“Um, Hi. This is Carol. You know, the pastor? I noticed that you’ve been attending every week for six months, and, well, we’re putting together our new member class, and I was wondering if you want to come, and, you know, join the church. Just give me a call. Or email me. Or call. Whatever’s best for you. And let me know what you think. Either way. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have, too. Umm. Uuuh. That’s all. Thanks. Bye.”
I hung up the phone and wondered, What makes me so nervous about that? It’s like asking someone out on a date.
Of course, I tried to have this conversation with a real, live human, instead of an answering machine, but after a few attempts, I resorted to the message. Believe it or not, I usually have a good record with these things. Every church that I served has grown, and it’s often as a result of my fumbling, awkward invitations (it’s actually worse in person). But I heard nothing from this couple. In fact, after they earned a six-month perfect attendance award, they never came back.
I’m not sure why. But my hunch is that they really just needed a place where they could slip in and out of the pew, unnoticed. I worry that they ran away because I was too anxious. I feel like a teenaged girlfriend who didn’t know when to stop calling. I have this vision in my mind of them playing the message over and over again, laughing harder each time they hear it.
But that’s just my own insecurity taking over. Rationally, I’m sure it’s something else.
It could be that they’re afraid of membership. I’ve met a lot of people like that. They’re commitment-phobic, when it comes to the church.
But why? I mean, membership has never been so prevelant. I join something new every day. I’m a member of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and about 50 Facebook communities. Often, when I want to read an article or retrieve information, I have to become a member first. And it’s not just on the web, the people I’m around are members of museums, arts associations, and political organizations. They have memberships to pools, for heaven’s sake.
So, why are people so afraid to become members of a church? Do they fear the committee meetings? Do they feel like they have to adhere to an entire history of Christian beliefs? Do they worry about the financial commitment?
I’ve heard people say that churches should do away with membership altogether. I don’t think that’s the way to go. After growing up in a church where there was no membership, I never felt like I had any stake in the place. I thought of it as a place I went, not a place where I belonged. I felt disconnected.
I like church membership. It binds me to a community, with people I would never have any connection with otherwise. It makes me mutually responsible for the young and the old. It allows me to find out the best about people, and the worst. I honestly believe that God can work through membership, through those awkward and beautiful relationships.
But those calls are still painful to make.