The word “membership” has become a conundrum for me over the past few years even though the definition of membership is pretty straightforward. Most of us experience membership from a pretty young age. How many of us were in a cub scout or brownie troop? We learned early on to accept and expect when we become a member of a club, group, or organization that there will be responsibilities connected with that privilege. We are aware of those things in advance and we either accept those commitments or we don’t join. Membership dues, fees, or investments are often part of those responsibilities.
Most of us pay for memberships to multiple organizations, and we stretch to afford it because of the benefit we get in return. Additionally, we know we will lose the membership if we don’t. It’s pretty simple. There is one organization however that, for reasons I don’t understand, membership responsibility has somehow shifted in people’s minds and become a choice. They think of themselves as members: they are on the books as members: they expect to use and enjoy the services of the organization, but they no longer feel obligated to pay for that privilege. I am referring to churches.
Okay. True confessions here, I am the Senior Warden at a local church, so I admit I think about this stuff more than most folks, but that doesn’t negate the truth of my observation. Most churches have a large percentage of families on the church roster who do not support the church with an annual pledge, but they expect to reap the benefit of church services when they need the church in emergencies, or for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. In their minds, they consider themselves church members, but they treat the church like a Cumberland Farms store. When they need something, they go and get it and walk out. In other words, they only pay fees or honorariums for church services used at the time and do not make an annual pledge. Let’s look at this another way. Golf clubs require annual dues and they charge green fees to members whenever they play the course. What is the difference in a church? Churches, like golf clubs, have salaries to pay, heat and air conditioning bills, building and property maintenance, worship and programs costs. Churches use pledges to pay those expenses just as clubs use membership fees. So why do folks see it differently?
Perhaps the word “pledge” is where the breakdown begins. To officially be registered as a member of a church, one must make an annual pledge; but the beauty of pledging is that there is no set amount required. A member can make an annual pledge $10 a year or $25,000. It’s up to the individual or family to decide what the right amount should be. In other words, it’s affordable for everyone. So why do so many bypass this obligation altogether? Is it because they don’t go to church regularly and therefore feel they are exempt? Maybe people think if they pledge, they are obligated to attend church regularly and be active in the church. Of course, this is the church’s hope, but it is not a requirement any more than having to play a certain amount of golf as a golf club member. Your participation is up to you. What a pledge ensures is that the church is there for you when you need it and you’ve earned to right to walk in for any reason at any time.
May I suggest that if there is a local church that you see as your “go to” place for whatever services you might need now or anticipate going forward, you should make an annual pledge. Take a leap of faith, become a church member, and let God do the rest. The benefits are immeasurable.
Senior Warden, St. Gabriel’s Church, Marion
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