Seven Trends in Church New Member Classes

One of the most significant changes in church practices in the past fifteen years is the requirement of an entry class to be granted church membership. In a 1997 survey I did, only 17 percent of churches were requiring a new member class. In a recent and non-scientific Twitter poll I conducted, 86 percent of those who responded said their church requires a membership class to be formally affiliated with the church.

Even if you provide allowances for the potential lack of accuracy of a Twitter poll, the change is remarkable if not dramatic. The number of churches requiring a membership class has increased 400 percent in 15 years!

That is one of seven key trends we see today in new member classes. Let’s look at all seven:

  1. Requiring church membership classes has become a normative church practice. Indeed this church practice is almost as pervasive as churches that have small groups or Sunday school classes.
  2. The longer a church has required a membership class, the shorter it becomes in length. Many churches start with membership classes that are multiple weeks in length. Because of teaching efficiency and the need for better participation, they typically move toward one-day classes.
  3. The most common length of a new member class is three hours. Of course, there is a wide variety of lengths and days of these classes, but the three-hour class is now the plurality among those offered. It still is a long way from becoming the majority preference though.
  4. The most common day the class is offered is Sunday. The logic behind this option is that people are already at church, so offer the class while they are there. I have heard from many church leaders whose churches offer the class during the Sunday school/Bible study/small group time. Others offer the class immediately after the worship services, typically connected to lunch. Again, there is still much variety on the day or evening these classes are offered.
  5. The most efficient membership classes have options. By efficient, I mean the level of participation. If the church offers classes at different times, more people are likely to participate. A common example is a church that offers a class on two Wednesday evenings for 90 minutes each, or one Sunday afternoon for three hours.
  6. Among the minority of churches that do not require new member classes, there are strong feelings against them. Some church leaders and members view such a requirement as legalistic and/or unbiblical. This issue still evokes strong emotions.
  7. Leaders in churches are enthusiastic about the benefits of new member classes. Though I have no metrics, I do hear anecdotal testimonies about improved member retention, better stewardship, stronger ministry participation, and lower conflict.

Let me hear from you about new member classes in your church. Do you require them? When are they offered? What is the content of them? What is your assessment of their usefulness thus far? What have you changed about them? What would you like to change?

Posted on November 16, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I am a teacher for my church new member orientation class and we are using your book, “I Am A Functional Church Member” as the orientation book. Members are thoroughly enjoying the book, because it prepares them for a service mindset. As new members, they need to know that they too have a role (i.e. service function) within their church family.

    Our orientation process has become one of meet the new members where they are. We have orientation every Sunday, after the first worship service. Members who join are immediately given the orientation book. A welcome call is made the first week along with an email to remind members about the class. For those who can’t attend the class, they have the option to answer the study questions for each chapter and email the info in, or bring it to the next class.

    I have found that a lot of new members are in transition. In other words, they may come to class and even to church 1 Sunday, then are gone for the next 3 to 4 Sundays.
    Some have transportation challenges, some travel due to job demands and some just don’t come at all. Phone numbers are often disconnected and emails unfortunately bounce back as mail failure.

    I do think it’s important that anyone who unites with a church understand how important new members class is in helping them become acclimated to the church culture and their new church family.

  • We have a three sessions class. It meets on Sunday Mornings during our Sunday School time and also on Wednesday Nights during our Bible study time. Week one includes where did we come from. I have a charter member come in and tell the story of how the church began, then I tell my story of how I came there as Minister of Education. Second week, they tell their story of how they became a Christian. Then we discuss your book, I Am A Church Member”. Third week we tour the church and introduce the staff and their families to the group then we have our deacon chairman come in and explain our deacon ministry teams. Great class and people really enjoy it. I have never had anyone who has taken the class say that it was a waste of time.

  • Hi Dr. Rainer,
    I am a bi-vocational minister looking to develop a new members class for our congregation, but I am struggling to find the time. Between family, work, church, and education…time is gone…not to mention personal devotion time and sermon prep, etc etc.

    With all that said…I was wondering if there was any material or literature that I could purchase that was new member material. I realize that I may have to add things that pertain directly to our congregation and take away things that don’t.

    Off the top of my head when I’ve trained Deacons before I’ve used Dr. Johnny Hunt’s material.

    Anything like that out there?


  • My church implemented the new members class last year we held three classes and it has been beneficial to the participates. Most of them that has taken the class now participate in one of the ministries at the church. I am the coordinator for the class and class consists of three parts, church history, what we believe, the benefits of being in the body of Christ. Origianlly the class was for 5 weeks then 4 and now my pastor told me for this year he wants its broken down to 3 weeks. I love the idea of having an online class its something I need to check into.
    Hope my comments help for those who would like to begin a class. I also have each ministry leader to come in and speak about their team.

  • Timely Timely Timely !!!
    How else can I say it?!?
    I have been working on our new “new members” class. We have had a loosely organized luncheon for new members, but it just wasn’t working. I had been praying for guidance and how best to Biblically welcome new members and get them plugged into the church.
    I read Break Out Churches, then I Am A Church Member, and just now finished the videos from Connected. WOW Just timely! and Biblical I feel.

    Thank you and thank you

    I am the Sunday School director at our church, and want to integrate the I Am a Church Member into our classes, but not sure it is the correct tool now that Connected is released.

    Q. How do you suggest sharing these materials with:
    Leadership, Current members, new members?

  • Over the past 20 years we have gone from 4 (2) classes to 2 (2) hour classes and a personal gifts profile that can be filled out at home. We meet with folks after they’ve taken the gifts profile and have conversations about there they serve in the community of faith and where they serve in the community around the church

  • We treat our new member class as an 8-week small group. We don’t get as many members as we might if we did it in a shorter format, but the quality of our members are awesome! Because our two membership questions are, “Who is your Lord and Savior?” and “Will you be a faithful member of this church?” we spend most of the time on those questions. Here’s what we cover:

    1. Welcome and overview of the group.
    2-3. Sharing our stories. Each group member writes up and shares the story of their faith journey, including questions and doubts they struggle with. Other participants then ask clarifying questions and offer affirming comments. It’s a great way to build community and openness into the group right from the start.
    4. What’s a Christian, Part 1. Jesus as Savior.
    5. What’s a Christian, Part 2. Jesus as Lord.
    6. What’s a member, Part 1. Here we look at membership as more than just getting your name on the roles. It’s about being a “body part” in Christ’s body.
    7. What’s a member, Part 2. Here we focus on the member’s responsibility to serve and to give.
    8. Who is Northminster Church and what the heck is a Presbyterian, anyway? By the way, most people don’t join our church because it’s Presbyterian and I always tell them that being Presbyterian is not the most important thing about who we are. Following Jesus is the most important thing. But they’re curious about what Presbyterian means, so we cover it.

    We also begin each meeting by “dwelling” in Romans 12. We read it together, then share whatever questions or thoughts came to mind, or what resonated with us that day.

  • Over the past 20 years of ministry we have utilized a membership class typically lasting 12-15, 45 minute sessions. I know it sounds incredible but it has worked very well for us. We’ve found the longer period builds greater connection to the teacher, the hosts, the fellow participants and the church. Our members are required to fulfill seven commitments and only pass into membership after they have completed a membership interview, where they have connected in a group and/or ministry. We also have a “Welcome to Radiant” reception where people can immediately get involved in the life of the church (it’s one hour long) but to be a member requires attending the class and committing to the membership covenant. As you might guess, our membership is significantly lower than our attendance but our members are very committed.

    • Lemuel Billingsley says on

      I am finding that going through the class is helpful to the students and does build a relationship w/ the teacher and others that are involved w/ in the ministry. Also, I am discovering that student have other Biblical questions which gives the teacher opportunity to answer and help them to grow in their studies and time w/ God through prayer. I applaud you for the work

  • We offer a “Discover First Baptist” class 3-4 times a year for new comers who wish to find out more about our church and ministries. People who wish to attend the class are not obligated to become members but often they do. We have found that the term membership class was too limiting. (People would not attend a membership class. But they were interested in attending a “Discover First Baptist” class.) In the past we would conduct the classes during the Sunday School hour for three consecutive weeks. Recently we met with the attendees after Sunday morning worship, ordered a pizza and held the class for about 2-1/2 hours. I think this is better way to do it for us.

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