Summary: The church is described as a body in the New Testament. Each member of the body must serve its function so that the body is healthy.
Series: I Am a Church Member
(based on and adapted from Thom Rainer’s book of the same name)
“I Will Be a Functioning Church Member”
Today, we start doing something new that will last for six weeks. We are beginning a a book study together as a congregation. We are reading, considering, and discussing the information in I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer. I hope everyone who got a copy last Sunday read the Introduction and Chapter One this week. If you belong to one of our adult Sunday school classes, you most likely went through the discussion questions at the end of Chapter One this morning. If you didn’t get one, we ordered more copies and they’re sitting on the table just in front of the sound booth.
Rainer has been a pastor and a seminary professor. He also led a group of people who researched congregational lifestyles. Rainer currently serves as President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. He has written 24 books; the bulk of which deal with the study of local congregations and the principle of church health.
Some of you are probably wondering why we are doing this study and why we are using the material by Rainer. The short answer to the first part of that question is that I have found book studies like this one bring a unique focus to the topic at hand and unites the congregation in weekly study and discussion.
The answer to the second part of the question is that I chose this particular book because it is short – an introduction and six chapters that are only 10-12 pages long for a total of 79 pages. I chose it because it is simple – the themes in each chapter are easily understood. I also chose it because the principles in the book are practical – the principles are effective when put into practice.
Why do we need to do such a study? We need to do this study because the idea of church membership has become misunderstood. There are a lot of folks in our society that have wrong conceptions about church membership. Another reason is that there are more and more people who believe that membership in a local congregation is unnecessary.
On the whole, church membership has declined. Research on 557 congregations from 2004-2010 have shown that 9 out of 10 churches in America are declining or growing at a slower pace than that of their communities. The rate of growth of the population of the local community is much larger than the rate of growth for most churches.
One of our main problems is that we are failing to connect with a large segment of our population. It seems we have become generationally irrelevant.
Sociologists arrange the generations into groups with specific traits. The Builder generation is comprised of those people who were born before 1946. Following the Builders are the Boomers who were born between 1946 and 1963. After the Boomers come the Gen Xers who were born between 1964 and 1980. The next group is dubbed the Millennials. They were born between 1980-2000. They are the most populated generation grouping with around 80 million members. In comparison, 2/3rds (66%) of the Builder generation (born pre-1946) are Christians. But only 15% of the Millennial generation are Christians. That means that we have all but lost the generation of people between the ages of 15-35.
We can blame the problem on multiple causes. We can blame it on our culture (and we often do). We can blame it on the godless politics of our government (and we do that as well). We can even blame it on the churches, both the hypocritical Christians and the lack of strong spiritual leadership at the congregational ;eve;. There are lots of Christians who are doing that, too.
Rainer gives this analysis of the situation: “If outside forces and culture were the reasons behind declining and non-influential churches, we would likely have no churches today,” Rainer says. "The greatest periods of growth, particularly the first-century growth, took place in adversarial cultures. We are not hindered by external forces; we are hindered by our own lack of commitment and selflessness.”
We do need to look in the mirror. One reason that we have become weak and irrelevant is that we have lost the biblical understanding of church membership. Rainer says, “We join our churches expecting them to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us. We don’t like the hypocrites in the church, but we fail to see our own hypocrisies.”
In a summary of the issues we’ll be addressing over the next several weeks, Rainer says that God has intended the church for us “to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel.” We have become ineffective because we have turned the meaning of membership upside down.