The irrelvancy and unnecessity of institutional membership…

A So, consider this…I read this week some statistics about what percentage of institutional church "members" were actually participating in the flow of LIFE in their local faith communities.  OF course, this particular magazine (which, at this point, will remain nameless) was attempting to downplay the significance (rather "shocking" nature of the statistic) by saying "well, every other denomination is experiencing the same thing."  And that's my point…institutional membership is irrelevant and unnecessary.  I know that it is a good "nose counting" technique to have a "membership" that people can count on…but trust me, people aren't making "membership" commitments anylonger and if they do, they really don't mean much.  Just so that you are in the loop on the numbers, this one denomination was reporting only 27% of their membership across the nation attended a worship experience over the course of a YEAR.  You read that right…a whole year.  That's why a person's commitment needs to be focused in the right place…having a membership in a church isn't what is necessarily motivational for a person's involvement and investment in their faith journey…a vibrant relationship with Jesus and HIS mission and purposes is that which makes a difference.  Now, there are many, many factors on why a person does or does not involve themselves in a local church's activity…so we can't be too simplistic.  But just because someone is on the membership roles does not mean that they are in any way, shape or form being "proactive" in cooperating with the Spirit's leadership in their lives or even interested in sharing the life of spiritual community.  There is this "old thing" that I've run across with some people that membership in a local church means that they got their "heavenly ticket" and they have that particular question in their life covered…unfortunately, that's a ticket that won't be punched.  Now, I'm all for participation and commitment to a local faith community…that's vital.  As followers of Jesus, we are wired up for community and we NEED community…but membership issues have got to be reevaluated.  I don't have any answers…all I know is that having a membership and then having dismal statistics on people acting on that membership simply begs the question, "who are we kidding?"  You see, the people involved in community are making a commitment NOT to a what (a local church) but to a WHO (Jesus – who call them, draws them and nurtures them through community).  The vitality of participation in a local church's life (i.e. ministry) must find its motivational power in other dynamics than what USED TO BE the primary motivator…membership.  So friends, what's your solution?  One that I've heard is to simply "pair down" membership to those who participate on a more "regular" basis…in other words, if your name is on the rolls and you don't "show up" for (whatever timeline you want to insert), your membership is dropped.  A second solution is to NOT have a membership at all…I know a number of people who are doing that.  Another is to have a membership that is more "exclusive"…membership tied to specific "actions" (e.g. giving levels, involvement in leadership in ministries, etc.) that would cause the membership to be deliniated from the "attendees".  I know that there are other solutions out there…but to have a membership and then read statistics like that noted above makes a mockery of our "numbers."  Somebody once told me, "you value what you measure"…well, if that is the case, we are valuing mediocrity and spiritual apathy.  I don't want that…so the debate goes on.  Membership or not?  And, if you have a membership, why?  What is its purpose?  It isn't salvific (unless you belong to a church that believes it is THE ONLY WAY)…so what is the point?  You tell me…I'm open…really!

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