This article from Baptist News Global presents an interesting generational divide: church membership. Though on the surface it seems to just be about terminology, simmering underneath is a disagreement about what it means to be a fully participating member of a church.
On the one side, the old guard. Their point is that younger generations seem not to want to take on the (all too often dreary) responsibilities of day-to-day church management, which means that those duties fall either on an aging generation or directly onto church staff. How do we ensure that a church keeps going if younger people only have one foot in the door and won’t commit to membership (and by extension committee and leadership roles)?
On the other, the young upstarts who don’t see much point in an official membership that smacks of exclusivity and would rather be defined by community and missions than by their name on a membership roll–a rather pointless measure of success when it comes to church in particular.
There’s clearly some truth to both critiques–positive and negative. For various reasons, young people ARE less likely to fully commit, partly because they face a secular world that puts heavy demands on their time, because they move more often, etc. But they also care much more about missions and connection than about numbers. Membership can be a practical way of maintaining community and organizing missions, but can also be easily overemphasized as a measure of success as well as can send the wrong message about who is welcome in church. Membership often bears little relation to average worship (or event) attendance. Often special “privileges” seem to be granted to those who aren’t actually active.
Every church will have to come up with their own answer, but a creative approach is called for. All churches could stand to take a look at their own bureaucracies to ensure that the church isn’t just perpetuating itself, but furthering the work of love and community they are called to do.