Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Receiving New Church Members

Welcoming a new church member
Most Baptist churches conclude with an invitation to place one’s faith in Christ and join the church. Difficulties arise when the person responding to the invitation does not in fact meet the requirements for membership.

Too many churches will move forward anyway, voting to receive this person into the fellowship or as candidates for baptism without knowing enough about them.

Because of this, the call for a vote has become a meaningless relic of our Baptist past when we took receiving a new member into the fellowship as a serious matter with covenantal responsibilities for the spiritual welfare of the one joining. With our loss of emphasis on regenerate church membership, welcoming new members simply became a rubber stamp, little was expected of new members, and there was little or no responsibility for them on the part of the existing church members.
Is there a better way? Perhaps there is. 

One thing I have done is to try to visit with prospective members ahead of time, to talk with them about their souls and ascertain whether they understand salvation, have been baptized, and are ready for membership. When they come forward I feel it is my responsibility to give you the information I have found so that you can vote intelligently on receiving a candidate for church membership. Other times a person has been visiting for a long time and we all have come to know their testimony. 
A  growing number of conservative Southern Baptist churches are receiving members in a way that they consider to have more integrity for covenantal commitment and responsibility before the Lord. 

At the Invitation at the end of the service they 
(1)   Welcome warmly anyone who desires to join the church. Coming forward is not the end of the process but the beginning. The candidate has indicated their interest in joining the church. No vote is taken at this time. Then at the end of the service these candidates are presented to the congregation and the following is said to them, “After the service please come and welcome these who will be beginning the process toward church membership.” 
(2)   New member/convert class. The next step in the process is a required new member class. The first topic is a review of what it means to trust Christ for salvation. The class is required for all applicants for church membership because some who come via transfer of letter may come from churches where the gospel is not clearly taught. A personal conversation with a pastor or deacon will insure that every new member is a genuine believer. Other topics will include the church’s beliefs, its government and leadership, its values and goals, its denominational connections, the history of the church and its future plans. The applicant would be assigned provisionally to the care of a Sunday School class. Later as a new member, the applicant could make a final decision on the class they choose to join.

(3)   Formal presentation and vote by the congregation. Following completion of the class the prospective new members would be presented to the church body (during a normal business meeting). For new converts, the one who led the class could recommend that the church vote to baptize the candidate, stating that the candidate had made a credible profession of faith and understood what it means to be a follower of Christ. On the basis of this type of recommendation, the church could make a responsible vote. Following baptism (and in some churches, signing the church covenant), the candidate would become a full voting member. For those previously baptized and transferring their membership from another church, there would be a recommendation from one who could vouch for the authenticity of the candidate’s faith. Then the church could responsibly vote to receive them. Such votes would not be covenantal commitments between the church and the new member.