Counting soulsBy Ken Gingerich Albuquerque, N.M.
“Mennonite Church USA Membership Drops” (Jan. 21) suggests we need a broader conversation about the meaning of membership. Who belongs is important, but the framework for the question has changed dramatically.
It’s not like 1961, when at the age of 11 I was baptized into membership at Clinton Brick Mennonite Church in Elkhart County, Ind., and became a statistical part of the Mennonite church. This reflects a bit of acquiescence to a Christendom model of counting souls and defining turf. But church membership looks and feels very different today. It should.
I now live in New Mexico and am a participating member at Albuquerque Mennonite Church. We recovenant every January. It’s a big deal, and we love to celebrate our commitment to following Jesus together. But the 75 or so folks who comprise the legal definition of our membership represent only about a third of those who also claim AMC as their congregation.
So what statistics should MC USA use when counting us? The 75 signing members, or the roughly 100 regular attenders? The additional 50 or so who consider themselves active in the community but don’t make it to church every Sunday, or another 50 or so who would tell you they claim AMC as their congregation, even though they participate only occasionally? What about those who participate in a small group but don’t enjoy larger worship gatherings? Or local guys who play with the AMC “Doves” softball team and join the prayer circle after each game but never find their way into the “center” of the congregation?
We are a church of 75 covenanted members or a community of more than 200 folks. Are we a bounded set defined by official membership or a centered set with more porous boundaries — or both?
My hope is that MC USA is able to focus its energies on being a dynamic, changing, relevant community of disciples that balances a healthy sense of institution (membership) with an awareness that God is opening doors faster than we can build rooms to accommodate the newness.
I’m convinced that despite the size of our community, the health and vigor of our faith is strong and vital. I don’t envision Mennonites will ever have a majority voice within the global Christian community. But we have been given a strong witness despite our small size. That’s what I’d hate to trade away.
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