Unity's attitude toward membership was summed up by Barrette when the Albuquerque congregation welcomed 24 new members.
We have 24 new members. Let's just focus for a minute on what they represent to us. These people are joining a church. In Unity that doesn't mean that you join a church in order to be saved. God created you whole and good. You are not a lost soul. You walked into this church whole and complete and good. They don't have to stand up here to be okay. God does not require it. But their souls are calling out for something. Something more, something greater, a greater expression of God in their lives. And so are your souls and my soul. And when we see them standing in front of us, what we see is reflecting our own choice. We can decide right now that this is what I'm going to do in my life. I don't care if I've been a member of this church for thirty years, or if I'll never join this church, because Unity does not stress membership. It's not important. What's important is our choice in the moment to live a spiritual life, to be connected to the creator and to have a change in that for the better. (Aug. 4, 1996)
Although Barrette said Unity does not stress membership, he has emphasized it more than the previous minister since he became Albuquerque's minister in June 1996. He does this by giving membership classes a high profile and encouraging people to take part. But while there is encouragement, there is no pressure and no inducement of guilt.
The emphasis in Barrette's explanation of membership is on the individual's experience of God, which one can achieve without becoming a member. But membership, as Barrette noted, represents their attempt to develop a "greater expression of God in their lives" by taking advantage of what the church has to offer and by giving to others through the church. This was one reason Barbara became a member of her Unity church in 1996, after attending for more than 12 years. She said she didn't feel any pressure to join, but did so because she wanted to "give something back." She attended for many years without volunteering for anything, and was never asked to do anything, either.
I never felt any need to be a member, they never put any pressure on you about anything. That's one of the neatest things. No pressure. And the last couple of years I've spent a lot more time there and done a lot more things, classes, and gotten to know people, and made friends with a lot of people. I've gotten to know the minister personally and gotten to know his wife, and things like that, and I just feel like it's my home, it's my family. I feel like I've gotten so much from it that I wanted to become a member. I knew that if I became a member that I would do more for the church, that I would participate and volunteer and stuff like that, which I do. I think that it's just a tremendous force in our community.
On the other hand, a 60-year-old woman who answered the survey said her practice of the spiritual principles outlined by Unity would not be enhanced by membership. "Finally, I have done what Charles Fillmore said. Eventually you have to close the books and live the word — or walk the talk. It seems rather unimportant to me whether I am a member or not" (respondent no. 10).
Mosley said he never stressed membership during his 26 years as a local minister. "When I went to Detroit, Michigan, the average attendance was 800. I was there just under 8 years and when I left it was 1800. But when I went there the membership was 450 or thereabouts. And when I left there, the membership was 550." What Mosley did stress, however, was participation, and his churches provided ample opportunity. He said his church offered at least 30 hours of classroom instruction every week, and he created many opportunities for volunteering.
In Detroit we had 36 volunteers when I went there, and there were 800 people, and when I left we had over 400 volunteers. They were all like paid staff — they were hired and fired; they were given performance evaluations. They had supervisors among them. If somebody didn't perform, they didn't get to keep their job. And that was important to most of those 400 people, to keep those jobs. . . . So, that was a commitment for them, but I didn't ask them to become members necessarily.
Now that he is working with the Association, Mosley questions whether Unity's overall lax attitude toward membership is appropriate.
I think I might place a little bit more emphasis on the commitment of membership. I think that if people don't think something is expected of them, then they behave as though it isn't. And they'll get a lot out of Unity, and they'll be dedicated to the message. I think they give more if they think more is expected of them. . . . I'm not saying that I would necessarily push membership, but I think I would up-level their awareness of the need for commitment. If you really want to get something out of your church, you need to commit to your church.
© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.