Tracking Membership

The role of membership director is one of the most confused roles that I encounter in large congregations. Is it an administrative role or a programmatic one? Is it mostly about tracking people, their giving and their whereabouts, or is it about developing programs of assimilation and membership? And how is the role related to discipleship, stewardship and leadership development?

Most very large congregations have a staff person devoted to managing/developing the membership base of the congregation. Once a congregation passes a certain threshold the clergy team of the church can no longer keep track of who all of the people are, and how they are assimilating into the life of the congregation.  Arlin Rothauge’s early work on size transitions in congregations helped us to understand that a singular pastor maxes out at tending congregant relationships once the average worshipping community passes 150. A congregation can add additional clergy staff and each addition can also tend another 150 relationships. However, at some point adding additional programmatic clergy doesn’t effectively tend to the welcoming and assimilation function of the congregation. People begin falling through the cracks. New people arrive and stick around for awhile, only to disappear out the back door before really becoming assimilated into the life of the congregation. The sheer volume of relationships at work in the large congregation requires a more systematized way of tracking people and creating programmatic venues for assimilation, membership and leadership development.

One of the most complicated things about the role is the way that it seems to emerge and then evolve over time. Typically, when the congregation engages 600-800 in average weekend worship attendance, the need emerges for better management of the assimilation function. When the role first emerges it is almost always placed on the administrative side of the staff team and it is almost always staffed part time. The staff member spends most of their time developing a reporting system to track participation and membership and to better manage the welcoming function at weekend worship. The position is usually staffed by a lay member of the congregation who knows a lot of people and cares deeply and passionately about the mission of the congregation. As the congregation continues to grow past the 800 mark, the demands on the membership role become more significant and the role begins to require more than the original occupant can supply. A more sophisticated program of assimilation needs to be developed that can guide the footsteps of a first time visitor from the first point of entry until they are a fully engaged member, participating in the leadership life of the congregation.  In the very large church the membership staff role is responsible for the welcoming function, membership classes, and early work in discipleship and stewardship. Sometimes the development director is housed under the pastoral care arm of the staff team, and sometimes under the education arm.

In many of the large congregations I’ve worked in recently the Membership Director is suffering from an identity crisis: where do I fit on the staff team and exactly what is it that I am supposed to be doing? The lack of clarity about what the role is meant to accomplish creates a great deal of role conflict (and resulting stress) for the occupant of the role.

I wonder why this particular staff role is so much more conflicted than any other role in the large congregation. A youth director, a director of worship, a children’s ministry director…all of these roles are pretty consistent from one congregation to the next. Why is this role configured so radically different from one congregation to the next?

Photo Credit: Reese Photography

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