hours long, and it’s taught in one day. It teaches those membership prospects exactly what will be expected of them as members.

Rick believes the Senior Pastor should teach this class. The opportunity to see the pastor’s vision for the church, feel his love for the members, and hear his personal commitment to care for, feed, and lead them is very important to new members.

Membership classes should answer the following questions:

  • What is a church?
  • What are the purposes of the church?
  • What are the benefits of being a member?
  • What are the requirements for membership?
  • What are the responsibilities of membership?
  • What is the vision and strategy of this church?
  • How is the church organized?
  • How can I get involved in ministry?
  • What do I do now that I am a member?

Also, if we’re going to be a church that targets the unchurched then we need to include a clear explanation of salvation in this class because there will be those who want to become members who are not yet believers. We should always express that placing their faith in Christ is the first requirement for membership.

Completion of this class should be a requirement for new membership.


Develop A Membership Covenant:

Why do so many churches have so many people on their membership rolls who give little, or no evidence of Christian commitment? Why is it so difficult for those churches to motivate members to give, serve, pray, and share their faith? It’s because they were allowed to join with no expectations placed on them. You get what you ask for.

2 Corinthians 5:8) [GNB] First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God’s will they gave themselves to us as well.

Paul mentions 2 different types of commitment in the above verse. At Saddleback they call these the first-base commitments. You commit yourself to Christ for salvation, then you commit yourself to other Christians for membership.

John 13:34-35) [GNB] And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

35) If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

1 John 3:16) [GNB] This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others!


The most important part of a marriage ceremony is the covenant that each person takes. The same is true of church membership.


Make Your Members Feel Special:

We will need to create a way to make new members feel special, and to truly feel a part of the church. [The book gives several examples.]

Create Opportunities to Build Relationships:

It’s so important for new members to develop friendships in the church. A friend of Rick’s took a survey in his church.

“Why did you join the church?” 93% of the members said it was because of the pastor.

“If the pastor leaves, will you leave the church?” 93% said “No!”

“Why?” The response was that they had friends there.

Notice the shift in allegiance from pastor to other members. This is normal and healthy.


Encourage Every Member to Join A Small Group:

The biggest fear some have of church growth is how to maintain that “small church” feeling of fellowship. The antidote would be for us to develop small groups.

As we grow we should develop a network of small groups built around different purposes, interests, age groups, geography, or anything else.

Rick tells his staff repeatedly, “Our church must always be growing larger and smaller at the same time.” He wants a balance between the large group celebrations and the small group cells.

4 reasons to use homes for small groups:

  • They are infinitely expandable (homes are everywhere).
  • They are unlimited geographically (you can minister to a wider area).
  • They are demonstrations of good stewardship (you use buildings that other people pay for).
  • They facilitate closer relationships (people are more relaxed in home settings).


Keep Communication Lines Open:

People tend to be down on what they are not up on. Informed members are effective members. The book offers many ways to accomplish this.


We’re In This Together:

It’s important to continually emphasize the corporate nature of the Christian life. Preach it, teach it, and talk about it with individuals. We belong together. We need each other. We are connected, joined together as parts of one body. We are family.

Walk of Grace Chapel, Council Bluffs Church