What is an “Ideal Church Member”? (Charles Arn)

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.”  You’ve heard it.  You’ve studied it.  You’ve preached it.  But, have you ever defined it?  What, exactly, is a “disciple”?

May I suggest that, for all practical purposes, a “disciple” is synonymous with an “ideal church member.”  Or, at least, it should be.

If you agree, then try this exercise with your church leaders: List the qualities of an ideal member of your congregation.  How should such a person act?  What should he say?  How should she feel?

Once you have listed the qualities of a disciple, examine your church’s programming to see how—or if—you are helping people reach this ideal.  After all, it seems reasonable that church activities should lead people toward some goal…

Here are nine characteristics I suggest could begin your thinking about the characteristics of an ideal member in your church …

An ideal (assimilated) member:

1.   …understands and identifies with the goals of your church.  Goals are what church leaders have determined to accomplish in the coming year.  How many of your constituents could list at least two of your church’s goals for the coming year?  (Perhaps a prior question would be, “Does your church actually have specific goals for the coming year?”)

2.   …attends worship regularly. It’s hard to imagine an assimilated member who is not in worship regularly; it’s a key part of being part of the body of Christ.  And, by the way, a change in worship attendance is the first sign of a person beginning to drop out of church.

3.     …feels a sense of spiritual progress.  The Christian life is like Pilgrim’s Progress…journeying toward the goal of being  like Christ.  Members who do not feel a sense of spiritual growth will begin to wonder whether the benefit of being involved in church is worth the cost.

4.   …has taken a formal step of affiliation with your church.  While some churches are de-emphasizing formal membership, there are good reasons for people to make a public commitment to Christ (i.e., baptism) and to His Church (i.e., membership).

5.   …has friends in your church.  On average, active church members have over seven friends in their church; drop-outs had less than two (before they left).

6.   …is using his/her spiritual gift.  From an assimilation perspective, giving one’s time and talents to Christ through the church is even more important than giving one’s money.  Plus, a role or task in the church provides a great opportunity to make friends (see #5).

7.   …is involved in a fellowship group.  The facts are clear: people in small groups seldom drop out of church.  Groups are one of the best ways to build strong bonds among members.

8.   tithes to your church.  “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Lk. 12:34  The Message).  Assimilated members are financially committed to the ministry of Christ’s Church through their congregation.

9.   …is witnessing to friends and family.  As we saw in last month’s post (“The Disciple-Making Silver Bullet”), the Gospel travels best through social networks of friends and relatives.  An ideal church member and Christian disciple is regularly and intentionally sharing God’s love with people in his/her oikos.

Now what? 

Here’s how to increase the number of people in your church who demonstrate these characteristics:

1.  Create your own list.  Discuss with others, pray, and then decide what ideal (and measurable) characteristics you would like to nurture in your members.

2.  Review and re-design your new members class around this definition.

3.  Evaluate your present constituency through the lenses of your definition by using a chart like this:

IDEAL CHARACTERISTICS

Our Church Members

#1

#2

#3

#4

#5

#6

Jim Adams

X

X

X

Trisha Burns

X

X

X

Hal Carter

X

Kelly Danielson

X

X

Josh Eckstrom

X

Rebecca Gardner

X

     etc., etc.

4.  Develop plans for the coming year that will move your members and attenders toward this ideal.

  • xjm716

    Dr Arn,

    Excellent post. Last night in my small group (#7!!) we were reading Hebrews 10. Verses 24 & 25 read, “And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    In these verses, we see some encouraging and some “spurring”…how does the church do this? How does one “land” the importance of the values of which you speak? How is it communicated? Can a group of people really define what an “ideal church member” ought to look like?

    Please understand, I’m supportive of this kind of thing, I’m just curious as to what this looks like from a practical standpoint. As you well know, our church cultures are very much against this sort of thing, what sort of fallout might we experience in rolling something like this out?

    I believe that we have made membership (#4) so cost free that it means nothing. How do you go from “nothing” to “something”?

    I posted some similar thoughts to these questions a week or so ago here: http://xjm716.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/what-have-we-learned-2/.

    Looking forward to continuing the dialogue.

    • YOUR QUESTION: In these verses, we see some encouraging and some “spurring”…how does the church do this? How does one “land” the importance of the values of which you speak?

      MY RESPONSE: Good questions…The church can (and should) provide encouragement to pursue a Christ-like life in everyone who is a part of the Christian community. That has been one of the most important functions of the church throughout history. But ultimately the motivation to walk “…in His Steps” (I Pe 2:21) must move from “extrinsic” to “intrinsic.” So, the question is, “How to people come to live a life of “…love and good works” (He 10:25)?

      Here’s a continuum I have found helpful that describes “Why people do things”. Ideally this would be visualized as a horizontal scale with the extrinsic motivation on the left, moving to intrinsic motivation on the right:

      FORCE
      COERCION
      DUTY
      OBLIGATION
      EXPECTATION
      DESIRE
      FULFILLMENT
      LOVE

      It’s a timeless question: “How does extrinsic motivation become intrinsic motivation?” (Probably worth a post in this blog by itself!) But, in the meantime, it’s also worth asking the question, “On which end of this scale do we, as church leaders, typically motivate our people?”

      YOUR QUESTION: I’m just curious as to what this looks like from a practical standpoint.

      MY RESPONSE: There is a church in Nashville that developed (based on the work of their church leaders) four areas they believed to be qualities of a growing Christian and church member: 1) regular worship attendance, 2) participation in a class or group, 3) serving in a church ministry role, and 4) regular financial commitment to the Christ through the church.

      The pastor preached on these qualities for several months, and then distributed a booklet the church had developed which enlarged on these four areas. Church members were asked to consider their own personal goals in each area for the coming year. Part of the booklet included a journal/diary in which members were encouraged to keep track of their goal and how they were doing in each area. The four areas were also referenced throughout the year, and members were encouraged to share their commitments (i.e., “accountability”) in their groups/classes.

      I wouldn’t say this is the best way, and certainly not the only way to “land” these issues. But it was an interesting (and, apparently helpful) spiritual growth experience for the people who participated.

      (Sorry for the long answer…if anyone made it to this point!) 🙂