Seven-Trends-in-Church-New-Member-Classes

One of the most significant changes in church practices in the past fifteen years is the requirement of an entry class to be granted church membership. In a 1997 survey I did, only 17 percent of churches were requiring a new member class. In a recent and non-scientific Twitter poll I conducted, 86 percent of those who responded said their church requires a membership class to be formally affiliated with the church.

Even if you provide allowances for the potential lack of accuracy of a Twitter poll, the change is remarkable if not dramatic. The number of churches requiring a membership class has increased 400 percent in 15 years!

That is one of seven key trends we see today in new member classes. Let’s look at all seven:

  1. Requiring church membership classes has become a normative church practice. Indeed this church practice is almost as pervasive as churches that have small groups or Sunday school classes.
  2. The longer a church has required a membership class, the shorter it becomes in length. Many churches start with membership classes that are multiple weeks in length. Because of teaching efficiency and the need for better participation, they typically move toward one-day classes.
  3. The most common length of a new member class is three hours. Of course, there is a wide variety of lengths and days of these classes, but the three-hour class is now the plurality among those offered. It still is a long way from becoming the majority preference though.
  4. The most common day the class is offered is Sunday. The logic behind this option is that people are already at church, so offer the class while they are there. I have heard from many church leaders whose churches offer the class during the Sunday school/Bible study/small group time. Others offer the class immediately after the worship services, typically connected to lunch. Again, there is still much variety on the day or evening these classes are offered.
  5. The most efficient membership classes have options. By efficient, I mean the level of participation. If the church offers classes at different times, more people are likely to participate. A common example is a church that offers a class on two Wednesday evenings for 90 minutes each, or one Sunday afternoon for three hours.
  6. Among the minority of churches that do not require new member classes, there are strong feelings against them. Some church leaders and members view such a requirement as legalistic and/or unbiblical. This issue still evokes strong emotions.
  7. Leaders in churches are enthusiastic about the benefits of new member classes. Though I have no metrics, I do hear anecdotal testimonies about improved member retention, better stewardship, stronger ministry participation, and lower conflict.

Let me hear from you about new member classes in your church. Do you require them? When are they offered? What is the content of them? What is your assessment of their usefulness thus far? What have you changed about them? What would you like to change?

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Comments

    • Thom Rainer says

      Brandon -

      That will likely be another research project for me. I hope some of the readers will share their insights as well.

    • Tim Whalen says

      I have heard a brief history of the church is helpful, a video of the church along the lines of a promo video, presentation the church constitution, bylaws, etc. The Pastor stating the vision and requirements such as attendance, tithing etc.

  1. says

    At Cotton Ridge, we have an online church membership class at http://cottonridge.org/#/next-steps/step-3-membership. The participant can print out a workbook and follow a one-hour Youtube video. The video is simply my voice walking the participant through a mind map that I created on MindMeister.com. The content of the class includes: (1) What God desires for your life: To become a part of His family by following Jesus Christ (where I discuss receiving Christ and being baptized); (2) How Cotton Ridge fits into God’s plan for your life (where I talk about what church is, essential biblical doctrines, and the strategy and mission of our church; and (3) Beginning your journey at Cotton Ridge (where I talk about why you should join, what is expected of members, how to join, and what’s next. What comes next is a personal visit from two of our elders where we can get to know one another, answer questions, and verify that the participant qualifies.

    I can cover a lot in a one-hour video that I would take me longer in person due to questions. Those questions, of course, can be answered in the personal interview with our elders.

    I came up with this format because, much like the just-released Ministry Grid, having an online class gives people a chance to take the class on their own time. It’s user-friendly. We can still offer the class in person, of course. The online class is too new to judge its effectiveness.

    • Thom Rainer says

      That is fascinating David. I would love to hear your assessment several months from now. You’re right: the premise is very much like MinistryGrid.com.

    • Lemuel Billingsley says

      David,I really the topics in which the class deals w/. Just looking from the perspective of what is posted I can see that this would give a new Christian ground in which to build their faith in Jesus and for me that is very important. I too am interested in knowing over the course of the next few mths how things are progressing; plus I would love to hear from a new member if that is possible.

      thanks for sharing this

      Lemuel Billingsley

    • Thom Rainer says

      Chris -

      Some of these trends may prove to be best practices. Ultimately, we must devise a way to measure effectiveness before we can declare anything to be a best practice.

  2. says

    Our church offers a Membership Class twice a year, open to new and prospective members. It is not required, but encouraged, and almost always sought out. It helps people know who we are and how we operate before making a commitment, and helps members know how to connect and get involved. Our classes last 3-4 weeks during Sunday School.

  3. Lemuel Billingsley says

    Of recent, I started what I call a new Christian class on Sunday mornings rather than calling it new member class. This idea came from a friend of mine as we were discussing some issues of youth joining the fellow and not necessarily knowing Jesus. So I developed a class that focuses on the decision in which they made in their acceptance of Jesus. Further, it is helping them through the Scriptures to understand Salvation and then moving into God’s expectation of them as a new Christian. It is working for Good Hope Baptist Church for now. The class, I must admit needs tweaking here and there, but it is helping the youth to come to an understanding of their decision to follow Christ.
    Lemuel Billingsley

  4. Gary Walton says

    I really like David’s new members class. It is very practical. We offer one at New Liberty but it was not an easy process to get approved through the body.

  5. Gerald Wolfe says

    Although the Church I grew up in didn’t offer a New Members Class, I support it 100%. My guess would be most people who regularly attend Church services, have no idea of the commitment and responsibilities of a member of a New Testament Church.

  6. Michael Montgomery says

    Dr. Rainer -

    I am surprised you have not mentioned your own book, “I Am a Church Member.” Every where I turn, I hear people talking about your book. It seems like it is being used in new members classes all over the world. I think it is the very best content ever, besides the Bible, for a new members class.

  7. Jim says

    Thom,

    Is there a biblical basis for requiring people to take classes or do sign papers to become a “member” of a church?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jim -

      To answer your question directly, there is no biblical mandate to take a class or sign anything to become a member of a church. In 1 Corinthians 12, however, it is abundantly clear that membership is a biblical concept, and that we need some means to communicate the expectations of church membership. New member classes are a functional option to do so, but they do not have to be the only way to communicate expectations.

      I would love to hear from you about alternative approaches.

      • Jim says

        Thom,

        Thanks for your reply. It seems like you’re saying you think there are different approaches, or perhaps wineskins, which makes sense.

        I’ve only belonged to one evangelical church (the one I went to when I became saved, which I still go to), so my only other experience with church is Catholic. In the church I go to, one is a member if they have decided to believe in the forgiveness Christ has offered them. Being saved, they should then have spiritual gift(s) and also be an indispensable part of the body of Christ. There are theology training classes, which I believe are important, but they are not required. People that decide to follow Christ and that are actively involved in the body are highly encouraged to take classes that are offered, however.

        Are the expectations of church membership different in every church or is there a similar expectation in each church? Again, I don’t have much experience, so I really don’t know! Also, one allowed to attend a church without being a member? I guess I’m asking what the difference is between someone who attends a church and an official member.

        Admittedly, I haven’t read your book “I am a church member,” so if this is covered in that, I apologize.

        • Thom Rainer says

          Jim -

          Membership is not required to attend Protestant churches. Membership is a sign of a commitment to serve Christ and others through a particular congregation.

      • says

        Thom, we dropped the term “member” for “mission partner” due to the fine biblical concept of membership (in the body of Christ) being misunderstood in our culture. Membership invokes the notion of a club or the YMCA where becoming a member gives rights and privileges rather relationship and service. So Jesus makes you a member of His Body and we invite believers to join our mission as partners (Phil. 1:3-5). So we offer a class to explain our mission and how they can be part of it (gospel, serving, groups, giving) Naturally, if your partnership and gifting moves you to lead others in our mission, you become a mission leader. There is a class (90 mins) to become a mission partner and ongoing sessions for mission leaders.

  8. says

    David mentioned a YouTube video. What do you all think of incorporating video into this process? We’re considering a one-hour in-person session, then 2-3 half hour videos, then a follow up one-hour in-person session. The plan is that this would all take place in about a three week period of time. A session that lasts around 3 hours is what we’ve done in the past, but we’ve found we can’t cover all that we’d like to cover. The thinking is that the videos would allow us to be concise so we could cover more material. Then, we’d build in some Q&A time for the video sessions in the last in-person session.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Brandon -

      Again, I would check MinistryGrid.com. It is designed to let you upload your own video and track those who are taking the class.

  9. Andrew says

    Our church conducts a membership class during an early service. It is eight weeks long (before it was four separate courses at four weeks per class) that focus on building a foundation of discipleship on faith, exploring spiritual gifts to serve in ministry, providing practical training for sharing the gospel/evangelizing, and then finishing with our church’s history and future mission. At the end of the class, upon successful completion (based on attendance criteria) there is an offer of membership.

  10. Hal Hunter says

    Dr Rainer-
    We have discovered that we have a large number of people who self-identify as members, but who aren’t. For us, the only real difference between a member and an attender is the right to vote and hold positions in leadership. And since we generally have only one business meeting a year, that isn’t a big deal. On any given Sunday, perhaps 1/4th to 1/3rd of those in attendance are actually members.

    We want it very easy and friction-free to attend and participate in the life of the church. We want it hard enough to be a member that only people with real interest and commitment are leading and making decisions.

    We have a Membership Commitment luncheon after worship on each fifth Sunday. We provide childcare if needed, and it will last 90 minutes or so, depending on questions. We cover a brief history of the church, our mission and strategy, beliefs and practices, how the church functions, and introduce the senior staff. We ask each new member to introduce themselves, and tell a little of their faith story and how they ended up here. We insure that everyone is indeed a born-again believer and has been scripturally baptized. We then ask them to sign an agreement to be bound by our Member Commitment.

  11. Jim Rice says

    We offer a “Discover First Baptist” class 3-4 times a year for new comers who wish to find out more about our church and ministries. People who wish to attend the class are not obligated to become members but often they do. We have found that the term membership class was too limiting. (People would not attend a membership class. But they were interested in attending a “Discover First Baptist” class.) In the past we would conduct the classes during the Sunday School hour for three consecutive weeks. Recently we met with the attendees after Sunday morning worship, ordered a pizza and held the class for about 2-1/2 hours. I think this is better way to do it for us.

  12. says

    Over the past 20 years of ministry we have utilized a membership class typically lasting 12-15, 45 minute sessions. I know it sounds incredible but it has worked very well for us. We’ve found the longer period builds greater connection to the teacher, the hosts, the fellow participants and the church. Our members are required to fulfill seven commitments and only pass into membership after they have completed a membership interview, where they have connected in a group and/or ministry. We also have a “Welcome to Radiant” reception where people can immediately get involved in the life of the church (it’s one hour long) but to be a member requires attending the class and committing to the membership covenant. As you might guess, our membership is significantly lower than our attendance but our members are very committed.

    • Lemuel Billingsley says

      I am finding that going through the class is helpful to the students and does build a relationship w/ the teacher and others that are involved w/ in the ministry. Also, I am discovering that student have other Biblical questions which gives the teacher opportunity to answer and help them to grow in their studies and time w/ God through prayer. I applaud you for the work

  13. says

    We treat our new member class as an 8-week small group. We don’t get as many members as we might if we did it in a shorter format, but the quality of our members are awesome! Because our two membership questions are, “Who is your Lord and Savior?” and “Will you be a faithful member of this church?” we spend most of the time on those questions. Here’s what we cover:

    1. Welcome and overview of the group.
    2-3. Sharing our stories. Each group member writes up and shares the story of their faith journey, including questions and doubts they struggle with. Other participants then ask clarifying questions and offer affirming comments. It’s a great way to build community and openness into the group right from the start.
    4. What’s a Christian, Part 1. Jesus as Savior.
    5. What’s a Christian, Part 2. Jesus as Lord.
    6. What’s a member, Part 1. Here we look at membership as more than just getting your name on the roles. It’s about being a “body part” in Christ’s body.
    7. What’s a member, Part 2. Here we focus on the member’s responsibility to serve and to give.
    8. Who is Northminster Church and what the heck is a Presbyterian, anyway? By the way, most people don’t join our church because it’s Presbyterian and I always tell them that being Presbyterian is not the most important thing about who we are. Following Jesus is the most important thing. But they’re curious about what Presbyterian means, so we cover it.

    We also begin each meeting by “dwelling” in Romans 12. We read it together, then share whatever questions or thoughts came to mind, or what resonated with us that day.

  14. HW says

    Over the past 20 years we have gone from 4 (2) classes to 2 (2) hour classes and a personal gifts profile that can be filled out at home. We meet with folks after they’ve taken the gifts profile and have conversations about there they serve in the community of faith and where they serve in the community around the church

  15. says

    Timely Timely Timely !!!
    How else can I say it?!?
    I have been working on our new “new members” class. We have had a loosely organized luncheon for new members, but it just wasn’t working. I had been praying for guidance and how best to Biblically welcome new members and get them plugged into the church.
    I read Break Out Churches, then I Am A Church Member, and just now finished the videos from Connected. WOW Just timely! and Biblical I feel.

    Thank you and thank you

    I am the Sunday School director at our church, and want to integrate the I Am a Church Member into our classes, but not sure it is the correct tool now that Connected is released.

    Q. How do you suggest sharing these materials with:
    Leadership, Current members, new members?

  16. Sharon says

    My church implemented the new members class last year we held three classes and it has been beneficial to the participates. Most of them that has taken the class now participate in one of the ministries at the church. I am the coordinator for the class and class consists of three parts, church history, what we believe, the benefits of being in the body of Christ. Origianlly the class was for 5 weeks then 4 and now my pastor told me for this year he wants its broken down to 3 weeks. I love the idea of having an online class its something I need to check into.
    Hope my comments help for those who would like to begin a class. I also have each ministry leader to come in and speak about their team.

  17. says

    Hi Dr. Rainer,
    I am a bi-vocational minister looking to develop a new members class for our congregation, but I am struggling to find the time. Between family, work, church, and education…time is gone…not to mention personal devotion time and sermon prep, etc etc.

    With all that said…I was wondering if there was any material or literature that I could purchase that was new member material. I realize that I may have to add things that pertain directly to our congregation and take away things that don’t.

    Off the top of my head when I’ve trained Deacons before I’ve used Dr. Johnny Hunt’s material.

    Anything like that out there?

    Thanks,
    Joey

  18. says

    We have a three sessions class. It meets on Sunday Mornings during our Sunday School time and also on Wednesday Nights during our Bible study time. Week one includes where did we come from. I have a charter member come in and tell the story of how the church began, then I tell my story of how I came there as Minister of Education. Second week, they tell their story of how they became a Christian. Then we discuss your book, I Am A Church Member”. Third week we tour the church and introduce the staff and their families to the group then we have our deacon chairman come in and explain our deacon ministry teams. Great class and people really enjoy it. I have never had anyone who has taken the class say that it was a waste of time.

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