“New Member Classes” for congregations run the gamut from Show-Up-And-You-Are-A-Member to a Ten Week Series teaching everything from where the water fountains are to the basic tenets of Reformed Theology (at least for Presbyterians.) The point has often been that churches:
- Want new people to join.
- Want new people to learn about the congregation/denomination/maybe Jesus
I experienced a New Members Class last weekend that turned this model on its head. Instead of focussing on new people learning all about the Church, the focus was on the Church learning all about the new people.
It’s about building relationships. It’s not about gettting people to join “us.”
People join congregations hoping to connect on a deeper level with each other and with the Holy Unfortunately, we in the Church tend to confuse knowing about God or about the Church with knowing God and knowing the Church. Especially in denominations that value education – like mine – we can fill our “spiritual activities” with book studies and Bible studies and current event studies and then we go home smarter but nothing ever changes in our deepest souls.
The Pentecostals are on to something: feeling it is important.
I believe we must grapple with theology too (i.e. thinking is important) but in our increasingly isolated and lonely culture, authentic relationships give our lives meaning. Imagine asking questions in church (or wherever) that spark relationship-building conversations:
- What was your childhood like?
- What were your family’s religious traditions?
- Share a time when you’ve felt safe.
- Share a time when you felt warm feelings towards God.
- Share a time when you felt angry towards God.
- Who has been your spiritual mentor?
Maybe somebody will care (later) about the finer points of your particular church’s history or your denomination’s organizational structure. But I’m guessing that most of us are looking for relationships that show us what the deep affection of God feels like.
Thanks to MPPC for inviting me to the New Member gathering last weekend.