This will appear as the DRE's column in the church newsletter, the Beacon, next month, but I wanted to share it here as well...
Are you an ACLU member? A Sierra Club member? A member of a political party? Are you an NPR member? Do you have a gym membership? Are you a member of your professional association? A Safeway Club member? Are you a member of a credit union? A member of AAA? A National Aquarium member? Membership has become a marketing technique for non-profit and for-profit organizations alike. We crave a sense of belonging. Most of us would much rather be "members" than "customers" or "donors," even if this is simply a semantic difference. This trend, however, does make it more difficult to explain and comprehend what it means to be a church member.
It wasn't many years ago that being a member of a religious community was a given. The congregation was your social circle, your spiritual home, your avenue for making a difference in your community, your support network for difficult times, and the validator of your rites of passage. Like a lot of "golden ages," this milieu had its drawbacks. In being the single location where families had so many of their needs met, the congregation had a kind of power that wasn't always positive. Today, people have myriad ways of meeting the needs that congregational life used to serve. Though this is a good thing in general, something is lost as well.
While today's families benefit from having a wide variety of places to learn and grow and give back, the resources they have available to give haven't significantly changed. As a result, we have lots more options, but less money and time to devote to the many organizations we are part of. Church now must compete for your time and money. Sadly, when the church "loses" this competition (when your family doesn't pledge or when soccer trumps RE class and worship) it makes church less valuable for all.
Being a church member is more than writing a check each month and more than coming to church and more than serving on a committee or teaching a class. But when any one of those things slip off the radar, the whole congregation is the worse for it. The absence of your time and your money dramatically change our congregation.
On the bright side: the presence of your time and your money can make a powerful difference in our congregation as well. Want proof? Try this: Choose Church for 90 days.
What does it mean to Choose Church? Three simple, though not easy, steps:
1. Sit down with your family for the following math exercise: add up all your income before taxes and determine 2.5 percent of it. Divide this number by 12 to determine your monthly pledge and multiply by 3 to determine your pledge for the 90 days of Choosing Church. If you're already pledging that amount or more than that, congratulations--you're a Choosing Church pro! If, however, this number is more than you currently pledge, commit to raising your pledge to this amount for at least 90 days. Contact the church office to set up your payments.
2. Come to church every Sunday for 90 days, except in cases of illness or custody agreements. It may sound like a lot, but try it for 90 days as a kind of social science experiment. Immersing yourself regularly in the Sunday church experience will give you a perspective that you simply cannot get unless you practice it. When the 90 days are up, look back to see what that felt like and let me know.
3. Join a committee or neighborhood circle. Most church groups meet about once a month. Give a church group a chance for 90 days. If you need to know what groups there are to choose from, visit firstunitarian.net or call the office for more information.
If you're interested in the Choose Church Challenge, you can get started right away! I look forward to seeing you more and hearing about how it is going for you. Good luck!