I recently read an interesting piece written on a brand strategy website called Sticky Branding. Businesses hire a brand strategist to market their specific brands in the best way possible. The piece was about membership, specifically the decline of it. According to its author Jeremy Miller, “Across North America leaders of professional associations and nonprofits are facing a seismic shift…. Membership rates are declining, event participation is waning and recruiting new members is getting harder and harder.” (Miller 2019). The reason given for this shift in membership interest is the rise of a different culture. Mr. Miller writes that boomers joined associations, but young professionals like to join communities. This shift is further exacerbated by the rise of social media. In today’s culture “communities are a natural extension of the digital world… “Social media provides a vehicle to connect, participate, and learn.” (Miller 2019). Unlike the older generation, the new generation does not see a value in placing membership or joining an association. They see greater value in being part of a community, something that mere “membership” cannot provide.
Anyone with their finger on the pulse of the Lord’s body in this nation can readily see the impact this cultural shift has had on the local congregation. Our young people are not interested in the stale, outdated brand of membership Christianity. It is a fair assessment that the Lord’s church has been predominantly “membership” orientated. Please do not misunderstand this expression; placing membership in the local body is biblical and necessary. The mindset or culture to which I am referring is where you became a member of the local congregation in the same fashion as becoming a member of the stamp of the month club. Membership in the Body was reduced to having your name on the roll, being present for weekly meetings, paying weekly dues, and don’t forget the all-important club newsletter also known as the bulletin. This club-oriented mindset even influenced worship. Worship became process rather than purpose-driven. The number of songs, the length of sermons, prayers and the Lord’s Supper were super important with little regard for their content or motivation. We became time conscious and spiritually callous. Germane to this article, this mindset dealt a blow to the Body in an area that was critical to its proper function, community.
Worship became process rather than purpose-driven…We became time conscious and spiritually callous.Morne W. Stephanus
Can the reader perhaps guess the chief reason why younger people flock to larger congregations? We have our standard answers, we accuse this younger generation of failing to take responsibility or wanting to get lost in the crowd, I am guilty of saying the same. However, after talking to some of them and listening to their concerns the truth became apparent. Above all else, this generation has a strong need to belong to a family, the need to be part of a community. Unfortunately, they cannot find that in many of our congregations big or small. The reason being, we have sold the Church of the first century for a more sterile, sanitized and isolated version of Christianity. The community atmosphere that was and is central to the One True Church was eroded. Take time to read the book of Acts and compare the life of the first century Christian to that of a twenty-first-century Christian. These folks came together in one another’s homes, they ate together (Acts 2:42-47) studied together (Acts 5:42) worked together (Acts 8:4) prayed together (Acts 12:12) suffered together (Acts 8:3) and cried together (Acts 20:37). They helped one another (Acts 4:32) provided for one another (Acts 4:34) and protected one another (Acts 9:25). Be honest, when is the last time you did half of these things with your brethren in the last number of years? If so, was it an exception to your rule of conduct or common practice?
…we have sold the Church of the first century for a more sterile, sanitized and isolated version of Christianity.Morne W. Stephanus
The Church of Christ is a multidimensional organization. It has been gloriously designed by its Creator to serve the needs of young and old, poor and rich, and to accomplish His great will here on earth (Cf. Ephesians 3:10-11 & 4:16). When we remove one of those components, we cripple her ability to fulfill her purpose. Our pews are empty, our halls are silent, there are more hoary heads in our midst with nobody to take their place. This quandary is not the result of the current generation not wanting the church, it’s because we have substituted Christianity for membership. The previous generation enjoyed the membership climate because it was the culture of the time. Membership has its benefits was a popular phrase that summed up the mindset of that generation. I do not believe it is fair to ascribe malicious intent to the previous generation, but guiltless they are not. The past is what it is, but the future can still be changed. We need to decide if we want to be the church you read about in the Bible or be judged by the church you read about in the Bible (Cf. Matthew 12:48-42)
Miller, Jeremy. “Membership Has Its Privileges.” Sticky Branding, 14 June 2019, stickybranding.com/membership-has-its-privileges/.