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Trail Notes


by Jim Johnson

One of the exciting things about starting a new church is watching how different ministries, ideas, and directions unfold and evolve as the church grows. In recent months we’ve been talking about the whole process of “membership.” As we have developed this process we have kept two important values in mind.

1) We want membership at PRESTON TRAIL to be meaningful. In most churches today membership has little value. In my former church we had 3000 people listed as members, but a couple hundred didn’t even live in our city anymore, another 1,500 never gave an offering to the church, and fewer still ever volunteered to serve in one of the church’s ministries. Clearly, an objective observer would ask, “What’s the point of being a member?” Membership, to be meaningful, must include certain expectations or commitments that a person is willing to make in order to help the church accomplish its God-given mission.

2) We want membership to be meaningful, but not exclusive. If we set the bar for membership high, what about those people who aren’t ready or willing to make those commitments. Won’t they feel left out or devalued? Well, it is possible that some might feel that way, but as you are probably aware, the vision of Preston Trail is to build a church for unchurched people. The prevailing principle that guides our church is to value and include all people who are on a journey of faith—no matter whether they are far away from God, returning to church after a time away, or a longtime follower of Christ. It would go against the very DNA of our church to love or care less for someone who is not yet a member. In fact, our church exists to serve those who are not yet members of a church, or especially, God’s family.

In spite of our best intentions, something has occurred that we didn’t expect. In recent conversations with Preston Trailers we have learned that the word “membership” has a lot of baggage. So much so, that our best intentions of having a meaningful membership process that challenges people to grow into full devotion to Christ are in danger of being lost in translation. As a result we’ve been rethinking how we can hold up sound biblical expectations for the “members” of our church and at the same time create an environment that motivates people to aspire to that level of commitment.

In the middle of one of our brainstorms Philippians 1:4-5 floated to the top of our frothy consciousness. It reads: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” That word “partnership” began to stick out. Maybe, just maybe, what we have been describing as “membership” at PRESTON TRAIL is really more like “partnership.”

What does “partnership” mean? My handy internet dictionary can help: A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal. There you have it. Just the thought we were looking for. To become a partner with Preston Trail means that you are willing to cooperate with us and to share the responsibility of accomplishing our mission of reaching our community for Christ.

The idea of “partnership” really makes sense when it is viewed in light of our church’s mission statement: “We will give our lives to help people find and follow Jesus Christ.” What we need are scores of people who are willing to cooperate with us by giving their lives (that is, time, spiritual gifts, relational energy, and financial resources) to help people become fully devoted followers of Christ.

One of the best things about this word is the number of positive connotations it carries. People form partnerships all the time. Partnership in a company is a motivating goal. It is something that many aspire to. The whole process motivates one to stretch and grow. At the same time, partnership implies responsibility more than privilege. And yet, it provides shoulders to lean on when in struggle and others to share the joy and glory with in great victory.

So, in the future, at Preston Trail we are going to invite people who are ready and willing to “partner” with us in the great adventure of building a church that reaches thousands of people for Christ. Our first Discover Preston TrailPartnership Orientation is coming up January 30, from 5:00-7:00 at the AMC Theater. It would be a privilege for us to share more with you about this exciting and challenging opportunity. We already have a huge group signed up, but there is still room for you! Just stop by the Information Table this Sunday and a member of our Hospitality Team will be glad to give you all the details!