Q & R: Membership

Here’s the Q:

I am the pastor of a little church which is really struggling with the issues of church membership. We are recognizing more and more the aversion many people have to church membership. Most of us understand that aversion, having experienced spiritual abuse of one form or another, and therefore, we try to be supportive and compassionate and resist the temptation to be “heavy handed.” But after three weeks and two congregational meetings which almost were rendered ineffective because of the lack of a quorum … we also realize that, sometimes, we need to define a “corporate body.”
I know that consensus is a way to go … and in fact, we were forced to do something vaguely anti-Roberts’ Rules in order to change the bylaws just so that we could make some decisions. It was fine; nobody died. But I also know that there is something to be said for constitutions, bylaws, policies etc … if for no other reason than to establish general principles and practices so that there is some notion of consistency and identity. We have members who attend other places but cannot transfer their membership because there is nothing to transfer their membership to. We have people who refuse membership but may as well be members for the amount of time and energy they afford to us. We also have members who dare not darken the doors for all the damage that they have done … people who have decided to hold on to their membership literally until this person or that person is gone or deceased so that they might regain power and control (yeah, no kidding). We don’t want to be exclusive here (allowing a handful of people to make decisions for everyone) … nor classist (ie; base everything on what people give) … and I as the pastor would like to be able to acknowledge the hundreds of people we include in our little community through our mission and outreach.
I am searching for a new way to organize membership – maybe a broader, inclusive category of “disciples” and then a corporate distinction of “members”? Shall we do away with the corporate body idea completely? Sigh. The more I think about this, the more my head hurts. Brian, is there anyone or anything out there that can help me think about this in a fresh new way?

Here’s the R:
Important questions!
Here are a few observations, but your post deserves a much more careful and lengthy response at some point, by me or by others.
First, I think we need to distinguish between ministry and mission on the one hand, and governance on the other. Boards and votes and bylaws, in my view, are matters of governance. Governance is terribly important, but most people today seem to be saying something like this: “I’m trusting you leaders to work out governance in ways that are ethical, transparent, and accountable. Invite us to be involved, but don’t burden us. We would rather be involved with ministry and mission.”
Second, those words “ethical, transparent, and accountable” matter. If a smaller number of people are involved in governance, they need to seek input through transparent channels and communicate what they’re up to.
Third, we need to pay attention to self-organizing trends, like DIY, Sharing Economy, and Crowdsourcing. I think governance will be more and more about creating and preserving safe and productive space in which people “play” freely. That means less control, more encouragement, along with some simple guidelines to keep the space sustainable, free, and fruitful.