Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Membership Process, Part 2

Tim Brister —  June 7, 2010 — 7 Comments

Last week, I took up the first part of the membership process, namely the membership application and class.  Today, I want to finish up the membership process by taking up the interview and congregational vote.  It goes without saying that these processes are always being evaluated and subject to change as we look to discover how to give faithful oversight and care to the health and growth of the church.

The Membership Interview

Grace is the first church that I have attended or have been on staff with that conducts membership interviews.  For many Baptist churches, a person is accepted into membership upon filling out a membership card and being presented to the church almost immediately.  I would argue that such approaches have played a significant role in the unregenerate state of membership in the Southern Baptist Convention.  But that was not the point of this post, was it? ;)  But all jesting aside, answering the why question for interviews will play a significant role in how you do them as well.

We schedule membership interviews throughout the week, and we generally do them before/after services on Sunday or in the late afternoon/evening during the weekdays.  At least two elders are present at the interviews (although we are looking at possibly doing it with just one), which typically last an 1-1.5 hours (depending if a couple is interviewed together).  The prospective member is asked to bring with them a written version of their testimony which we add to the application (we had already received).  Our approach to the interview is conversational and somewhat informal (it is intimidating enough for most people!).  The outline of our interview typically flows in the conversation like this:

1.  [PRAYER] Begin with prayer.

2. Explain that the church has entrusted the elders with the responsibility of interviewing prospective members, which includes hearing their testimony, understanding of the gospel, understanding of church membership, and commitment to church life.

3.  [TESTIMONY] We ask the prospective member to share their story of conversion (testimony), which may also lead to questions related to their previous church experience/background.

4.  [GOSPEL] We ask them to explain the gospel in 60 seconds or less. We are not looking for a seminarian’s answer, but we are looking to see if they understand who God is, what their sin has done, who Jesus is and why he came, what he accomplished on the cross, and how one benefits from his life, death, and resurrection.  If the prospective member struggles to articulate the gospel, we try to rephrase the question and give them additional opportunities to explain it to us.  If at this point they cannot tell us the message by which sinners are saved, we request to meet with them further to help them gain a better grasp of the gospel and perhaps result in their salvation.

5.  [CHURCH LIFE] We then ask them to explain their understanding of what it means to be a member.  We ask them about having read and committed to the church covenant (attending, praying, giving, serving, submitting to leadership, etc.), read and agreed with our church confession (giving opportunity to answer any doctrinal questions they might have), and understand and adhere to our practice of church discipline (bringing out both formative and corrective discipline).

6. [MINISTRY] We ask them to describe where they are spiritually (struggling, growing, new Christian, etc.), including their family life (if applicable).  We also ask them to share with us how they believe God has gifted them spiritually, what they are passionate about, and where they see them serving to edify the body of Christ.  Because our small groups is such an integral part of our body life, we ask them about their participation and involvement in our growth groups as well.

7.  [MISSION] Lastly, we ask them about our core practices in mission, included our multi-ethnic commitment locally, our passion to be a church planting church, and our desire to see members involve in international missions.

8. [THEIR QUESTIONS] Before we conclude with the interview, we ask them if they have any questions for us and if there is anything that would prevent them from fulfilling their commitment to our church. We then explain the follow-up process and vote and close with prayer.

A couple of docs we have been trying to develop is (1) a list of specific questions to ask along these various areas of the interview, and (2) an assessment form for the membership interview where we can put our thoughts/comments on record (it easy to forget, for instance, what they said their spiritual gift was).  Another thing we are beginning to do is record their testimonies on video with the creation of a “Grace Story Center” where we have a growing collection of testimonies of God’s saving grace available to the public.

Congregational Vote and Formal Welcoming

Unless there are reservations from the elders after the membership interview, the following Wednesday night prayer meeting begins with the elders presenting to the congregation the prospective members for a formal vote to accept them into membership.  The elders give a brief summary of the membership interview and how they are coming (by baptism, statement, letter) to join, followed by an opportunity to discuss the matter.  As far as my memory can tell, I do not recall any vote that has not been approved unanimously.

After the congregational vote, the final part of the membership process if formally welcoming the new members into our church family which for us takes places on our Communion Service, the last Sunday night of the month.  They have the opportunity during this service to publicly share their testimony, though it is not required.  At the close of the service, they are asked to come to the front of the sanctuary so that the church family can come by and speak with them, hug their necks, and so on.  A time of fellowship/reception concludes our time together that evening.

So there you have it.  The next part of the “kingly” administration that I hope to address is body life integration and ministry placement.  In other words, what now that they are members?  I may be holding off for that one as I will be traveling the next couple of weeks, but I do my best to keep this series going.

Those of you who hold membership interviews, I’d love to hear how you do it, who does it, what questions you ask, etc.  I hope that some of this process has been helpful to you.  If there are any questions or matters to discuss, please let me know in the comments.  May God direct our efforts to shepherd the flock with wisdom and prudence and encourage growth in the gospel through the community of faith!

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7 responses to Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Membership Process, Part 2

  1. Our membership process looks very similar to yours.

    One question we ask is “When [not if] someone in the church offends you, how will you respond?” and “When [not if] the elders make a decision/teach something that you do not agree with, how will you respond?”

    Another question we ask is, “What reasons do you have for leaving your previous church. Are you under another church’s discipline or do you have any unresolved conflict anywhere?” If there is unresolved conflict, we will not proceed with the membership process until reconciliation has been attempted.

    We recently decided to delay the congregational vote until a week after a candidate shares his testimony with the congregation. This allows our members to come to the elders privately should they have any questions or concerns regarding the candidates testimony.

    So far this process has worked very well.

    • Aaron,

      Those are excellent questions. Really appreciate sharing them. We provide opportunity for members to share concerns regarding prospective members, but in a members meeting and not privately. I really dig the way you guys handle the membership issue.

  2. Hi Timmy,

    I’d like to pass along some information about Prison Fellowship’s Break the Cycle Day tomorrow.

    As an influential Christian voice, you have the power to get many other people behind this worthy and recurring cause. Please consider passing along information about Break the Cycle Day to your network and anyone who may be interested in donating or helping the cause.

    You can find our Facebook page and website addresses below. If you are feeling truly passionate, we would love for you to blog about Break the Cycle Day on timmybrister.com! It could be the most effective way to pass along information and help us make a difference.

    Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/helpbreakthecycle
    Website – http://www.helpbreakthecycle.org/index.jsp

    You have the power to Break the Cycle. The children of prisoner’s stand at a crossroads: it’s up to us to lead them down the right path.

    Your efforts will be greatly appreciated by not only us at Prison Fellowship, but by the children you will help and by the members of our society who will benefit from their contributions to the world.

    Sincerely,

    Joe Abraham

    BuzzBuilder
    Prison Fellowship Ministries

  3. I go through a very similar process with our new members in their interview. The only thing I do differently is let them ask their questions first. It usually gives me a better feel of how to ask the other questions once I hear what there concerns and questions are.

    Do you find that their questions are generally innocuous by the time you’ve gotten to the end or do they provide more significant conversation?

  4. Jim Pemberton June 9, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Our interview process is similar although probably not quite as detailed. Before being presented before the congregation, all applicants for membership must talk to one of our ministerial staff, often with a witness. Much of the same information is discussed, although I don’t know to what extent it is explicitly drawn up. I do know that there is a communication process between our staff members so that all are aware of all active applicants and the applicants are tracked as far as the formal contact they have had in the membership application process.

    The same goes for children of members who come as applicants for baptism or applicants for baptism who don’t seek membership. This last is extremely rare, but special cases may apply. For example, we had a retired pastor of a denomination that doesn’t practice baptism by immersion come to a particular conviction regarding a desire to be obedient to baptism by immersion although he was yet a faithful member of another church that he strong ties of fellowship with. Our staff agreed to baptize the man with the understanding that he would continue to be a faithful member of a church in another denomination and the congregation agreed. Anyway, all such contacts are tracked and duly reported among all the staff.

    The only information left out may be any confidential counseling information unrelated to membership that may crop up.

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