Tuesday, January 12, 2010

FAQ #1: Growth Groups & Covenant Membership

In Sunday's message, we talked some more about "covenant community" and how we move toward it here at GraceSLO.

What is a "covenant"? In its broadest Biblical sense, a "covenant" is a committed and intimate relationship. Jesus makes possible a new "covenant" or committed intimate relationship with God by means of His shed blood. At the same time He calls us into a new "covenant community" called the church.

By "covenant community" I mean the kind of a committed, intimate, relational community which is implied in Acts 2:42, Romans 12:9-13 and numerous other passages which speak of the church's life together.

How do we move toward the kind of community God desires and the Bible describes for God's people in the church?

On Sunday, I highlighted two key commitments that our elders and pastors believe can move us forward in the days ahead. . . .

  1. A commitment to Growth Groups.

  2. A commitment to Covenant Membership.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll say more about each of these, but for now, we've begun the dialogue.

If you haven't listened to the message, do that first.

If you have listened to the message, here's a first round of questions and my answers. That's important! These are my answers at present, and do not reflect the official position of the elders at this time. There is still much that needs to be discussed and decided. And yet, I still think it's helpful to open up the process and encourage the dialogue. On the membership front, very little is set in stone yet. The questions were great questions submitted by one individual in our church. Here goes. . .

  • Do you and the leadership anticipate keeping the growth group model currently being utilized? Are those groups going to continue being sermon based?

    We are committed to a "main stream" of Growth Groups that will be sermon-based, but we've also acknowledged the need for a few short term "tributaries" (working on a better term!) off the "mean stream". These "tributaries" will address felt need topics like parenting and marriage stuff. These groups and their leaders will be approved and the aim will be to get folks back into the "main stream" of the sermon based model as soon as possible. Our focus will continue to be sermon-based groups for a whole host of reasons including quality control, unity, growth in the same direction, leader equipping and training, manageability, maximizing the church's limited resources, and scalability.

  • Do you anticipate groups which will be gender specific, as well as gender specific groups being led by women or men?

    We're open to gender specific groups. We have had some in college for the last three years. But we also believe it's valuable and preferable, whenever possible, to get couples in groups together. Our experience is that couples just don't know how to talk about spiritual things very well and we believe a healthy, vibrant Growth Group can help couples grow in this area. Similarly, we believe couples together in Growth Groups is family-supporting, rather than segmenting the family throughout the week. We're trying to be careful to not undermine the family and its precious time together.

    We're open to Growth Groups organized around ages and stages of people's lives. (singles, married without kids, divorced, etc) We're fine with gender specific groups being led by leaders of the same gender. We're open to husbands and wives co-leading mixed-gender groups.
  • With the shift of focus at the church, who will be giving over site to this ministry?

    For now, Pastor Steve will continue to give over site to this ministry, though Ken, Steve, and I are working on a lot of this stuff together.
  • I know you just touched on membership and will be flushing that out more in the next few weeks, what will that look like for those wanting to serve at the church? Will membership be required to do so?

    We will tie serving to membership for most serving positions/places, but not all. I don't see membership being required for "entry level" and occasional serving positions like greeting, refreshments or Fall Kick-Off helpers, I'm open when it comes to POW Small Group leaders. Membership will be required for Growth Group Leaders and those who teach Sunday School. Our goal will to encourage all to move toward membership as a way of committing to our covenant community. The staff and elders have got a long way to go in terms of fleshing all this out, but these are my thoughts today. We see membership as a way of building a relational community, being accountable to one another, caring for one another, and shepherding the flock. Those who have a conscience issue with church membership we would work with individually. Those who don't want to become members, will be welcome here and not second class citizens, but limited in the places they can serve.

    We're really aware the church membership will an "uphill swim", in our culture which is increasingly individualistic and non-committal, but our moving forward is driven by a desire to better "be the church" and to better "shepherd the flock." We believe the Lord calls us to commit to one another, even in, or especially in, an age of non-commitment.
  • Are you anticipating a series of classes to instruct in this area?

    We do anticipate membership training classes. Pastor Ken has already begun teaching regular "Getting to Know Grace" classes, which we see morphing into Membership Classes. I expect for the great majority of the congregation, we will devise an initial way for them to become members.
  • Will growth group participation be a requirement of church membership?

    Again, we've got to flesh this out, but I imagine something like this being a part of a membership covenant. . . . .

    "Since the Christian life is not a solo or individual journey, I commit to regularly being involved with others here at GraceSLO in a Growth Group (our preference) or some other type of small group (men's, women's or other)."

    I would define regular as at least one quarter a year.

Again this is a "first blush", but hopefully it's helpful in opening up our evolving thinking on these matters.

I'm throwing it out there and we're inviting your input.


Jason and Anna said...

Wow, am I really the first to comment on such an important blog post as this? Well, here I go! Thanks Tim for giving us a little more of an insight to what Growth Groups might look like in the future and Church Membership, it really helps me work out my feelings on both topics.

Well, to begin with I love being a part of Growth Groups and understand the emphasis on them. I myself feel much more comfortable socializing in a small group, so for me a small group is perfect for diving deep in God's word and opening up.

My 'beef', if that is an appropriate enough word, is with church membership. I honestly am struggling with the idea of having to become a member. I mean, for 75 years Grace Church has existed without a formal membership, so why now? I don't believe that my uneasy feeling towards membership stem from being in the 'age of non-commitment', but rather from the fear of the unknown (we fear what we do not know or understand, right?). My biggest fear is that membership would be a constant topic, i.e. mentioned often on Sundays. I feel like if membership helps you, the Pastor, and the elders then great. But if it comes out often in announcements, i.e. 'this event is for members only' then I am againsts it because then it really creats 'us' and 'them'.

Another "fear" about formal membership is that there would be 'add ons' to membership requirements. I understand prereqs. like 1)being a Christian 2)following God's commandments, etc. but HAVING to be involved in a Growth Group?? Why? They are very instrumental, but why obligate members to participate? What if it's very difficult for a young family, or the elderly to attend? I guess my concern is not because of fear of commitment as you mention, but rather fear of becoming a church that mandates its' members. Does that make sense?

These are just a few of my thoughts and struggles with the new direction the church is going. I understand that what these two commitments will look like is not yet set in stone and for this reason I comment, knowing that this is what you Pastor Tim and the elders need to get a pulse on the congregation.


Janice Phillips said...

Love this opportunity for dialogue and seeking after humble orthodoxy. Praying for the hearts of all of us as we follow God's leading for us as a body at Grace.

Matt said...

Pastor Tim,

I'm excited to hear about the move towards membership and a desire to better shepherd the flock of Grace Church. I have been blessed to be in the process of learning so much more about the covenant community and God's work through covenants to His people at Covenant Seminary. I'll do my best to stay up to date with what's going on at Grace. Blessings to you and Grace Church as a whole from St. Louis, MO

-Matt Esswein

Tim said...


Thanks for your thoughts. Sorry, I have not been able to respond sooner. Its a busy time and I'm only blogging once a week or so now.

I'll be addressing the membership stuff on Sunday, January 28 and I think I'll address some of your concerns then. But here are a couple of quick shots here. . .

• Our two fold goal in moving toward membership is to 1. commit ourselves to real and accountable relationships together. 2. to better shepherd and care for the flock.

• We would never hold "members only" events. The only thing that would come close isCongregation Meetings, where, naturally only members could vote on important church matters.

• Any continual talk about membership would be for purpose of calling folks to commitment to one another in the practice of church life.

• I didn't say we would "require" Growth Group involvement for church members. I think requirement is the wrong word. I like "commitment" rather than "requirement." Of course life
circumstances might prevent someone from being involved in a small group for a season, but we're trying to encourage a way of life and a way of doing church. Our intent is not to be legalistic or controlling about it . . . but we do want to say,

"This is what we're about. We're committed to growing together in small group settings, because we believe this is how we grow. Come commit to a lifestyle of small group involvement with us."

• In the next couple of days, I'll try to post a few examples of "membership covenants" that our elders have been reviewing and discussing. Stay tuned.