What is an “Ideal Church Member”?

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Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.”  You’ve heard it.  You’ve studied it.  You’ve preached it.  But, have you ever defined it?  What, exactly, is a “disciple”?

May I suggest that, for all practical purposes, a “disciple” is synonymous with an “ideal church member.”  Or, at least, it should be.

If you agree, then try this exercise with your church leaders: List the qualities of an ideal member of your congregation.  How should such a person act?  What should he say?  How should she feel?

Once you have listed the qualities of a disciple, examine your church’s programming to see how—or if—you are helping people reach this ideal.  After all, it seems reasonable that church activities should lead people toward some goal…

Here are nine characteristics I suggest could begin your thinking about the characteristics of an ideal member in your church …

An ideal (assimilated) member:

1.   …understands and identifies with the goals of your church.  Goals are what church leaders have determined to accomplish in the coming year.  How many of your constituents could list at least two of your church’s goals for the coming year?  (Perhaps a prior question would be, “Does your church actually have specific goals for the coming year?”)

2.   …attends worship regularly. It’s hard to imagine an assimilated member who is not in worship regularly; it’s a key part of being part of the body of Christ.  And, by the way, a change in worship attendance is the first sign of a person beginning to drop out of church.

3.     …feels a sense of spiritual progress.  The Christian life is like Pilgrim’s Progress…journeying toward the goal of being  like Christ.  Members who do not feel a sense of spiritual growth will begin to wonder whether the benefit of being involved in church is worth the cost.

4.   …has taken a formal step of affiliation with your church.  While some churches are de-emphasizing formal membership, there are good reasons for people to make a public commitment to Christ (i.e., baptism) and to His Church (i.e., membership).

5.   …has friends in your church.  On average, active church members have over seven friends in their church; drop-outs had less than two (before they left).

6.   …is using his/her spiritual gift.  From an assimilation perspective, giving one’s time and talents to Christ through the church is even more important than giving one’s money.  Plus, a role or task in the church provides a great opportunity to make friends (see #5).

7.   …is involved in a fellowship group.  The facts are clear: people in small groups seldom drop out of church.  Groups are one of the best ways to build strong bonds among members.

8.   tithes to your church.  “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Lk. 12:34  The Message).  Assimilated members are financially committed to the ministry of Christ’s Church through their congregation.

9.   …is witnessing to friends and family.  As we saw in last month’s post (“The Disciple-Making Silver Bullet”), the Gospel travels best through social networks of friends and relatives.  An ideal church member and Christian disciple is regularly and intentionally sharing God’s love with people in his/her oikos.

Now what? 

Here’s how to increase the number of people in your church who demonstrate these characteristics:

1.  Create your own list.  Discuss with others, pray, and then decide what ideal (and measurable) characteristics you would like to nurture in your members.

2.  Review and re-design your new members class around this definition.

3.  Evaluate your present constituency through the lenses of your definition by using a chart like this:

4.  Develop plans for the coming year that will move your members and attenders toward this ideal.


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Charles Arn About Charles Arn

Dr. Charles Arn has been a leading contributor to the conversation on church growth/health for the past 30 years. His newest book, What Every Pastor Should Know, is available from Baker Books.


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