In the last week or so, I have had several conversations with church leaders in which I began to wonder what they expect of their members.  So I asked them.  Some were surprised by the question, as if it was not something they had thought much about. 

“Well, we expect our people to come to worship,” one person said.  “How often?”  I asked.  “Every week,” some answered; others said “most weeks.”  (I didn’t share it at the time, but several of my large church pastor friends say that many of their best leaders during certain periods of the year only attend worship about twice a month because of soccer games, trips to the beach, leaf peeking or snow skiing, or work related travel.  “Regular attendance” does seem like a minimum sort of expectation, but even that may be a challenging commitment to persons with lots of weekend options in our secular society.)

“We expect people to give to Christ’s work through the church,” was another answer.  “How much?”  I asked.  “We talk about proportional giving, working up to a tithe,” one pastor answered.  “Do you require your leaders to be contributing significantly?”  I inquired.  Several persons shook their heads, “No.”  I related how after serving a while at one church I discovered that two of the members of the finance committee made no financial contributions at all to the church.  One congregation I know decided that they expected their leaders either to be tithing or moving toward tithing within three years and even asked them to sign a card each year indicating that they were.  To be eligible for the finance committee persons needed to be tithing.  Generous giving, they believe, is a matter of spiritual maturity (not financial abundance) and they want their leaders to be the most spiritual mature persons in the congregation. 

“So you require your members to attend and give.”  I said, “As a member of the Rotary Club for a while they expected more of me than that.  Do you expect anything more of the members of the Body of Christ?” 

“We expect our members to be part of a small group,” said one person, adding that they place great emphasis on small groups as the arena in which much of their pastoral care and discipling takes place. 

“We want our members to be involved in a ministry and a mission,” said one lay leader.  “How do ya’ll understand the difference?”  I asked.  The leader went on to explain that they talk about “ministry” as service in the congregation: teaching, ushering, singing on a praise team, working in the nursery or with the youth, or being on one of the administrative committees.  A “mission” was service beyond the church family, essentially, he said, what we have been talking about as “Salty Service.”

One pastor said, “We expect our members to invite persons to church, to share their faith as the Spirit opens up opportunities and to be intentional about cultivating relationships with unchurched persons.”  “So your congregation expects its members to participate in the disciple-making mission of the church,” I responded.  “Sure, and we help people know how to do this and celebrate it when they do.  This is a core value in our congregation.” 

Another pastor told me that they expect their members to grow to be more like Jesus.  “Jesus said that we are to teach people to obey his teachings.  We take this seriously.  For example, we talk about handling conflict in a God honoring fashion.  The gospel makes it clear that people who follow Jesus don’t gossip, they relate to one another with respect, they are slow to judge and quick to forgive.  That’s the way God’s people treat people.  So, we practice Matthew 18 when people don’t act like Jesus taught us to act.  We do it gently and compassionately, of course, but we do it because that’s who we are.”  “So the Body of Christ is to be a different king of community than people normally experience,” I said.  “Absolutely,” he responded, “After all, didn’t Jesus say that people will know we are his followers by the love we have one for another?” 

As I write this, I remember another conversation I had with a new church pastor some months back who said that he expected his congregation to assume responsibility for their own spiritual growth.  He said that many leaders seem to assume that the spiritual growth of people in their congregation is their responsibility.  “But, I can’t make anyone grow spiritually.  I can provide them with resources.  I can teach them what spiritual growth requires of them.  I can help them discover and challenge them to keep making the next step in their faith journey.  But I can’t do it for them.  It’s their responsibility — and I tell them that it is.”  He went on to say that no one grows spiritually for long just by coming to worship.  “Unless people are spending time daily seeking God’s presence in prayer and His voice in Scripture, and regularly serving God in some fashion, their spiritual growth will stall out.”

So, what does your congregation’s leaders expect of your members?  If they lived up to these expectations, would Jesus be honored and his mission advanced? 

In our next CT Blog we will talk about raising the bar and communicating expectations.  I invite you to share with our readers your thoughts. 


Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation.  

Posted by Jeff Stiggins in Getting Started, Leadership Development

7 Responses to “What do we expect of our members?”

  1. Marcia Payne on April 30th, 2009 10:33 am

    One thing that I see you did not cover is the responsibility of church members to go to their lay leader, PPR chair or pastor when they are concerned about something in the life of their church. To not do so can lead to dissatisfaction, grumbling on the back pew and ultimately to reduced commitment to the Body.

    While I agree that each of us have the responsibility to seek growth and maturity in the faith, the modeling of this process can best come from the lay leaders of the church. Participation in faith building studies (Disciple), faith building organizations outside the church (Emmaus, Tres Dias), quietly supporting missions financially, fulfilling duties that go with committee and team work and most basically just having a smile, hug and greeting for everyone go along way toward someone saying, “wow, I want what they have”.

    That’s my two cents worth. Thanks for the opportunity.

    Marcia Payne
    Salem UMC
    Havana, Fl.

  2. Suzi Brant on April 30th, 2009 5:15 pm

    I just finished reading your blog. We could ask the same thing of Pastors. Should we not expect to hear a message on Sundays that.. Inspires.. Fires us up, gives us something to share with those we come into contact with as we “Go out into the world?
    Some Pastors just don’t have what it takes to FIRE Up! a congregation, when that happens you begin to lose members, not just to your church but to the denomination.

  3. Frank Mercer on May 1st, 2009 10:40 am

    I love it when God uses the simple, ordinary events of life to mold me and remind me of His desire to have an intimate relationship with Him. Several years ago, our pastor ‘banned’ the word “member” at our church. “Members have privileges, lockers, and parking spaces” he said. “We are called to be servants of the Most High God, not members!” Each time I hear that simple lesson or hear talk of members or membership, it causes me to re-evaluate my relationship with God. Am I expecting something of God? Am I expecting the privileges of membership? Or, have I emptied myself of me and become a servant? I must confess that there’s a lot of ‘me’ still left in me.

    Psalm 119:125
    I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies.

    Psalm 119:135
    Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes.

    Philippians 2:3-7
    Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

  4. Fatha DeSue on May 3rd, 2009 9:26 pm

    Thank you. This is very interesting. I really would like members to reply to this and see how they would feel about ‘their expectation to membership in God’s Church.

  5. Brian B on May 4th, 2009 8:53 am

    Good material for preaching as well. Thanks. BB

  6. Wayne Fieldhouse on May 6th, 2009 6:54 pm

    I don’t know what your expections are for me, which is probably why I haven’t joined another church since I was 15 yrs old. My family however(children & grand children) sometimes expect me to join in their spiritual learning. Sometimes that is at a church they attend and sometimes it is else where. I do have a fondness and love for the people at the church I attend most. On the other hand my responsibility to God is to serve him the best I know how.

  7. Paul Daniels on May 14th, 2009 1:01 pm

    Thanks for your input Jeff. I would like to expect my church servants (I like this reference) to fulfill their covenant with God’s universal church: faithfully participate in the ministries of Christ’s church by their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. And, in some ways, this can be best fulfilled through living out the Methodist Way. I wonder, though? Is this too much to ask, too complex, too institutionalized? Maybe loving God wholeheartedly and loving neighbor as oneself says it best….but then, how does one live this out faithfully and obediently?
    Thanks for raising this topic.

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