CHURCH DEVELOPMENT Members And/Or Disciples?
By Roger K. Swanson
Director of Operation Evangelization
When asked the membership of their congregation, it is common for United Methodists to reply with something like, "Do you mean on paper or for real?"
It is generally accepted that from 30 percent to 50 percent of our local church membership is "on paper only."
Ezra Earl Jones of the General Board of Discipleship observes that "a system is guaranteed to produce the results it is getting." In other words, in too many places our system for making members isnt very efficient. Would any of us, I wonder, buy a car from a manufacturer that produced so many "lemons?"
The statistics of marginal membership suggest that these people, though they joined the church, were not discipled. The system in place in their congregation, in other words, was a membership system, not a discipleship system. It made members; disciples, if they were made, were by the grace of God only.
Dont misunderstand, I personally value church membership. I have always felt it was like love and marriage. If you love God and want to follow Jesus you join a church. Identity with the Body of Christ is an aspect of discipleship. Yet, church membership, like marriage, can disintegrate into the mere celebration of anniversaries.
The problem is that so many congregations have the narrow focus of making members, expecting that discipleship will follow. The percentage of marginal membership tells us otherwise. Therefore, we need a more far-reaching goalto make disciples of Jesus Christ, not just members of a local church.
What we are learning about disciple-making is that it requires attention to such issues as personal invitation and faith-sharing, congregational hospitality, intentional initiation in basic Christianity, small groups for study, prayer and missional involvement, and a major emphasis upon lay ministry and the gifts and graces which God has given to each believer with which to reach out in mission and ministry.
Before any of the above, however, there is in every disciple-making congregation I know a learning leader, a pastor, working with a team of lay leaders to learn together how to be a disciple-making, mission congregation.
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