Jackson talks about the importance of providing a spectrum of involvement that allows people to move from newbie status to core member at their own pace and comfort level. True to his Baptist background, the four primary stages have a lovely alliteration: Anonymity, Affinity, Authenticity, and Accountability. I totally agree with these stages.
- Anonymity. As evidenced in my "Playing Hooky" post a couple weeks ago, even people well-ensconced in a church sometimes feel the need to worship anonymously. That is all the more true for people unfamilar with the church, its practices, and its people. They need to get acclimated while feeling welcomed but not pressured to "sign their life away" too quickly.
- Affinity. Most churchgoers in America have no idea what makes their denomination different from any other, or what their church believes about every tiny point of doctrine. People become part of a church because they feel they connect to that congregation on a personal level. They have something in common with others there, and find classes or activities where they can explore common interests.
- Authenticity. This is the lynch pin when it comes to increasing commitment to the church. Answering questions like "Are you who you seem to be?" and "Can I be myself here?" pave the way for a person's desire to be a full participant in the life and ministry of the church.
- Accountability. This is the stage where people really commit to give of themselves in ministry, serving regularly and participating fully, rather than simply consuming of the church's ministries.
While this kind of "accountable" involvement and commitment may be the goal for any person growing in faith, the church will never, and arguably should never, consist solely of these people. Mark Beeson, pastor of Granger Community Church in northern Indiana, wrote a great blog post on that subject a couple months ago. Quite the outdoorsman, his thoughts on spirituality and ministry are often inspired by nature. In this entry, he talked about a wild turkey he saw, with a really long, red beard and very full set of feathers, all fanned out. (We see these guys all the time in our yard right now--very cool.) He said how he immediately realized that this turkey was a mature male, ready to mate, and commented how pretty soon there would be a bunch of immature, baby turkeys running around. He then pointed out how the church should be the same way: wherever there are mature Christians, there will be young, new Christians as well, because the more committed people of faith will attract and reach out to those who are searching. A group of mature animals or people who do not have immature ones around them... are old and dying.
Many churches today seem to exist only to sustain themselves. They stay open even when there are only a handful of members left, just because those people don't want to go to a different church. Their programs are more like a community center than a house of worship and a home-base for ministry to others. Embracing all stages of involvement in the church does not mean you are condoning "consumer Christianity" or that you don't care about discipleship--it means that you are outward-focused, that (like the United Methodist mission statement says) you are "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," not for the perpetuation of an institution.