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  1. Shouldn’t the first thing on the list of an ideal church member be something like “is looking more and more like God?” This list is nice if we want to focus on institutional growth, but leaves a lot to be desired if we’re actually looking to make disciples. Didn’t Willow Creek learn this lesson a few years ago?

    • Good point, Eddie. I quote John Stott in my recent book (What Every Pastor Should Know; Baker Books), when Stott gave his final address in Keswick, England. He said: “I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth. Here it is: God wants His people to become like Christ. Christ-likeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

      The list of characteristics of an “assimilated member” in this post focuses on sociological criteria rather than theological ones. Both are important, obviously. However, I think the “sociology of assimilation” is often overlooked. I have seen pastors/churches assume that a common faith is all the newcomer (either “transfer” or “conversion”) needs to be assimilated into the church. So, they focus ONLY on theological concerns and assume that since “we’re such a friendly church” that the newcomers will be assimilated. More often than not, when theology is the only focus of assimilation…the newcomer drops out within the first year.

      You might be interested in reading my observations on “Why Do People Drop Out of Church?” in another blog (http://wesleyanseminary.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/why-do-people-drop-out-of-church-charles-arn/). Of all those who drop out of church, over 80% leave in the first year. And, far and away, the predominant causes are relational, not theological.

      • Thanks Charles, and I think I understand what you’re trying to get at. Even so, your second paragraph reads: “May I suggest that, for all practical purposes, a “disciple” is synonymous with an “ideal church member.” Or, at least, it should be.”

        And the rest of your article describes a disciple as someone that joins with a group institutional goal, among other things institutional.

        I don’t know that looking like God is a theological question; it certainly has sociological implications that go far beyond membership buy in measures.

        I understand the value of congregations and group membership – for both the disciple and the congregation. I don’t however equate “ideal” group membership to discipleship. The issue with people who drop out in the first year may well be relational, but I suspect that the relationships are person-to-person rather than a generic group membership.

        Get people connected to people and they’ll stay (unless you really tick ’em off). Get them attached to programs and group membership and that’s what they’re going to major in, rather than transformation.

        My work in the counseling world teaches us similar things. A therapist can use just about any intervention she might care to use. But real change happens, and consistent session attendance occurs only if the client feels a relationship to the therapist. If that relationship isn’t there, clients don’t come back to be “run through a manual.”

        The list in your article is OK from an institutional perspective and would be valid for any corporate organization. Every corporation I know has a mission statement and wants their employees to buy into it. If the employee feels a personal connection with the company’s mission, they stay (so the argument goes). So, we measure how well the employees identify with the mission statement. There are clear parallels with your other points. The issue though, even with the corporate view of buy in with the mission is that what really gets employees to stay is their coworkers and the support they feel from management. Surely there are a number of influences, but personal, one-on-one relationships get people to stick around.

        Corporations aren’t about transforming lives or maturing disciples. Churches are, and the ideal disciple isn’t described in your list.

        At least as I read it.