Analyzing Chapter Membership
How levels of involvement affect your plans
Looking at the various commitment levels of members in a group can help you plan more wisely.
To mobilize our chapters effectively, we must move beyond just thinking in terms of how many people come to large-group meetings or how many names we have on our mailing lists. We must analyze the various levels of commitment that exist within the group—exactly who is involved in the group and how they are involved.
One way to get started is to ask some basic questions as you evaluate how the year has been going:
- Who in the chapter is willing to take on responsibilities, to lead out, to work on projects, to influence other group members toward growth?
- Who is definitely committed to the “big picture” of our fellowship—its purposes, plans and activities?
- Who in the chapter shows up regularly to most or all functions?
While these are not the only questions that determine the health of a campus fellowship, the answers offer important clues that determine how leaders can best invest their energies. Answering the questions above will help a leadership team move on to the next step in understanding the chapter—identifying the core group.
Core group members are people committed to the purposes, plans and activities of an InterVarsity fellowship. They’re committed to more involvement than just one regular meeting and are grasping why I-V is on campus.
In contrast, the fringe members are those not yet committed to the fellowship’s overall purposes, plans or activities. Fringe folks are usually committed to only one type of regular meeting, often the small-group Bible study.
There are four broad categories of members within this idea of core and fringe involvement.
- A leader takes responsibility for some work or service for the entire fellowship.
- A member is considerably involved, perhaps joining with other members in work or service for the entire fellowship.
- A casual participant is part of the “healthy fringe.” He or she is regularly involved in one activity or aspect of fellowship, but is not committed to the InterVarsity group as a whole or its mission on campus.
- A marginal attendee moves in and out of involvement, not attending even one InterVarsity activity regularly.
Please note that these distinctions do not measure spiritual maturity, just levels of participation. Some casual participants, for example, may be more mature than some core members. People remain on the fringe for many reasons other than just spiritual immaturity or disinterest—difficult course work, commuting distance, family commitments and health are just a few factors that can come into play. The idea is simply to ascertain who can be counted on to be committed to the group’s purposes and activities.
Count up all the people in each category. Those in the first group of leaders (exec, small-group leaders and coordinators of other chapter functions) form the total leadership team. Those in the member and casual participant categories form the total regular membership, and can include both believers and seekers.
Marginal attendees are often too unreliable to count, but we must continue to welcome them into fellowship and to call them to Jesus and to our purposes.
Analyzing a chapter’s membership composition helps planning in several ways:
- It keeps leaders realistic. For example, instead of assuming that a group has fifty members, you may find that only forty show up regularly. And out of that group you may discover that only twenty would describe themselves as committed to the entire fellowship and its purposes. And out of that group of twenty, you might discover that only eight people are really doing all the work!
- Take heart. Jesus himself recognized that not everyone touched by his ministry would join his core group. There were “layers of membership” around him: the crowd, the seventy he sent out to preach, the twelve disciples and the three disciples who were closest to him—Peter, James and John.
- Analyzing chapter membership will help the leadership team plan and delegate more wisely. If plans call for more leaders than there are (or can be developed from the pool of available members), then leaders are setting themselves up for disappointment.
- Understanding chapter membership will help spot problems. A chapter with a large percentage of marginal attendees, for example, might tempt leaders to spread themselves too thin. They risk trying to minister to those who are uncommitted to the group while neglecting regular attendees.
Here are a few examples of things to watch for, along with some questions to ask:
- If a chapter is just a huge fellowship of merely casual participants, leaders should ask what might be keeping them from committing themselves to the group’s vision. Do they need to be challenged to commit themselves to the Lord’s purposes for the group on campus? Do they need to be invited to take some responsibility? Has the vision for reaching the campus been communicated well?
- If a chapter has a large core group but few leaders, how well are jobs being delegated? Are leaders training and grooming this group for leadership? Might some of these people be ready to take on more responsibility now?
- If a chapter has a solid core but almost no fringe members hanging around the edges of the group, what is the state of the chapter’s evangelistic outreach? Is the group visible on campus?
To analyze your group accurately, you’ll need good data. The key people for getting this are your small-group leaders. They are characteristically closest to the people in the fellowship, and should be included when you get together to discuss chapter involvement.
The best time to get a handle on your chapter membership is at the end of each academic term. Mid-year evaluations give leaders a chance to fine-tune programs and plans, delegate new responsibilities that have crept up, and determine potential leaders for the coming year. Get ready for chapter planning camps this coming summer by gathering information early to take with you to camp. Your planning will be realistic and much more effective.
—John Roeckeman is an associate area director in Illinois. This article appeared first in the Summer 1991 issue.
Posted on: Apr 19, 2005
Last modified on: Aug 13, 2006
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