In our determination to start more new congregations among those who are under served by our church, we created The Community Church Without Walls on the west side of Birmingham. R.G. Lyons is the pastor and he is convening a very different and very exciting sort of new United Methodist Church, thereby leading us into new dimensions of urban ministry. Noting the wonderfully high AVM number (attendance as average of membership) at The Community Church Without Walls, I asked R.G. for his interpretation of this wonderful outreach. Below is his reply.
I love R.G.'s distinction between "belonging" and "membership." The Church Without Walls seems to really be making "membership" in the Body of Christ mean something. Amen!
A while back I got a letter from you requesting a response about why our attendance is so much higher than our membership. For us, it is pretty simple...we make membership mean something. Everyone who seeks membership must go through a 12 week class and retreat and we have expanded the membership covenant to be more specific in the commitments we are making. So everyone who becomes a member, commits to worshipping weekly in at least one house church (unless sick or out of town or some other emergency that can't be avoided), spend time daily in Bible study and prayer, lives in love and peace with members/attendees of CCWW, and be involved in at least one ministry of CCWW in a hands-on capacity.
I explain membership something like this: "Membership is not about belonging. Everyone belongs; everyone is welcome. Membership is not about gaining special privileges...becoming a member does not mean you get something that non-members do not get. Rather, membership is about a commitment that you believe God is calling you to serve him by serving the church." Something like that.
For us, it has worked very well. I am very pleased that the overwhelming majority of our members have taken this covenant very seriously. So, the reason our AVM is so high is simply because we make membership a high commitment.
[Taken with permission from Bishop Will Willimon's blog, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Originally posted 12/13/2010]