Five Threats to New Church Members
It’s been my privilege to welcome a lot of new folks into my church family since I first started out in ministry back in 2007. I’ve also been one of those new people too (Mandy and I had to go through the “church search” process when we lived in Louisville, KY just a few years ago). Through each of those experiences, I’ve noticed some patterns associated with those who thrive as new church members and those who quickly begin to drift away from the church altogether.
Why do some people have a hard time getting plugged in as church members? Is it because the church is filled with “cliques?” Is it because they should look for a church where they have more in common with the other members? Or maybe they’re just, well, weird?
Every situation is unique, but I’ve learned over the years that it’s usually not any of those things that keeps new church members from connecting, growing, and serving others in a local church. All too often, there are five dangers that threaten to keep new members from realizing the benefits of church membership and blessing others in the process. You may not even know that you’re carrying one of these around in your back pocket, but if you are, it’s going to make it difficult to fulfill everything God has planned for you as a member at Indian Creek.
What do you like about Indian Creek? What do you wish were different? Are the seats comfortable? The music loud enough? Too loud? What about the parking? The bathrooms? Is the preacher funny enough, or just funny looking? Does he tell enough stories? What about the kids? Do they have fun at Sunday School? I can keep going…
If we’re honest, many of us weigh all of the above questions carefully when deciding which church to attend. And in the name of reaching the greatest number of people, churches pay close attention to them as well. But a consumer mentality—the notion that the benefits of belonging to a church are a service you “purchase” by investing your time, talent, or tithe—will kill your ability to grow as a member in God’s church.
Instead of focusing on how closely a church aligns with your personal comforts or preferences (or those of your family), here are some alternative areas to focus on:
- Is the church intentionally, explicitly shaped by the Bible? Or is it shaped by something else (like a shared hobby or political stance, the teachings of a celebrity pastor, etc.)?
- Are the leaders men of honesty, integrity, faithfulness, and humility?
- Is the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of the church’s life? How often are you being pointed back to the cross?
At Indian Creek, we do our best to create an environment where it’s easy to hear the word of God and respond. We want to remove distractions and show our neighbors that we care about them. But we don’t ultimately serve “consumers.” If God tells us to do something in his word, we commit to do it whether it is popular or not. Don’t allow a consumer mentality to ruin your growth as a member of a local church.
Imagine a marriage in which the husband decides not to come home 2-3 nights a week, or who flirts openly with other women, or who frequently makes dinner plans with his wife and then fails to show. Would you say that’s a healthy marriage? By contrast, when a husband and wife are fully committed to their marriage and know that their spouse is behaving the same way, it creates an environment of security and mutual love that is truly a gift from God.
Relationships thrive on commitment. We all understand that, and yet many Christians refuse to make a commitment to a local church. They may be “members” according to the church roll, but they aren’t really committed. They sign up for things and then bail out when something better comes along. They skip worship gatherings for weeks at a time. They don’t bother to show up for members’ meetings.
Candidly, this is not God’s will for your life (and I can show you Scripture that says as much!). Not only that: it just doesn’t work. You can mark it down that if you’re not committed to your local church, you’ll miss out on nearly all its benefits. You might as well not join at all.
There are a lot of healthy churches in our area. But if you choose to come to Indian Creek, make a commitment and stick with it. Earn a reputation of faithfulness and consistency. Be present. Don’t let any and every excuse keep you from weekly worship. Don’t rush out the door in order to beat the crowd to lunch. I’m not saying you need to be a member of Indian Creek for the rest of your life, but while you’re here, be here.
Your level of commitment to your local church will have a major impact on your ability to thrive as a Christian. Weigh all the factors. Take your time to count the cost. And when you’re ready, make the commitment.
Christians in America have come to expect church to be convenient. Climate control, childcare, comfortable chairs and pews, a not-too-demanding schedule, have all become the bare minimum. But our brothers and sisters in Christ who have lived at other times or in other places recognize that there is nothing convenient about following Christ. I’ve worshiped with believers in Haiti who gather at 6am every Sunday to beat the 95-degree heat and 90% humidity in their crowded concrete building. Christians in central Asia have to gather in secret. Many of their leaders are sent to prison.
The truth is that you will, at one point or another, be faced with a choice between what God wants you to do and what is convenient. If convenience is one of your priorities, it will keep you from thriving as a church member.
If you decide to join Indian Creek, you may be called upon to pray with someone you don’t particularly like, or sit near a family with noisy children, or park in the gravel far away from the building. You may be needed to volunteer in the church nursery or to wash windows during a church workday.
Please don’t allow convenience to become more important than your local church.
There are 168 hours in a week, but they go fast. If you’re like most people, you can’t do everything you want to do. You have to decide what your priorities are.
More and more, I find that Christians are unwilling to prioritize faithful, regular participation in the life of the church (ahem, even though God commands it). There always seems to be something else that takes precedence.
Birthday parties, athletic events, hunting opportunities, bad weather, time changes, work, vacation, being “tired,” and a host of other things keep people from church. It kind of reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the soils. The cares of this world, so often, are like thorny weeds that crowd out good growth in the garden of our heart.
Being a member of Indian Creek Baptist Church means being willing to clear away the weeds. Personally, my wife and I try our best to gather with God’s people all 52 Sundays of the year (If we’re on vacation, we visit another church wherever we happen to be staying). We’ve followed this practice for the entirety of our marriage—not just because I’m a pastor—and it’s been such a blessing to us and a powerful lesson to our kids. They know that a regular, garden-variety Sunday gathering is more important to us than even a special, once-a-year opportunity to do something fun (of course, if one of us is sick, we stay home).
You’ll have to decide for yourself what kinds of things will take precedence over regular church involvement. But I urge you to look at the overall picture: If you are allowing yourself to miss worship or your Community Group more than once per month, you’ll definitely stifle your ability to grow and serve.
Perhaps the greatest danger to new church members is the tendency to compare. While you’re looking for a church, you have to draw comparisons. If you’ve been a member of a different church in the past, you can’t help but compare. But once you make the decision to become a member at Indian Creek, it’s critical that you avoid looking over at the “greener” grass at the church across town.
One of our burdens at Indian Creek is to reach the entire county with the gospel, not in competition with other local churches, but in cooperation with them. No two churches are alike. But when we live in comparison, we rob ourselves of joy and we limit our ability to truly love the people God has called us to serve.
After you’ve been here a few months, you’re going to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. The one thing that every person at Indian Creek brings to the table is a sin nature that’s slowly being conformed to the image of Christ. That latent sin rears its head in all sorts of ways. Don’t be discouraged; stick with it. You can join the perfect church when you get to heaven!
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