I read an article on the Ministry Matters website that was titled, “Gallup: Number of Americans who belong to a church or house of worship plummets.” No offense Ministry Matters, but I don’t think this is news anymore. This has been going on for some time now.
I don’t know how long churches have been using the membership model – the idea that churches have members and membership. I know there weren’t members in the early church.
I also wonder if the way we think about membership in a church has changed over time. Right now, membership in a church is similar to membership in any other social organization.
You can also think of membership another way – we are members of the Body of Christ. This causes us to think a bit differently about churches.
I think it is time that churches look at other ways of being church, and what we should measure. Right now, churches measure attendance and offerings. That’s ok, but those are lagging indicators. Plus, I often wonder if we measure these things because we’ve been measuring them for a long time. Why is worship attendance the measurement standard for a church? Attendance doesn’t equal discipleship. It doesn’t equal lives changed. It doesn’t equal commitment.
I think the other reason we stick with measuring worship attendance and offerings is because they are easy to measure. There is no guessing, no subjectiveness. But we are missing out.
But for the church to start to measure different things, we would have start by thinking about the church differently. Not as a membership organization, but rather as a movement. Or maybe as a disciple making machine. Or maybe as being in the business of life change. Or making followers of Jesus. Or something of that nature. Once we shift our thinking about what the church is, then we can change what we measure. Until we are clear about why the church exists though, we’ll never be clear about what we should measure.
This much I know – the days of the church being a membership organization have run their course. This way of thinking is not helpful to the church. It isn’t helpful in launching new missions. It isn’t helpful in adapting to new dynamics. It is inside the box thinking.
We can’t afford inside the box thinking anymore. Or else our churches will end up in a box, buried six feet under the ground.
It’s time for the church to move from thinking of itself as a membership organization to something else – making disciples of Jesus. Until that happens, we’re going to continue to experience decline without much hope. The numbers and the trends don’t lie.