June 9th, 2011

Join the Move from Church Membership to Mission Partnership: 5 Compelling Reasons

Last Sunday, I worshipped with a a 6-month old church called Neartown, planted in the heart of Houston.  Russel Cravens skillfully ended his message, not with a plea for church membership, but a call join as mission partners.

But this language is not the move of church planters only. Well established churches like St. Andrews in Newport Beach, California are evaluating their language. Another example is the regional force known as Christ Fellowship in West Palm Beach, Florida. In a process with them two weeks ago, they passionately refused to call their folks “volunteers” out of preference for the meaning that comes with the role of “partners.”

What about your church?

Sure, we are so well entrenched in the language of church membership, you make think it’s absurd to ask. And after all, isn’t the idea of “church membership” biblical? Paul does use body imagery to boldly remind believers that,  “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).

Despite it’s historic use and the viable connection to make with the Scriptures, I think its time for a shift. In fact, I think most churches would benefit dramatically from flushing the terminology of “church membership.” I recommend the change for one purpose: to make the mission of Jesus for His church more  clear and concrete in the hearts of our people.

Here are five reasons to start. You help me build the list!

#1 Membership is culturally hijacked terminology by its use from country clubs to platinum cards. Partnership is a term that carries less baggage and brings new metaphors biblically.

#2 Membership may emphasize privilege to the neglect of responsibility. Partnership emphasizes both.

#3 Membership could bring deeply rooted assumptions about church in general that are no longer valid for your church. Partnership creates an opportunity to reset expectations.

#4 Membership is a static. Partnership brings a sense of both action and direction.

#5 Membership is a relatively small portal for vision-casting. Partnership opens a dynamic metaphor range for future-orientation, impact, togetherness, adventure and risk-taking.  It captures the “sentness” of a missional reorientation.

Have you made the move yet?

If so, drop me a quick note to share what language you use.

5 Comments on to “Join the Move from Church Membership to Mission Partnership: 5 Compelling Reasons”

  • Ron Swanson says:

    Great post.
    Been thinking about this with my new church plant. I’ll not be having a “membership” but I love the idea and terminology of “Partnership”. We begin core mtgs in a couple weeks. We are creating now the language we will use. This has got me thinking.
    Going to have to get your book as well!
    Thanks Will.

  • Steve McCoy says:

    I really connect with these thoughts, Will — we’ve been using the word ‘Participant’ instead of “Member” — I really like the use of Partnership — very catalytic — thanks for sharing

  • horace says:

    How timely a gift! This helps to clarify a stirring in my soul and a searching for inclusive language that reflects the true mission in Jesus Christ @ Holy Family Church, Miami Gardens, Fl.

  • Rick Brown says:

    We have recently moved to talking about Partnership Covenant instead of Membership for many of the same reasons you stated here. Thanks for the post as we continually clarify what we are calling people to.

  • What if we take it one step further? What if we don’t just change the words, but change the structure of our meetings to allow people to participate? Then we will communicate more effectively that everyone has the opportunity to be a participant, a partner, rather than just a passive listener or observer.

    My husband has left his role as lead minister to start up a church which operates as a facilitated learning community. It’s inspiring to see recovering addicts, homeless people, grandmothers and bikies learning together and empowering each other to discover their spiritual gifts and ministry abilities. Nobody needs to be asked to become a ministry partner – they’re already actively ministering to each other and to their family and friends outside of the community.


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