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!