Church membership is different at every church. Church beliefs about membership vary between congregations. Even in cases where membership beliefs are identical, language and expectations around membership often differ.
Since membership is different at every church, people transferring their membership from another church need to know how membership is unique at your church. That will help to avoid misunderstandings and potentially hurt feelings down the road.
People who’ve never been a church member need to know what to expect. Church membership isn’t like joining a club. You don’t pay monthly dues in exchange for special privileges.
What to Cover in Your Church Membership Class
Since there’s a lot riding on this new members class, you want to make sure you cover the right topics. It might be tempting to pour everything including the kitchen sink into your new members class curriculum, I advise against that.
It’s good to be thorough, but you want to be picky, too. A new members class that feels like a college course will have a high dropout rate, which defeats the purpose of the class.
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This list of things to cover in your new members class is designed to give just the right amount of information without creating your own Master’s degree.
- What does “church membership” mean at our church?
It’s vital to explain what you mean by “church membership.” Many people have preconceived ideas about what membership in a church is. Many times, that’s established by prior experience at another church. Other times it’s based on what they’ve heard. Some people even think it must be similar to other non-church memberships they’ve experienced.
For many folks, they don’t understand why a church would have membership at all. Church membership as an organizational role can look odd to those not familiar with its purpose. That makes your new members class even more important and valuable. You’ll have the opportunity to argue the case for church membership while introducing them to the topic.
- Why does your church exist and what’s unique about you?
Every church is unique. New folks aren’t always aware of what’s unique about your church. After all, you do music and preaching on Sunday mornings, Bible studies, etc. That looks a lot like every other church they’ve seen.
But your church is unique in so many ways. Your mission language, the vision God has placed in you, your unique organizational values, and how you interact with other churches…these are all markers of uniqueness.
- Who are the executive staff and department leaders?
Most people already know who the lead pastor is when they’re ready to join a church. But they usually want to know who else is leading the organization they are planning to join. Especially in the case of church leadership, it’s important to introduce new members to the staff personally instead of just providing a name and photo.
Personal introductions to staff and leaders means new members know who to talk to when they have questions about specific ministry areas or where they can serve.
- What is the story of your church’s launch and life?
Church history can sound like a boring topic, but not when new members are a real part of that ongoing history. Whether your founding pastor is still part of the church or the church was launched in the 1800s, knowing the origin story of your church is fascinating and builds significance to the organization.
You can take this time to focus on why the church was started and who was part of that launch. And when telling the story of why you are where you are now, don’t forget to mention a few bloopers, too.
- What do you believe?
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget about it. New members need to know what you believe so they know where you stand and know if they fit.
Now, we aren’t talking about detailing everything you believe about everything. You do need to clearly state the things that people might assume incorrectly.
For example, you should cover your beliefs about things like the basis for salvation, the Bible, baptism, worship, ecclesiology, and other matters that might differ from one congregation to another. You don’t need to cover your theory about the significance of Samson’s hair length or how you feel about the current administration.
One more thing on beliefs…it’s a great time to share a clear message of the gospel with a captive audience. I hear stories constantly about people being saved through new members classes. Take advantage of that opportunity.
- How do you do ministry and why do you do it that way?
One of the ways that churches differ, even when beliefs are the exact same, is how each church executes ministry and the reasons for those choices. For example, your children’s ministry may be integrated into your adult ministry or maybe it’s a standalone ministry. Maybe your care ministry is handled by deacons or maybe it’s only pastoral.
Those differences are some of the most important and practical things to cover in a new members class. Since your members interact with ministry leaders in the context of those unique structures, they need to know about those structures.
You could think of this topic as your philosophy of ministry or how your church is organized for ministry. Your new members will benefit and appreciate you covering this topic thoroughly.
- What are the expectations of both members and the church organization?
If you choose only one of these topics to cover in a new members class, please let it be this one. It’s so important to set clear and realistic expectations for your new church members.
If you’re not sure what expectations to set, here are some ideas. First, you want your new members to understand that membership doesn’t come with special privileges like the pastor’s cell phone number or guaranteed opportunities to sing on Sunday mornings. In fact, it may be good to clearly remove the concept of “privileges” from their minds and replace it with “responsibilities.”
Second, make sure your new members know what you expect from them. For example, you may expect every member to serve actively in a ministry, tithe faithfully, be active in evangelism, or participate in missions. Whatever expectations you have of your members, lay them out clearly to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings in the future.
- What questions do the new members have?
Many people attend a new members class almost entirely to get the chance to ask questions. That’s a good thing. Making time for questions during your new members class is excellent.
However, I’ve seen lots of new members classes open the floor to questions from anyone who wants to stand and ask. That can get out of hand quickly. The risk is two-fold: you may have someone who hogs the floor and wastes everyone’s time or you may have someone asking questions that are not relevant to anyone else in the room, which also wastes people’s time.
I prefer allowing people to submit questions throughout the duration of the class and then choosing which questions to address to the whole group. For those questions that aren’t addressed to the whole group, address them personally with the person who asked the question later. That can be done in a meeting or by email, depending on the nature of the question.
How to Execute Your Church Membership Class
When it comes to managing and executing on a new members class, you have a couple options. It’s common to hold in-person meetings to cover all of the topics you choose to include, but that can become a marathon meeting or ends up being broken into multiple meetings.
The downside of only providing new members class in person is that fewer people are able to participate because of schedules, sickness, availability, and other reasons.
I advocate for a hybrid approach. Since most of a new members class is information-transfer, use a tool like TrainedUp to distribute that learning. Then you can schedule a meeting or group session that’s more about conversation and discussion of those topics instead of spending so much time in lecture format.