I seem to be having another round of conversations where the issue of church membership keeps arising – again! However, so does the question of small groups, which appear to have been put on the back burner in many places.
Being part of things Baptist, we have a pretty high view of membership and this has worked well in Christendom. It’s a very useful when you can identify the point of believing in Jesus Christ, belonging to a local expression of the body of Christ and beginning to live according to the expectations of being a new creation in Christ all in one event. When joining that church is also the step we take, arriving at the end of a long journey, which has enabled the accumulation of a more than a superficial understanding of Jesus and the Church along the way life is neat and tidy. Let’s face it most people knew in the UK how they should live as Christian disciples before they set foot in a Christian Church even 30 years ago.
Counting who comes in the front door (whether that be the ‘attenders’ or the ‘members’) does strike me more and more as being not the most helpful means of discerning what God is doing among us. These, however, remain the best measures we have. Of course, when the number of members equalled the number of missionary disciples, to use the jargon, that was OK. How do we count the number of those who go out the front door – sent into the world as disciples as it were?
This is where the small group conversations come to the fore. In one conversation, with one of our newish Ministers, recently he told me they had about forty members and about forty people meeting in small missional cell groups during the week. Each group is not entirely made up of the same people, but he’s onto something I’ve no doubt. My hunch is this church will grow beyond its current numbers, whichever figures they count, in the next year – because forty people focused upon living missionally will make a difference. It’s even more than a tiny mustard seed.