Making The SHIFT: Field Notes From a New Church (Part III)

Here is the latest installment in my series on how one new church is attempting to make the SHIFT by using Mark Tidsworth’s book: SHIFT: Three Big Moves For The 21st Century Church. One of the SHIFT’s Tidsworth discusses in his book is “the shift from member identity to disciple identity.” Making his case for the demise of member identity within the local church, Tidsworth writes: “Being a church member is not wrong; it’s just lacking.” Tidsworth goes on to make a compelling contrast between “Member-Based Faith Communities” and “Disciple-Based Faith Communities.”

The leadership team at the bridge Presbyterian Church embraced and expanded on this helpful contrast. At the bridge, we have completely done away with the language of “member.” There are no “members” of the bridge Presbyterian Church – despite the consternation of some in our higher governing body offices.

We fully encourage those interested to join the bridge. We feel that joining a church is the biblical model put forth in the book of Acts. But when Christ-followers join our new church, the do so not as “members” but as “Covenant Partners.” The notion of “Covenant Partners” is our way of making the SHIFT from member identity to disciple identity. “Covenant Partners” emphasizes the ideas of shared mission and ministry and casts the vision of a community bound together by promises.

In our “Join the bridge Gathering” we intentionally deconstruct the idea of church member, pointing out how the phrase is negatively associated with obligation and entitlement. Borrowing from Tidsworth’s book, we point out how the term church member has become disconnected from the more compelling invitation to join God on mission. Remarkably, nobody has voiced their confusion or disagreement. In fact, most who join the bridge feel it is liberating to think of joining as a “Covenant Partner.”

This SHIFT in thought has paid huge dividends. Our “Covenant Partners” feel a deep sense of connection with God’s mission at the bridge and a strong sense of partnering together to grow disciples at the bridge. In short, making the SHIFT from member identity to disciple identity resonates with seekers; inspires long-time disciples and is life-giving to our new church.

Doug Cushing
Pinnacle Associate