Grace Institute News & Good Ideas 

March 30, 2011  

from membership to discipleship

There is much talk today about declining memberships in congregations. Without a question, many churches are in decline. But the measurement of memberships may be of diminishing importance regarding church health. There are several reasons for this, including:

  1. Some generations just don't care about the importance of membership.  
  2. We are such a mobile culture that many people are not putting doclubwn the roots of membership the way they used to.  
  3. There is also the danger that people can perceive our discussion of membership as a benefit to the church's numbers, and not an interest in them.
  4. Some researchers are finding that membership is becoming counterproductive with some people because it implies, as with other organizations, that there are perks to be expected with that membership and that the staff is there to serve them. 

But those aren't the primary reasons for diminishing emphasis. Many of our most vital congregations are spending little time worrying about memberships because they are concentrating more on developing disciples of Jesus.  


Nothing against membership as a measure of a person's investment in the life of a local congregation, but what's really important is whether people are being led into actual discipleship. Teaching people to be servants, generous, faithful, and not shaped by the world is what the Bible gives as our most important marching orders. Teaching people to be biblically literate and how to discern the will of God are big deals.


Interestingly enough, when we have talked with people about membership, we have made it clear that 1) it isn't a biblical concept, 2) it is important from the standpoint of displaying to the congregation that they are "in with both feet", but 3) we are more concerned about their walk with Christ...and then they are more open to membership. We believe that people respond well to things being put in proper perspective.


Questions to ponder:

1. What is the role of membership in your congregation?

2. Is the training for discipleship identified to newcomers as well as


3. How is the health of your congregation measured?


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Grace Institute, Michelle Jenks, executive director

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