We have just started a membership course for those people wanting to join us. Along with that the evening service are also going through what it means to become members of us here are WBC. As a result I've had a few more conversations with folk about it.
My understanding is that before my time, a shift took place in church to try and make membership less important but to beef up the possibility of belonging to us. That way our borders would be more flexible and permeable and open to new comers who exist on the edges. Now this brought with it a whole load of stuff on what it is to belong, open and closed membership and constitutional stuff. It was no easy task and brought with it some baggage.
Some years later though as we have reflected on membership there seems to have been a shift. The shift is towards a higher bench mark for membership with a more rigorous joining procedure. We have gone then from a welcoming meal being used as a way in to a 6 week course on what it means to covenant with us.
On the whole I am pleased with this. If getting baptised in Christ takes it's tangible form within a local community it seems to me that this is a very serious thing. Comparable to marriage. To belong to a church community is to commit your time, friendship, resources and spirituality to and with a group of people. The 6 week course is there so that people know exactly what they're getting into, what expectations will be and how big the demands are. It's fine to say no and to still be around, but to belong will both cost you and gift you deeply. It's not for the faint hearted and nor should it be. The gospels are no stroll in the park, this is akin to well, life altering salvation.