Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Membership on the edge?

According to the 2007 State of the Church statistical highlights released by the General Secretary's office at The Wesleyan Church headquarters, total global membership decreased by 5,157 last year. That number may not paint an accurate picture since some international reporting was incomplete. Here in the North American General Conference, total membership (covenant and community) increased by 1718, or less than 1 new member per church. In light of that report, I found the following article, Membership Matters, from Dr. Keith Drury thought-provoking (I think that's one of Keith's spiritual gifts)

Keith writes:

"Robert Leonard is worried about declining membership. He’s seen the bottom drop out of his national figures in the last 50 years—from 4.1 million in 1959 down to 1.6 million this year. That’s a “reverse growth rate” (as the church growth movement used to call it) of –.013 per year. While losing less than 2% of membership a year never seems to be an “emergency,” over 50 years it can pile up and bite you in the rear [pocket].

Why aren’t they attracting new members? Daniel Wilson from the New Jersey region thinks they’ve got to reach out to the younger people. He along with other leaders thinks the membership standards may be too high for the newer generations. They want to shorten the length of new member training, cut out some of the hoops a candidate has to jump though, and maybe even compromise on some of the stringent requirements for new members.

So what do you think? To get themselves on the map again should these guys lower standards to grow or leave them high because people value things more when they cost more? What do you think?

So which denomination are we talking about here? None. The story above is about the Masons. Their membership has been dwindling since the 1950’s. They are desperately trying to reach what they call “the younger generations 21-55” (55?). They’re shortening the year-long membership process collapsing the first three (of 33) Masonic steps (“degrees”) in an attempt to bring in the next generation and keep their local “lodges” alive. While they are still unwilling to open up membership to women (the Mason’s version of the church’s WMS is the “Eastern Star”) they are willing to make other compromises. After 50 years of declining membership they think its time.

So what is the lesson for us church folk?

Think about these things. Discuss them with someone else who cares about the church like you do.

  1. __Yes __No We should we lower membership standards to reach new generations.
  2. __Yes __No We ought to hold to the membership standards as they are—it is who we are.
  3. __Yes __No We should make membership training shorter and easier for people.
  4. __Yes __No We ought to make membership training harder and longer—people don’t value bargains.
  5. __Yes __No We could compromise on at least some current membership standards.
  6. __Yes __No We should let anyone who claims to be a Christian join our church.—why have higher standards than God?
  7. __Yes __No Membership should become leadership in our church—people don’t need to join unless they want to lead
  8. __Yes __No Denominations shouldn’t have membership standards any more—that should be up to local churches.
  9. __Yes __No We should quit making the number of members a criterion of success for pastors.
  10. __Yes __No We ought to get rid of membership altogether—anyone who attends should be able to vote on anything.
  11. __Yes __No We should ban or expel people who use alcohol from membership.
  12. __Yes __No We should ban or expel people who use tobacco from membership.
  13. __Yes __No We should ban or expel people who gamble—even buy lottery tickets or go to casinos—from membership.
  14. __Yes __No We should ban or expel divorced people who did not have a biblical cause from membership.
  15. __Yes __No We should ban or expel people who have a continuing sexual affair from membership.
  16. __Yes __No We should ban or expel people who practice the gay lifestyle from membership
  17. __Yes __No We should have higher standards for leadership then we have for membership.
  18. __Yes __No We should have a higher standard for ministers than for lay membership in the church
  19. __Yes __No
  20. __Yes __No (What question would you add?)
So what do you think?"

Thank you, Keith, for making us think!