According to Lifeway Research, “64% of churches either have nothing to assimilate new members, or no systemic plan to move people towards membership.”1 Imagine if that were true in the workplace . . . not a good start. Like onboarding and mentorship at work, a church membership class helps people dig in and move forward with confidence.
Chuck Lawless, author of Membership Matters: Insights from Effective Churches on New Member Classes and Assimilation, reports that he’s never heard a church leader say they shouldn’t have had a class—but many leaders have told him they wish they’d had one sooner.2
Here’s how to get yours started.
1. Define your why.
Sit down with your church leaders and discuss what a successful new members class means to you.
Chances are, your vision includes helping people feel welcome, healthy church growth, unity in the church, getting new members excited about joining and serving, and helping pastors get to know the flock they’re called to pastor (1 Pet. 5:2).
After the discussion, write your reasons down so you can easily refer to them throughout your planning process. Taking this first step will help keep you from making decisions that won’t serve you well.
Here’s an example of a decision like that—a 13-hour new members curriculum required before membership.
(I didn’t go through it, thankfully; a friend told me about it.)
Those who completed the class were assimilated, sure, but only a minority finished due to the enormous time investment. Because the church was so focused on getting people assimilated, they, in essence, turned away people who could have been excellent members.
2. Choose your what.
Determine the content of your membership class.
It should reflect your church, tell the story of how it came to be, cast vision for where you’re going, and include next steps so people know what to expect and how to get involved.
Church Answers recommends these membership learning objectives3:
- Why join a church?
- Reaching your community
- Unity of church members
- The importance of worship
- Personal giving
- Serving others
- How to make disciples
- Taking your next step
Here’s another possible outline:
- Ice breaker
- Leader introduction
- Brief church history
- Mission and vision
- What your church believes
- Expectations (for leaders and members)
- Requirements for membership
- How to get involved
As you develop your new membership content, keep length in mind. What’s pivotal for new members and potential new members to know? What can you include in a membership booklet that people can look through later? (Things like a church timeline, full statement of faith, list of ministries and their leaders, etc.)
These example resources may give you more ideas as you begin to develop your curriculum:
3. (Carefully) answer when and how often.
Think through what everyday life looks like for your members, and try to track down what days and times have generally worked best for your church and small group events.
Meeting during kids’ nap times, for instance, is likely not the best plan.
Here are a few options:
- Host your class before church starts, with breakfast provided.
- Host your class after church ends, with lunch provided.
- Host your class in two parts—the first at a Friday dinner, and the second over a Saturday morning online video call. (Tip: Faithlife has free online video chatting.)
- If your church has two services, host your new members class during a service.
- Ask your new members and potential new members which days and times would work best. Obviously you can’t accommodate every suggestion, but you may find a common denominator among responses.
Try to keep it to two or three hours total if you’re doing one session or around four hours if you’re breaking it up into several sessions.
Once you’ve determined days and times, decide how frequently you’ll offer the class (e.g., twice a year, once per quarter, etc.).
4. Flesh out the how.
Classes like these take time and effort to pull off, so thoughtful planning now sidesteps a lot of scrambling later.
As you think through completing a successful class, consider these elements:
- Facilities scheduling
- Facilities setup and teardown
- Digital resources
- Printed resources
- To announce your class
- To use during your class
- Volunteer/staff involvement
- Childcare worker needs
- Catering/food planning
You already accounted for how long the class will be and when it will meet in the previous step. Now schedule things out—when people will need to arrive to set up and greet attendees, how long each session will be, how long your breaks between sessions will be, etc.
Also decide whether the pastor will teach the entire class or whether you’ll be splitting teaching responsibilities between pastors and staff.
(Regardless of who’s teaching, you’ll want the pastor to be there—Lawless says, “Class attendees have told us repeatedly, ‘We appreciated the time with our pastor.’ In many cases, a membership class provides attenders the most intimate time they will have with their pastor. After that time, they will hear him differently in the pulpit.”4)
5. Spread the word.
At least four weeks in advance of your class’s beginning, start announcements in multiple places:
- service announcement slides
- digital signage
- your website
- your online community
- text messages
Also add it to your church event calendar.
Finally, enlist help. Ask your Bible study/small group leaders to invite new folks to the class. A personal invitation goes a long way.
During your announcements, say it loud and clear that attending the class doesn’t mean you have to become a member—anyone new is welcome to come, meet others who are new, and find out more about the church.
6. Prep for success.
With the steps above, you’ve created a delectable main course. Now it’s time to add superb side dishes and plate it all like a Michelin-star chef.
- Food! (This one’s worth reiterating.) Provide breakfast, snacks, dinner—whatever’s tasty for that time of day.
- Give people a gift that helps them understand your church. (For example, one church I know of gave away the book What Is a Healthy Church Member? to each person or family that attended. )
- Encourage table talk among attendees.
- Remember it’s okay to blend in-person and online meetings.
- Run a “beta” group and adjust your class based on feedback. (Ask about curriculum, methods, what people liked best, and what could be improved.)
- Try to leave these elements off the plate.
- Lack of clarity. Don’t accidentally leave people in the dark about what happens before and after the membership class. Give them a roadmap for how to become a member and which step comes next.
- Unnecessary length. Since people’s attention spans are only so long, trim anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be in your class.
- Difficulty. Don’t make people feel like they have to jump through blazing hoops to become members—e.g., complete a multisession membership class and watch these videos at home and study the 40-page handout and read this book and be ready to discuss it, and . . .
- Public prayer requests. People in your new members class don’t know each other or your leaders yet, and it can be really uncomfortable to share burdens with strangers.
7. Follow up
This important step is often forgotten, but just like with church visitors, people who come to your membership class shouldn’t fall through the cracks. They may want to keep coming to your church even if they weren’t ready to join.
Plus, following up helps people feel noticed and cared for, and it doesn’t take tremendous effort.
- Have a pastor or staff member reach out to say hello and ask if that person needs prayer.
- Send an email or text to invite them to other church events or small groups.
- Drop a handwritten card or postcard in the mail.
How to host your church membership class using Faithlife’s integrated ministry platform
There are a lot of moving parts to publicizing and then hosting a successful new members class. With Faithlife, you can do it all in one place, with one login, one password, and no double work.
Get everything you need (including discipleship resources) in one convenient bundle, Faithlife Equip.
Here’s how to use Faithlife Equip’s built-for-the-Church capabilities to prepare for your first class, host it, and get ready for the next one.
Before you start sharing about the class
1. Check to see if your church already has a free online church group on Faithlife. If not, take just a minute to create one.
- This page explains more about what you can do with a church group—click Create Group at the bottom to get started. (You’ll be able to check to make sure you don’t already have a church group before creating a new one.)
- Once you’re in your church group, upload your members’ and visitors’ records (name, email address, etc.).
- Then invite your church to join your group!
2. If you already have a church group, sign in.
3. Create a form where people can RSVP for the class.
- Include fields for first name, last name, email address, and phone number.
- Add a Checkbox field for childcare needed (Yes/No).
- Add a Paragraph field with the label “If childcare needed, please provide your children’s name and ages” or similar.
- Add a Checkbox field and change the label to something like “RSVPing for anyone else?”
- Add a Paragraph field with the label “If RSVPing for someone else, please provide their name, email address, and phone number below.”
- Add a Number field with the label “Total adults attending.”
4. Create a subgroup for your new members class. This subgroup gives those participating one place to go for class-specific announcements, discussions, etc.
5. Upload class resources to your new members subgroup (e.g., a digital copy of your handout).
- Click on your subgroup from the left-hand menu, under Groups.
- Under Content in the left-hand menu, click on the type of content you want to add (e.g., Files).
- Drag and drop to upload.
- If you’d like, fill in information about what you uploaded—a title, description, and tags (e.g., “new members class Feb 2022,” or “handout.”)
- You can also change the privacy level: for instance, make the file viewable by followers of the subgroup instead of members.
6. Optional: Add a welcome message to your class’s subgroup saying hello and telling members a little about what to expect or how to access content (from the Content menu item on the left).
After you start sharing about the class
1. Create an announcement for your class and publish it to your church’s main Faithlife group (not the subgroup) so everyone in your church can see it. In the announcement under Web Address, include the link to your sign-up form.
2. Embed the sign-up form on your Faithlife Sites church website.
3. Add the class to your church event calendar in your main church group (again, so everyone will be able to see it.)
• Under Details, you’ll be able to note whether it needs setup/teardown and simultaneously reserve resources (e.g., tablecloths) and facilities.
• Under Details in the Description box, add instructions to RSVP and the link to your sign-up form.
• Leave the Attendees should RSVP option toggled to No. (If people were to RSVP from the event, each person would only be able to RSVP for themselves. When you use the sign-up form instead, you can ask whether childcare is needed and whether they’re RSVPing for someone else, too.)
• If you’d like people to be able to check in to the class, toggle the Event contains Classes option to Yes, then click the blue button to Add class.
• Toggle the Promote this Event option to Yes, then select Highlight. This will automatically feature the event on your Faithlife Sites church website and remove it after the event is over.
4. As people RSVP to your new members class, invite them to join your church’s group on Faithlife if they’re not yet members. Once they join your main church group, assign them to your class’s subgroup.
5. Create an announcement slide in Faithlife Proclaim Church Presentation Software to include in your sermon presentation.
6. Include the announcement in your church’s online bulletin.
• Proclaim automatically creates and autopublishes an online bulletin from your service slides.
• You can customize this automatic bulletin however you’d like and/or turn off automatic publishing if you prefer.
7. If you have an online church newsletter, announce it there.
8. Send reminder emails and texts from the Communications area of your church group. (Administrators can access it from the left-hand menu.)
9. Create a class-evaluations survey form to provide as the class finishes. If you’re meeting in person, print copies to hand out.
At the class
At the end of the class, share your class-evaluation survey.
• If you meet in person, share the printed copy.
• Whether you meet in person or online, share the survey online.
◦ Create an announcement in your subgroup and include the survey link in the Web Address field.
◦ Send the survey link through email and/or text, again from the Communications area of your church group’s Admin panel.
After the class
1. Decide whether you want to keep the subgroup open so class members can keep communicating there.
• Alternatively, you can delete the subgroup and have everyone interact through your main church group or other subgroups (e.g., small group).
• If you keep the new members class subgroup open, add a month and year to the subgroup name to differentiate it from future events.
2. Create a list of recommended discipleship content available to your members for free with Faithlife Equip. For instance, you may recommend Dr. Darrell Bock’s Learn to Study the Bible course, the Cultural Engagement book bundle, or The Bible Project videos on Faithlife TV.
3. Upload the list to your subgroup if you kept it open or to your main church group if you closed the subgroup.
4. Share about the recommended resources in the group/subgroup and however else you’d like (in person, by email, newsletter, bulletin, etc.)
5. From the Communications area of your group’s Admin panel, send follow-up emails and/or texts to those who attended but didn’t join.
You’ll be able to reuse much of what you complete above—for instance, there’s no need to create a sign-up or class-evaluation form multiple times. You can save a copy, rename it with the new class dates, and voilá!
Once you’ve run a class or two, the process will seem as simple as setting up tables and chairs.
If you haven’t yet subscribed to Equip, request a live one-on-one demo so you can find out more about what you get with it and how your church can use it.
- https://lifewayresearch.com/2014/01/22/the-benefits-of-a-church-membership-class/, accessed October 13, 2021.
- https://churchanswers.com/blog/10-findings-about-church-membership-classes/, accessed October 27, 2021.
https://churchanswers.com/solutions/courses/the-complete-membership-kit/, accessed October 13, 2021
- https://churchanswers.com/blog/10-findings-about-church-membership-classes/, accessed October 14 2021.