Though well intentioned, new members’ classes often set men up to fail.
New members’ classes promise a church experience that’s NONSTOP AWESOME. They focus almost exclusively on the positive, while downplaying anything negative.
But filling new members’ heads with visions of sugarplums often leaves them feeling betrayed when church life doesn’t go perfectly. Many new members cut back on their involvement, stop attending or depart for another church, simply because their congregation fails to live up to its own hype.
The New Members’ Class Sales Pitch
A facilitator (salesman) addresses a room full of inquirers (prospects), trying to convince them to buy his wonderful product (church membership).
He begins his talk with basic information designed to inspire confidence in what he’s selling. The facilitator explains the church’s origin, mission, and theology. He follows with a lengthy list of benefits the church offers: opportunities for fellowship, study and service. Even longer is the roster of programs new members can get involved in, complemented with photos of happy parishioners “giving their lives away.” Some churches invite their prospects to complete “gifting inventories,” matching them with ministry programs that take advantage of their abilities.
Once all the benefits are on the table, it’s time to ask for the sale. Evangelical churches often use this time to win converts. Mainline churches usually take this opportunity to recruit volunteers.
It’s no sin for a church to put its best foot forward. Church membership is a good thing, and church involvement can be a great thing.
But focusing solely on the benefits of church life, while downplaying its challenges is the precise opposite of the way Jesus attracted men.
What Jesus told his new members
Read the Gospels. Christ repeatedly proclaimed the difficulties of discipleship. He actively discouraged men from joining him. He placed barriers in their path. He emphasized the struggle and pain his followers would experience.
A rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. This guy was loaded. He could easily have financed Christ’s ministry out of his spare change. On top of this, he appeared to be an easy convert.
But instead of scooping up this man (and his money), Christ threw a barrier in front of him. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow Me.” Not only did Jesus send this high-flyer away discouraged, he lost out on a potent revenue stream (much to Judas’ consternation).
Another man came to Jesus, pledging to follow him anywhere. Did Christ welcome him with open arms? No, he promised the man he’ll be homeless the rest of his life. (Try that line at your next new members’ class).
Another time Jesus proclaimed, “If any man comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
And in John chapter six he made a claim so offensive nearly every disciple abandoned him. Then he turned to the twelve. Did he plead with them to stay? No, he held open the door, saying, “Do you also want to leave?”
Jesus promised men persecution, betrayal and death. We promise men inspiring music, gourmet coffee and an awesome children’s program.
Why would Christ throw hurdles in front of men who were ready to follow him? Because he was seeking a particular type of man. A man drawn to struggle, challenge and risk.
Such men are increasingly rare in church.
If we want bold men to join our churches we must do as Jesus did, and tell them the truth about church life. The good, the bad and the ugly — so when ugly comes, they’re ready.
There are legions of former churchgoers who have fallen away — not because they’ve lost their faith in God, but because they were blindsided by realities of church life. They simply weren’t prepared.
“Church is supposed to be loving, not judgmental. I quit.”
“I disagree with something the pastor said. I quit.”
“Church is just a bunch of hypocrites. I quit.”
“I can’t stand that woman in my small group. I quit.”
God is perfect – so they thought church would be, too. And we never told them any different.
New believers need to understand that conflict and discord are not a sign that something is wrong with the church. Instead, they need to see these irritations for what they are – opportunities to grow in faith, hope and love.
What should we be telling the men who seek to join our churches? Fortunately, everything we need to say comes straight from the Bible. That’s the subject of my next post.