It encourages people to actually join the fellowship in their minds and in their hearts.
It avoids the old “join us for 6months before you serve”… as if going to 15+ sunday meetings is going to really help them understand what your church is on about, our help you know enough about them?
It allows people to opt-out early, rather than wasting 6-18months in your church, before they realise you believe in predestination, and they leave; that’s just wastes their time and your church’s time too.
It allows people to opt-in early. If people join you well; understanding all the things your church thinks is important, agreeing with you, and keen to share the vision you’re praying for… then, let them serve, get them involved.
It gives them an opportunity to meet the pastor/staff that just doesn’t happen easily on a Sunday; there really is so much happening on a Sunday, and if your pastoral staff are excellent, then the’ve probably at least said hi once… but a membership course allows them to have a conversation – maybe the only one they’ll get in years (depending on your church size).
It gives them enough information to start asking good questions. Most people don’t have questions about your church, because they don’t know your church, they don’t have any buckets of thinking to investigate. A course helps them see that they have questions/issues.
There’s probably many more…
In general, small churches (30-90) and especially church-plants, are filled with people who have a high tolerance to ambiguity. You can tell by the very fact they’re at a small church plant. That means they would have had to pluck up the courage to go to a strange venue, with an unclear expectation of what was going to happen and what they’d be asked to do.
But as church grows, people start coming because they’ve heard about it 5-10 times, and they’ve been explained what happens 2-3 times, and they’ve got a reasonably clear idea that they’ll sit, listen, and leave in about 1.5hrs. They took a huge risk in coming to your church because they can’t stand ambiguity. They hate trying new things.
How are you going to love the 50% of people in your church who have a low-tolerance to ambiguity? Let them find their own way into a small group? Let them approach you to meet you? Wait for them to ask you about all the things they don’t understand?
Clarity about your church’s assumptions isn’t just for your sake, it’s also just loving for the people who get freaked out by ambiguity.
Asking people about sin in their life is hard. Its awkward, beat-around-the-bush, so-how-you-going-in-that-area, vague conversation.
But that’s very rarely helpful or loving for people.
Because Jesus didn’t die for vague “areas” of sin. Jesus died for each and every specific sin we do (as well as our entire attitude of rebellion). In prayer, we don’t just repent for vague sins, we repent of specific time-and-date sins.
So, out of love for your brothers and sisters, press through the awkwardness (that satan creates), and move from vague areas of sin to specifics. “When was the last time you…?” “How long has it been since…?” “What did you actually say to her?” “Exactly how many drinks did you have?”
For some people (most by experience) they haven’t thought about these details them-self, and its only as they put words to their own actions that they begin to realise the depth of sin they’re caught in.
Love them by asking hard specific questions, but also be careful you don’t become their preist!!