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‘Accurate and lean’: California church asks members to renew annually

Prospective church members attend a membership class at Orangecrest Community Church in Riverside, Calif. (Submitted photo)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP) — Attendance far outpaces membership at Orangecrest Community Church, where members complete a three-step process to get on the roster and renew annually to remain members.

Brittany and Taylor Neece have renewed their membership annually since Orangecrest’s founding in 2008.

“There have been a lot of things about this church that have been unusual in the very best way,” Brittany said. “This is unusual. We recommit, and it’s actually very special. It’s a really meaningful process, and then membership really means something.”

Orangecrest Community Church has a record of 226 members with an annual average attendance of 535. During the past 18 months, Orangecrest has had 833 adult unique attendees not counting children, Senior Pastor Josh De La Rosa told Baptist Press.

“We’re aiming to help people become fully devoted followers of Jesus, that’s the goal. That’s why we have a membership even to begin with,” De La Rosa said. “We see, from Matthew 28:19-20, we see the church commission to make disciples who go public through baptism, and are being taught to obey (Jesus’) commands. Our commitment is to challenge our members to grow in knowing and living out those commands.

“The commitment is crucial, we think, because it helps us know who has (made) a commitment to be a growing disciple.”

Orangecrest is among 15 Southern Baptist congregations comprising the 17:6 Network of churches launched in 2015 through the ministry of Harold Bullock, who founded Hope Church in Fort Worth, Texas, in the late 1970s.

De La Rosa learned the membership process from his sending pastor, Randy Lanthripe, founding and senior pastor of Church in the Valley in Ontario, Calif. It was the first time for de la Rosa that church membership involved more than making a public commitment or transferring by letter.

“The value of membership went up though at that point in my mind. I realized this is a different approach. You actually have an intentional membership process to walk people through their mission, their method, their values, their strategy,” De La Rosa said. “It was really there I learned it, and he learned it from his mentor Harold Bullock.”

The specific membership process may vary by congregation, but all 17:6 Network churches are unified in the acceptance of seven core heart attitudes drawn from Scripture.

Anna Chapman, who with her husband Dennis served on Orangecrest’s launch team, expresses “a specific, beating heart for certain things” in embracing the heart attitudes. 

“Our heart is to help people grow in their next steps with Jesus and to reach the lost. That’s like two big things for us,” Chapman said. “We want people to know upfront. We want you to come and investigate at your own pace. You don’t need to be a member to do that, but if you want to be a member here, here’s what we’re asking of you.

“It’s actually friendly and generous,” she said, asking people where they stand on the core heart principles on a scale of one to 10. “A 10 is all in. And a one is like, ‘I’m willing to try what you’re asking.’ And that’s OK. But we’re asking are you willing to try.”

Orangecrest’s membership commitment includes a one-hour preview class with a Gospel presentation, a call to Christian discipleship and an opportunity to ask follow-up questions; a three-hour Discover class detailing the church’s purpose, structure and convictions, and a third step involving a commitment conversation with a church leader.

“We ask people when they become members to commit to the heart attitudes. It’s treat each other in a way that honors God and makes relationships enjoyable,” De La Rosa said. “We’re committed to these attitudes that guide the way we relate to one another and to the church. And what these are are just a summary – some of the commitments – of the ‘one anothers’ in the Scripture in the way we’re to relate to each other, and then relate to the whole church.”

Taylor, an Orangecrest elder who was among the core membership team with Brittany, said “it’s helpful to know who’s still with us.

“You look around the room and this is our tribe, our people that are paddling the boat all in the same direction. It lets us know through each season who’s with us at a heart and commitment level.”

Keeping an accurate and up-to-date count of committed members helps the church plan its ministries and budget, and be intentional in shepherding those under the pastors’ care, De La Rosa said.

“We know who we’re responsible to shepherd,” he said, “and who we’ll give an account for. That’s out of 1 Peter 5. … It says shepherds … oversee the flock under your care. Jesus is the chief shepherd. All of us shepherds will give an account to the chief shepherd on how we cared for and looked after and fed and protected the flock.

“One of the goals is, we want to keep accurate who’s in the flock. That’s really important.”

The seven heart attitudes of all 17:6 Network churches are to put the goals and interests of others above personal goals, to live an honest and open life before others, to give and receive scriptural correction, to clear up relationships (based on Matthew 5:23-24), to participate in the ministry of the church, to financially support the work of the church, and to follow spiritual leadership within spiritual limits.

The Neeces, parents of four children spanning ages 5 to 10, are active in several areas of the church. Both lead in their home a life group of 30 adults and serve on the facility team. Taylor teaches a Sunday School class and Brittany, a trained counselor, leads a 24-week counseling and care class for church volunteers.

The intentional membership process engenders full participation and a sense of belonging, Brittany said.

“It’s unifying as a body. There’s this sense of what God allowed us to accomplish together,” Brittany said. “It’s really motivating to stay on task, stay on mission, and not get derailed.

“There’s a real sense that the ministry is carried out by the people. Our pastors love well and they serve greatly, but there’s not a sense that the work is up to them.”