New churches’ discoveries that all churches can learn from: Redefining new member vows

December 16, 2013

Through the ministries of congregational development, our Minnesota Conference provides tangible resources for new church starts. In turn, our new church starts provide tactical resources for existing congregations. In other words, as we invest in the work and witness of launching new faith communities, we are also investing in research and development efforts that inform and strengthen all our communities of faith.

New United Methodist churches are the leading edge of our Wesleyan movement. Because they have no lineage of faithful, no institutional traditions, and no accumulated assets to sustain them, they only survive and thrive through their ability to reach new people, cultivate spiritual vitality, and heal a broken world. In this next series of articles, I reflect on what new churches are discovering that all churches can learn from.

Bob Kandels, our church planter in northwest Rochester, has discovered that people don’t make a commitment to church membership just because it’s a societal norm or a congregational custom. They want to understand what church membership means and they want that commitment to add value to their lives and make a difference in the lives of others. So, what if every United Methodist church defined their new member vows in a way that explained the privileges and responsibilities of membership? It might look something like this:

· Prayers: We can expect our church to provide training, resources, and support in terms of how, what, where, and when to pray. In turn, we will practice consistent prayer and devotional reflection in our daily lives. Since it is a blessing to both give and receive, we will not only offer prayer for others, but will share our own joys and struggles that others might pray for us.   

· Presence: We can expect our church to provide multiple entry points and pathways to connect with God and God’s people. In turn, we will actively engage with our family of faith on a weekly basis, including worship, study, and other opportunities to more fully follow in the way of Jesus. In today’s increasingly high-tech world, we long for the high of divine and human touch.

· Gifts: We can expect our church to provide tools for spiritual growth through facilities, programs, staff, and outreach and to manage material resources responsibly to achieve our mission. In turn, we will intentionally and proportionally give of our income and personal wealth toward a goal of the tithe. We have an abundant God who calls us to generously return to God what God has already entrusted to us.

· Service: We can expect our church to develop and communicate enjoyable and meaningful experiences that impact our varied communities of faith and life. In turn, we will carefully invest our time and talents in opportunities that deploy our God-given passions, strengths, and skills. The Holy Spirit is on the move; discipleship is not a spectator sport.

· Witness: We can expect our church to invite us into a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to walk with us on that journey. In turn, we will share through our sphere of relationships the light and love central to our lives that it might be encountered by others. As we are mentored in faith, we seek to mentor others.

This is just a start, but hopefully it’s enough to inspire your leadership to frame membership vows in a way that truly pictures what “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” looks like in your context for ministry.

Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.

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