There come times when the regulars around church suddenly realize that there is a group of newer faces who’ve become pretty regular around church… And then we know that we need to — or at least want to — encourage the newbies to become more involved. Ask them if they would like to formalize their commitment, become members, join our church.
(Of course, anyone should free to say at any time, “I’m ready to make a commitment to participating in this faith community.” In some sense, that’s what folks are saying when they start showing up regularly; that’s the natural first step. But if we don’t ask them if they’d like to invest themselves deeper, to declare their commitment publicly, well, then we might miss the opportunity and blessing.)
IF YOU ARE ONE OF OUR NEWCOMERS, PLEASE TAKE THIS AS YOUR INVITATION. OR AT LEAST OUR PROMISE THAT THERE IS ROOM FOR YOU AND WE ARE READY TO RECEIVE YOU! (If that resonates, please let me know so that we can figure out how to help you find a deeper rooting among us… and the full blessing church might add to their life.)
Lately, we have found that identifying even one Sunday after church for a New Members’ Class is almost impossible vis a vis all the prospective new members’ conflicting schedules. And so, I end up meeting with people individually, which is time consuming, and leaves them without that added of benefit of getting to know the other people who will be joining with them as well as other leaders of the church. I’ve been trying to think of a new model for people joining the church.
A clarification: traditionally, the New Members’ Class isn’t some test or requirement that one must pass in order to be admitted to membership at Old First. Quite the contrary, Old First sees the New Members’ Class is a burden on the membership, not the newcomers. What we mean is: we don’t think people need to “measure up” in order to join the church. Rather, we have found, that we need to offer new folks whatever they think is necessary in order to be able to find their own place among us and call Old First their “church home.”
And what each person needs… well, it’s always a little different. One person told me he checked our financials before joining to make sure we were sound stewards. Some people want to know the congregation’s history. Many people feel some need to know how the church is governed and all the opportunities for service and fellowship. Occasionally, people have some theological stick point: either something they don’t understand in their own faith or something they want to know about how the Old First or the United Church of Christ sees God. And we tend to believe that almost everyone needs relationships — at least a few people in the church family who they grow close to and can count on.
As I try to think about how to design a new class, it would be helpful for me to hear what you, if you are a newcomer, need in order to be helped to find your way, or if you are already a member, maybe you can think about what it was that was most helpful for your along the way to belonging to (or being changed by) this congregation…
And, don’t forget: I’m trying to organize the reception of new members in worship soon, so let me know if you are interested.