Originally published in the April 2014 Explorer.

At our January business meeting the congregation voted to establish a membership committee, the purpose of which is to oversee efforts to activate our current members and invite non-members to join our church. A team of committed members has been assembled and vetted by our Nominating Committee. I anticipate you will approve them at the April 2 business meeting, and they are already at work on background tasks.

I welcome our church members who join what our staff is already doing in outreach. All of us need to assume greater responsibility for this work so vital to our church’s future.

A word of caution, not about the committee, but about the changing face of church membership. Twice in our history Americans joined churches in great numbers. The first was in the Second Great Awakening in the mid-19th century. The other was following World War II, the years when church was the primary means of social belonging and, not so coincidentally, the years when River Road Church, Baptist, was established and grew most rapidly.

We are not in the 1950s any longer. Our nation’s premiere sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow, says that young adults have new ways of relating to religious institutions. They are more likely to connect through informal networks than through religious institutions. Young adults and their families are not “joiners” like their parents and grandparents. “Belonging” to a religious organization is not as important to them as it once was to their parents. This means our efforts need to focus on the creation of a community of caring and welcome, not insistence on formal membership as a prerequisite for participation.

We also need to remember that almost no one who walks into River Road Church on a Sunday morning enters as a stranger to who we are and what we do. Almost all have enjoyed a thorough visit with us already via our website. Our opportunity is to put face and flesh and blood on what they have seen and read about electronically. Everything we do, from the time a guest drives onto our property until the time they leave it, is an impression.

This is a community of Christians worthy of our participation and loyalty. Thank you for being a faithful partner in the welcome we provide those who come to worship at River Road Church.