Elders, How Well do You Know Your Members?

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Some years ago I spent a day with some elders and deacons in a workshop setting. During one of our breaks an elder showed me the membership directory of his congregation. I asked him, “What percentage of your membership is composed of families of which the father and mother are in their first marriage, the mother has no outside employment and all the children are still at home?” He paused a few moments, then answered: “I would say about 70%.” I then suggested that he, that evening, make an actual tabulation from the directory. The next day he told me: “I was mistaken, it is about half that many.” (Even this figure was actually about twice as high as the national average.)

That little test came to intrigue me as much as it did the elder and the other participants of the workshop. I frequently, casually, followed up with other questions at church-type gatherings. “How many of your members are college graduates?” (The answers were mostly fewer than actual.) And for years already, I have asked elders: ”What percentage of your membership attends the second service?” and “ What percentage of you young people attend some form of study classes provided by the church?” and “How many couples have known divorce?” and “How many of your members are unemployed?” and “How many of your members have transferred out over the last year?” and “How many of your members are above the age of seventy?” and “how many babies were born in your congregation last year?” …Here, too, answers were usually inaccurate.

It seems true, then, that elders (and deacons) are, generally, not adequately informed about the personal realities of the membership. I realize that elders cannot be expected to know the sociological composition and conditions of the whole congregation. I propose that you begin getting to know the people within your own district. Though I've shared some examples, to be well-informed does not mean that you become a researcher, but that you remain personally in contact with your members. The issue, ultimately, is: what is the Gospel accomplishing in your congregation among your members? Nothing could be more important than that. Nothing could be more worthy of your interested attention.

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