Over the last several decades, churches have discovered that spiritually hungry persons are less interested in
conventional ideas of membership and more interested in belonging to a community of worship, care, and mission.
This has caused churches to reconsider how they welcome and respond to visitors. In addition, some of these same
churches are choosing not to participate in the frenzy of competing for new people and larger membership rolls.
As one of the latter, West Plano Presbyterian Church has consciously chosen a different ministry to those who
visit. This approach presumes that people come with a measure of spiritual hunger, some uncertainty,
and an element of caution. We have discovered that patience and time are helpful before raising any questions
about “membership.” Accordingly, we have given our ministry with visitors a new shape that honors the importance
of taking time, sharing and reflecting on experience, asking questions, and feeling a sense of rightness before
any decision to “join” is made.
So what does this look like in practice?
Plenty of Time to Check Things Out
Walking the Path of Discovery and Discernment: Affirmers
As a visitor to our church, you are welcome to participate as much or as little as you desire. Should
you find yourself interested in a more intentional and structured way to learn about who we are and what we are about,
we invite you onto a path of discovery and discernment. By this we mean discovering more about this congregation:
our faith, worship, mission, and why we are the way we are. It also means discerning together as we ask God to
guide us in making decisions about the community of faith we label “home.”
People come through our doors for many reasons. Whatever may be prompting you, we believe unhurried time is needed
to explore what is going on and see how things are done. Therefore, we offer a ministry of hospitality that accepts
spiritual hungers and uncertainties, and which is sensitive to giving assistance without being pushy. For example, some
people want space, while others like to have someone by their side. We try to respond in a manner which is comfortable.
Preparation for New Belonging:
This “path” involves a series of small-group gatherings in which our conversation centers on learning more about each
other, God’s leading in our lives, and what our faith means for us today. Scheduled to suit the particular group
circumstances, these gatherings include sharing, study, and reflection – all in an atmosphere of hospitality. Since
this path involves seeking God and God’s leading, it makes sense that our conversations grow out of scripture study,
prayer, and a focus on what we believe. Gracious space is made for each person’s own questions since these provide helpful ways
to explore our faith and its meaning more deeply.
Sharing a meal following worship
Because this journey takes place in the context of our congregation,
it makes sense, too, that the whole congregation should support us in prayer and encouragement. Thus, the path begins with a brief
service of welcome during the Sunday liturgy. Following worship, participants experience a time of
discussion with planned topics of faith and practice, and conversation arising from a passage of scripture.
Each participant will have the opportunity to share this time with a sponsor – a member of our church who serves as a
companion along the way.
Making Promises that Keep us Connected
Eventually – but only when a person is ready – this journey leads to considering whether to become part of our fellowship.
We believe membership is not about having a name on a list but is about belonging to a community of mutual care and mission.
Therefore, time is taken to reflect on how the promise-making God of the Bible calls us to make promises in return to God
and each other. These promises are not rules or laws, but gifts of grace that hold us together as a community of love and
service. In this phase we continue meeting as before, but we focus our conversation around baptism as the sign of God’s
promise and our mission with Christ in the world. By grace we are welcomed into the blessing of sharing with the hungry,
the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged, and all in need. Only at this point, participants who feel called to become part of
our community meet with our leadership (“Session”) before joining in worship for a service of Renewal of Baptism.
Still more questions? Just Ask!
Hopefully this gives a picture of what it looks like to begin considering our community as home. This is not intended
to answer all questions; rather, it is intended as a conversation starter. If you are ready for such conversation, we are
eager to sit down together. Simply mention your interest to our minister or one of our front-porch greeters. We look
forward to meeting and sharing with you!
The peace of Christ be with you.