Membership: Behind the Scenes

Last June, I wrote a blog post about how we were planning some changes to what membership (and baptism) would look like at WMBC. Instead of leaving all this work “behind the scenes,” I’d like to bring this out into the open a bit more and talk about what some of these changes are, and why we’re moving in this direction.

Separation Baptism and Membership

My guess is that most of you already know this (as we announced it last June), but the first change we made was to separate the process for becoming a member from the process for being baptized. We started down this road because we were increasingly fielding questions from those who wanted to be baptized why they were being asked to become members at the same time. At first, we answered that question by saying that it was important to be baptized into membership because Christians need a community of fellow believers who would commit to walking alongside you (which I still believe is true). However, when we started looking at what being a church member at WMBC really meant, we realized that becoming a member didn’t guarantee a close, caring community.

As we looked into this further, we came to believe that baptism and membership in the local church were two different steps of faith:

Baptism is the public declaration that Jesus is the Lord of your life and that you are a part of the global Church. You can be a Christian without being baptized, but you are stopping short of telling the world that you’re a part of God’s family, and when they look at you they should expect to see Jesus.

Membership is the public declaration that you are committing to work within a specific local church, to adopt their vision and mission as your own, and work towards it together. You can attend and participate in that church without being a member, but you’re stopping short of making yourself responsible and accountable to that community.

As we realized these things, we realized that we were confusing two different steps by combining baptism and membership, and we were probably keeping people from being baptized who were ready to take that step, but not the step into membership. So we decided to separate baptism from membership and take steps to make it more likely that those being baptized would be supported after their baptism by a caring community (like encouraging our baptism candidates to join a small group).

What Should Church Membership Look Like?

After making the decision to separate baptism from membership, we realized that Journey (the course that prepared people to be baptized and to become members) had always been much more pointed towards those being baptized than those becoming members. This meant that we had the freedom to create something new to prepare people to become members at WMBC. We’re still working on exactly what this looks like, but we want a course that introduces people to WMBC, to our vision, mission, and values and helps them decide whether they want to work towards these things with us.

At the same time, when we took a hard look at baptism and membership, we discovered some less-than-satisfying things about how membership is practiced at WMBC (you can read about some of them on the blog post I mentioned above: What is Church Membership?). Suffice to say here, we realized we were not preparing people to be excellent members, and were partially to blame for high levels of absentee membership and low levels of member participation on key decisions.

We have some things in the works to address these problems, but we would love to have you weigh in on this, and want to give you the opportunity to help shape what it means to be a member of WMBC. In March we’re going to be having our second Community Forum, this time on the topic of what it looks like to commit to being a part of a local church. We’ll get you more details as we have them, but for now, consider how you would answer these questions:

What is something that WMBC does really well as a community?

What is something that we need to be better at?

What do healthy commitment, investment, and participation in a church community look like?

What is something that makes you want to be a part of a Church community?

What would turn you off of being a part of a Church community?