"With every head bowed and every eye closed, if you want to join the church today, just step forward and one of our altar workers will meet you at the front and help you with this decision." This is not an uncommon way to invite people to join the membership in the average Baptist church today. Although I cannot say that this is unbiblical, I can certainly think of many reasons why it is probably unwise. With church attendance on the decline, we must also assume that biblical understanding about the church and membership is on the decline as well. Our goal as pastors should not be to have thousands of members with only hundreds attending!
We should strive to make disciples and that process of discipleship should begin at the Doorway of the local church when someone desires to unite with the body.
The Scripture states in Acts 2:41-42 "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."
When I became the pastor at Pinecrest Baptist almost three years ago, one of the first decisions I made was to begin a new member's class called The Doorway Class. In this class we discussed the essential doctrines that we hold dear as a church, our philosophy of ministry, our church government and structure, and the expectations we hold for membership at Pinecrest. This has become one of the key factors of growth in our church as well as a key to "closing the infamous backdoor" of church membership. Many times, if someone joins a church, within three months they are already on their way out the backdoor because they begin to learn things that they did not know right up front. Thus the Doorway Class.
There are five basic reasons why I feel every local church should have a New Members Class:
1. It Provides Information
We would never make a major purchase, take an extended vacation, or make a life-changing decision without having the necessary information to make the best decision. Our goal with a new members class is to provide information about who we are, what we do, why we do what we do, and the way we do things in ministry. People that are considering joining a church should at least spend more time making this decision than they do purchasing a gym membership or a vacuum cleaner! Many times we expect people to make a huge life decision without ever once specifying the important information they need when joining our churches.
2. It Promotes Integration
Our entire ministry is vitally linked to our small group Bible studies. We call our groups Connection Points. One of our expectations of membership is that a new member will immediately join a Connection Point and get plugged into church life and service through their small group. As a church grows larger, it must become smaller. The only way a church can stay connected with it's members are if the members are connecting on a weekly basis in Sunday School or small groups. Our Doorway Class promotes integrating into the church life and getting busy serving in small groups.
3. It Prevents Inactivity
Statistics prove that if someone gets involved in a ministry within six months of joining a church, they are likely to remain as long term members. On the flip side, if they do not get involved in ministry, within six months they are unlikely to stay in membership. We require every member who goes through the Doorway Class to commit before joining to find a place to serve within six months of joining. We provide areas of ministry involvement where they can be involved day one as well as a spiritual gifts test to help them discover their passion in areas of serving the Lord.
4. It Protects Identity
Not everyone that goes through our Doorway Class joins our church. There have been several over the past three years that had ulterior motives as to why they wanted to join Pinecrest. Some wanted to change our doctrine, others wanted to redirect our ministry philosophy to meet their agenda, others just genuinely disagreed with our preferences as a church. In each of these cases, we have been gracious and patient, but completely steadfast. Our doctrine is a heritage that is not for sale. We want to grow and reach people, but we will never lose our identity as a Bible-believing Baptist Church! Our Doorway Class has protected our spiritual, philosophical, and cultural identity and DNA as a church family.
5. It Postures Involvement
The New Members Class is just step one of a four part discipleship process at Pinecrest. Upon completing the New Members Class and assuming that the salvation, baptism, and testimony of the prospective candidate is in order, we immediately enroll all new members into level two of our discipleship program which is a personal evangelism course that meets four times a year for four weeks. Then we encourage our members to continue growing in discipleship until they are finally in a position of leadership to disciple others! If we are not careful, we can get content to have people join and be happy if they attend and tithe! God has much bigger plans for His people in His church! The Doorway Class sets a level of expectation that we want our members growing into spiritual leaders for God's glory! The tone must be set up front.
If I can be a help to you in anyway by sharing resources or materials that we have produced for these classes, feel free to drop me an email today!