Ownership, Not Membership

May 10, 2007 by

Earlier, we highlighted The Church at Pembrook Pines’ interesting marketing strategy of church seven days a week. Today, we have a new move for you.

Vintage21, a church in Raleigh, N.C., does some interesting things with their church members. Most importantly, they don’t actually call them members. They call them owners. According to their site, this minimizes the exclusive connotations of membership and maximizes the emphasis on ourselves as heirs to the kingdom. Beyond this, they also want to communicate that owners are investing in the church, not only consuming its resources.

A second, and minor, move they make is having an “Owner’s Login.” I have no clue what might be in there, but it automatically makes me want to be an owner to find out. I just hope it’s something good so people like me won’t be irritated when we find out. This is a good concept to offer personalized content to church members owners.

Honestly, I never really thought of this. I never questioned the word ‘membership,’ even though it isn’t actually in the Bible. Check out their web site, read more into it, and ask yourself, “Are there more words that I cling to for tradition that could be better said?”

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Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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26 Responses to “Ownership, Not Membership”

  • Matthew
    May 10, 2007

    I don’t care what you call it. “Owning” it isn’t any more “Biblical.” I love the idea regardless of what you call it. At my old church, we referred to it most often as covenant. If giving it a new name better communicates their vision and expectations – go for it!

  • Mike Hosey
    May 10, 2007

    A decade ago, I worked in Mental Health in Rural North Mississippi. At that time the state was wanting to mess around with changing terminology. They wanted my colleagues and me to start calling our clients “consumers”.
    They’re intention was to make the clients feel more empowered and less stigmatized. I was opposed to the name change because it didn’t really accomplish its stated goals. It was just a trendy thing to do to ride the then political correctness wave. Afterall, clients work in a collaborative relationship with a professional. Consumers, well, they consume.
    If the word “owner” works for this church well that’s good. But for me, I’m uncomfortable with it. The church is not owned by the people who attend. It’s owned by Jesus Christ. It also seems kind of silly. Church is a family, or a community, not a property. Wouldn’t it be kind of crazy to start calling your biological brother or sister “fellow owners” in the family spawned by your dad.
    My vote: The word “owner” is just another silly novelty that comes from people desperately trying to make themselves unique and to carve out a niche.

  • Mean Dean
    May 10, 2007

    Ownership is an important aspect to participation adoption and buy-in in the corporate world.
    However, that section of Raleigh is primarily populated with college students – and/or industries surrounding the various schools there – and/or State governance.
    The question then becomes, does “ownership” mean anything to their particular demographic.
    Meaning, potentially good idea – but is this the best place to field it?

  • Chris Carey
    May 10, 2007

    We at Journey Church Lakeland decided to call the people that went through our “Crossroads” class “Partners”. We feel they are joining us as equals in a partnership to reach North Lakeland.

  • IPMblog
    May 10, 2007

    Makes me think I accidentally wandered into my local natural foods store when I meant to head to church . . .

  • Ben D
    May 10, 2007

    Interesting, though we spend a lot of tiem dispelling the myth that “members have ownership”. It isn;t about ownership (God owns it) but about stewardship.
    I also don’y care for the term members. We are talking about eliminating the term and making them all “deacons” (from the Greek deaconate, servants)–that’s what members should really be.

  • lemon
    May 10, 2007

    Does being called an “owner” have any impact on the sense of entitlement that some members carry?
    Particularly in more unhealthy churches, I’ve observed the tendency to play the “Well I own this church” card when decisions aren’t necessary going the way the member would prefer. I just wonder if being officially called an owner plays into that.

  • Mean Dean
    May 10, 2007

    Ben you have a salient point – it is about stewardship, but unless individuals don’t take ownership of the processes and issues, especially operational processes and issues, then things won’t get done.
    Still, I agree, ownership should be driven out of a spirit of stewardship. That and “ownership” is a bit church-speaky to me.

  • silentfool
    May 10, 2007

    At my church, we still call it members…but at another church I frequently visit for inspiration, they call it becoming a “shareholder”. Hearing them explain it, made me really fond of the term. Everyone has a part, yet no one person “owns” it. I’m sure that the term would not go over well with some who might see it as too business-y, but member isn’t exactly a great term to begin with when you think about it.

  • Daniel D
    May 10, 2007

    I can see valid points to the debate of using “ownership” in a way that crosses the line of man’s ownership of the church versus God’s but we all know that the intention of Vintage21 seems genuine. As for me I applaud their intention. I think in an age of consumerism, “me church,” and a convenience culture that anything that empowers people to take a proactive role in their spiritual life is a good thing. That term of ownership might seem negative to someone who has grown up in the church or been a Christian a while but for a new believer or the occasional attender it might just be the reality check they need to say… “Hey, I need to stop expecting the church to feed me all the time and perhaps take ownership of my own choices so that I can grow in my faith.”

  • ryang
    May 10, 2007

    daniel, i totally agree. i think to many times people come into church wanting to be sponges soaking everything up that they can. god called us to serve, and mainly GO! if i bought a new car, who’s would it be? mine. i’m gonna take care of it, keep it clean, take out the trash that is inside it, do routine maintenance on it so it will get me from point a to point b. so is with the church. we get saved, and we pour in to the church. we serve where we are needed. we take out the spirtiual trash in it. we do routine maintence on it so it we can make sure more people get from point a -earth to point b-heaven.
    the more i think about it, what do you become a member of in the world? clubs/teams. to many people think of church as a country club with a cross.

  • mpitt
    May 10, 2007

    I like the term “body parts” better than members or owners, but I don’t think churches will embrace this idea….My church uses the term “member” because culturally, this is universally understood by our congregation. 80% belong to the upscale country club next door to our church. The church is simply an extention of their social life.

  • Cameron
    May 10, 2007

    I’d like to look at this from the view of those we’re trying to reach. If I’m talking about my church to my mate at the local pub, and I mention its ‘owners’ he would either think about the landlord of the building we worship in or he’d think we’ve quite literally sold out (I’m thinking of the Simpsons episode in which the First Church of Springfield sells advertising space in the church building).
    ‘Shareholders’ would probably be understood to mean the people whose money make the church possible and probably never actually show up — just like in a company. Don’t even get me started on ‘partners’.
    For my money ‘members’ probably comes closest to what we mean, or at least what I mean. I don’t see how it’s any less inclusive than ‘owners’. My mate Bob is quite aware what membership of a group means, and he’s also aware that different groups (sports clubs, work groups, Rotary, etc) have different expectations for its members, which might include labour and financial support.
    It’s also biblical in one sense, in that in the one body there are many — what? Members!

  • Gloria
    May 11, 2007

    “The word ‘owner’ is just another silly novelty that comes from people desperately trying to make themselves unique and to carve out a niche.”
    I don’t think think so. I don’t know that I can think of a better word than “member” right off the top of my head, but it seems like a good idea to find an alternative to me. I may not actually like the choice of the word “owner,” but different words do have different connotations and meaning is important. When you change the name of a thing, regardless of what Shakespeare said, it tends to take on the characteristics of the name. It changes the way people think about and interact with it on very subtle but important levels.
    I think it’s an interesting concept… but I agree with Mean Dean “ownership” can be a bit on the “church-y” sounding side– but I have heard the word in a business environment, so…yeah… it’s not totally ecclesiastical.

  • Gloria
    May 11, 2007

    Josh- Good call. Making us think about the words we use in SO important. I get on to people all the time for using “Christian-ese” and then I go and do it all the time. It’s SO important that people remind us that the words we use are important and that we ought to choose them with care.

  • Joe B
    May 11, 2007

    The only thing wrong with the word “member” is that churches fail to teach, embrace, or enforce the biblical basis of “membership” — that is, being a part of the tangible, organic manifestation of God’s spirit thru his people (and no, that’s not just some “Charismatic Thing.”
    It doesn’t matter what you call it if people do not understand the truth on which it is based. Believe me, if all that is required is to show up, sit still, and not cuss, people will see themselves as CONSUMERS.

  • Gloria
    May 11, 2007

    Good point Joe.

  • Ann
    May 13, 2007

    Why are wasting time on trying to figure out what to call a churh’s body of Christ. What is wrong with the traditional word “member”. I agree with the above writer who worked in mental health with regard to client vs. consumer. I too worked in mental health, and we had the same thing, and it did not change a thing. We are in that “let’s make everyone feel good” mode. It’s almost like the church are going to give into potential members wants rather than have them give their lives to Christ which is a very simple message…John 3:16

  • st. Mars
    May 13, 2007

    hmmm? At first, the term ‘owner’ gives me the creeps….probably because I went to a church once where John Maxwell’s material was seemingly taught more than the Bible. Not that Maxwell is bad, but his stuff has a wordly tint to it.

  • Mean Dean
    May 14, 2007

    I dunno, the more I read this thread, the more I wonder if “ownership” isn’t more of a concession to society’s over-developed sense of entitlement, e.g. “what’s in it for me?
    I agree with those above, why all the NT writings regarding the “members” of the “Body” if it was all about ownership?
    Then again, this is the guy who realized while not everyone can be the eye … sees himself as the pancreas or somet similar organ.

  • Shelly Ivey
    May 14, 2007

    The word “owners” has a corporate, business-like connotation to me. I’m considered an owner and a shareholder at my credit union. It seems like corporate language.
    I can see where Vintage 21 is coming from, but I’m not sold on the idea.
    To me, the word “membership” implies a community- a body of people with the same purpose.
    Isn’t that what we are? The body of Christ?

  • Brad
    May 16, 2007

    If I was going to propose a change to this term in my church (I’m not about to), I would suggest ‘stakeholder’. In Communications, that terms implies a wide variety of connections to the organisation, with an equally wide variety of responsibilities.
    Owner seems to smack of territorial control and consumerism, something that we should be curbing within the church not endorsing. And, as pointed out earlier, God owns the church — we get into trouble whenever that understanding gets the least bit cloudy…
    It isn’t a waste of time to consider this — it’s part of figuring out what the church is, and how it relates to shifting culture.

  • Paul Munafo
    May 29, 2007

    The problem with the word member is that it has become so closely tied to the word club, and everyone wants you to be part of their club. Every online store, supermarket and drug store has a club, and wants you to be a member. For people who come into the church off the street we need to help them understand that the church is much more that that.

  • James Dalman
    May 31, 2007

    Why must we always be coining new terms that will be outdated in four weeks anyways? Why do some groups feel they need to create terminology that doesn’t offend or turn people off to their church?
    I saw this with the word “experience”. You are NOT coming to worship, a service, or church – it is an experience – as if we hand out LSD,listen to Jimi Hendrix, and see God in vivid, living colors.
    Call things what you will but the lead dude will always be a pastor, an experience a worship service, and an owner a member. I think this terminology fits in well with the “it’s all about me” generation and society.
    I’ll wrap up by saying that I love marketing and creativity but churches are quickly becoming nothing more than the world around them. Don’t believe me? Check out some of the Christian conferences and church planter gatherings today.

  • Rozell
    June 5, 2007

    I’m an “owner” at Vintage. I don’t know if everybody took a look at the website to read the reasoning behind the terminology or if some of you are just posting based on a gut reaction to what you percieve as “churchy” speak. I’m not accusing, I’m just wondering if everyone who posted here actually visited the website.
    Yes, one of the purposes is to avoid the connotations of “membership” as in a country club or whatever. But it also comes from the Biblical idea of being “heirs” or “co-heirs” (ones who have been given ownership) to the Kingdom of God.
    Most importantly, however, the reason the word “ownership” is used is because we believe Vintage has a responsibility to the community around us, and to those who come through the doors seeking to know more about Christ – not to it’s members.
    By calling ourselves “owners,” though it may BE semantics, we are each reminded that we have a responsibility to the church, rather than the church having a responsibility to us.
    Also, this is reinforced by our once-monthly “Owners Night” meetings. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend, and non-owners sometimes do, but the message on these nights markedly different in tone and purpose from our Sunday services: On these nights, we are challenged by our Deacons, Elders, and one another to step up and take on the RESPONSIBILITES that have been given to each of us as followers of Christ.

  • Rich "Richie" Merritt
    December 31, 2007

    What about “Teammates”. Discipleship is coaching of sorts – No? Community, Team, Body, members, all the same in my opinion.

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