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FIRST-PERSON: A key to commitment for new church members

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–I believe the most important class in your church is the membership class. It sets the tone and expectation level for everything else that follows. The very best time to elicit a strong commitment from your members is at the very moment they join. If little is required to join, very little can be expected from your members later on.

A strong membership class will build a strong congregation. A weak membership class will build a weak congregation. A “strong” class doesn’t necessarily mean a “long” class. The membership class here at Saddleback Valley Community Church (Class 101) is only four hours long and is taught all on one day, but it produces a high level of commitment in our membership. Those who choose to join our church know exactly what will be expected of them as members. The strength of a membership class is determined by its content and call for commitment, not its length.

For a number of reasons, I believe the senior pastor should teach this class, or at least teach a portion of it. The opportunity to see the pastor’s vision for the church, feel his love for the members and hear his personal commitment to care, feed and lead them is very important to new members.

Some churches have a membership class but they cover the wrong material. They fill the class with material on spiritual growth or basic doctrine. These subjects are vitally important, but they are more appropriately covered in your new believer’s class and Christian doctrine class.

These are both essential classes that should be separate from the membership class. Don’t confuse them with your membership class. Your membership class should answer the following questions:

— What is a church?

— What are the purposes of the church?

— What are the benefits of being a member?

— What are the requirements for membership?

— What are the responsibilities of membership?

— What is the vision and strategy of this church?

— How is the church organized?

— How can I get involved in ministry?

— What do I do next now that I am a member?

If you are a church that targets the unchurched, you need to include a clear explanation of salvation in your membership class because you will have many people who want to join your church who aren’t even believers yet! We always explain that trusting Christ is the first requirement for membership and we see people saved in every membership class.

There are many elements you can use in your membership class to keep it interesting and interactive: video clips; a notebook with fill-in curriculum; small group interaction; and a good meal together. Be sure to include a lot of stories that personalize the history, values and direction of your church. At Saddleback, we even include a quiz at the end of each class, testing the new members on how well they can state the purposes of our church and other important concepts.

Here’s the basic outline we follow:

Discovering Saddleback Membership (Class 101)


— Making Sure You Are A Christian

— The Symbols of Salvation (Baptism & Communion)


— Our Purpose Statement: Why we exist

— Our Vision Statement: What we intend to do

— Our Faith Statement: What we believe

— Our Values Statement: What we practice


— A Brief History of Saddleback

— Who We Are Trying To Reach (Our Target)

— Our Life Development Process To Help You Grow



— How Our Church Is Organized For Growth

— Our Affiliation

— What It Means To Be a Member

— What Is My Next Step After Joining?

The Saddleback Quiz

I believe completion of a membership class should be required for membership. People who are uninterested or unwilling to learn your church’s purposes, strategy and the meaning of membership are failing to demonstrate the kind of commitment membership implies. If they don’t even care enough to understand the responsibilities of membership, they cannot be expected to fulfill them after joining. They should not be allowed to join. There are plenty of other congregations to join that offer a meaningless membership.
Additional church helps from Saddleback are available at www.pastors.com.

    About the Author

  • Rick Warren