A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: GROWING IN STRENGTH
This Sunday we will be receiving new members at both the Contemporary and Traditional services. It’s always a wonderful and special service when we welcome new members into the life and ministry of this congregation, and I hope you will all make a point of greeting them after the service and expressing your own joy and gratitude to them personally, in addition to our congregational welcome in the services.
“Membership” in anything, not just churches, is a relatively unusual concept these days, though. About 20 years ago, a social scientist named Robert Putnam wrote a landmark book called Bowling Alone, in which he noted that while participation in bowling had increased over the last two decades of the 20th century, membership in bowling leagues had decreased significantly.
People, in other words, were no longer joining social communities to bowl, but were bowling alone. And he used that as a metaphor to describe a much larger trend of social disengagement from member-based organizations in the U.S., everything from museum membership to parent-teacher associations to fraternal and service organizations to religious congregations. In the two decades since then, those trends have not changed.
The problem is less with membership itself, though, and more with what we as a society have allowed it to become. In general, to be a member of something in American society means to have your name on the rolls of an organization and to pay some kind of annual fee to maintain your membership and receive the benefits that come with it (20% off at the gift shop!).
But the word “member” has a much deeper and more powerful meaning than that in the church. The Apostle Paul explains the power of membership better than anyone: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 26-27).
To be a member of Christ’s body, the church, is not just to be associated with it, or to receive benefits from it as an organization; it is to be deeply and spiritually connected to one another: sharing each other’s joys and sorrows as our own, and working together to accomplish for God what we could never do on our own.
So, on Sunday, as we welcome and celebrate these new members, we do so not because we as an organization are growing in size, but because we as the Body of Christ in this place and time are growing in our strength to fulfill God’s mission for us, and our members are growing in strength as we do so. And thanks be to God for that!
Grace and Peace,