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“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.

5 thoughts on “Already a member? Please log in.

  1. C,
    thanks for the note about your blog. ahhh – church membership. I do think that there’s still the “bowling alone” phenomenon that churches wrestle with. It seems to point against your observation that membership has never been so prevalent. (looking at membership in organizations from PTAs to Lions Clubs to bowling leagues) It’s easy to join an on-line group – no commitment required, but if it means personal engagement, I have to admit that I am a little skeptical before I join.

    Maybe the couple decided that Western wasn’t the place… it would be interesting to do some follow-up, just to say something like – noticed that you came for a while, then you never came back, what happened? (Along the lines of, could you give us some feedback, but letting them voice what’s going on…)

    Looking forward to reading more. I’m getting ready to get back to the blogosphere, after a hiatus. PearlRiverFishing@blogspot.

    Peace to you and folks at Western…

  2. Thanks, B! I just hope my blog can be as cool as yours.

    LC, wow. I just started this, and I’m already able to connect with lost friends again! The truly difficult thing about being a pastor is just when you start becoming friends with other clergy, they have to move to Pearl River…. Of course, I’m happy for you and your great opportunity. But why did that opportunity have to be a ten hour drive from us?

    I’m wondering if this rash of internet membership, MySpace friends, and Facebook connection is in response to Putnam’s observations. People have found new ways to be community.

    Although it can’t be all black and white, flat-screened community. I’m reading Momentum, by Allison Fine, and she describes how Move.On sustained its influence by starting house parties. They discovered that they had to move beyond the email lists for some good, old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood community.

    Thanks for stopping by! I’ll be checking out Pearl River Fishing!

  3. Hey doll!
    What if instead of approaching it with fear of rejection, you took on a tone of positive anticipation?

    What if you said something like, “Hi! This is ___, your pastor at PCUSA. We’ve noticed that you’ve been attending really regularly and we want to invite you to an event on (date) where you can learn more about taking the next step of joining the church. But even if you can’t come, I hope you’ll call me to check in, becasue we’d like to know how your spiritual search is going and to know how you’re getting along here at PCUSA. I’m really looking forward to hearing from you or hope you see you Sunday.”

    It’s a win-win! Even if they don’t come, they know that you care about them either way. People in this generation aren’t joiners. I keep hearing that.

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