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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Cleaning' membership rolls

Updates and outreach go together

When Norma Cook Everist, a professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, hears someone say their church will "clean the records," she often wonders, "Are they dirty?"

While she teaches her students the importance of good record-keeping, she said "the term 'cleaning the records' sounds like you're just getting rid of people. It should be more of an ongoing task, both of regularly watching for people becoming inactive and of reaching out to them when they do."

Michael D. WatsonDuane Pederson, bishop of the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, remembers doing major membership updates in three congregations he served. In one, 1,800 names were removed at one time. "Most had been away so long they had no idea they were still considered a member. Some who were deceased were still on the active membership rolls," he recalled.

Pederson offers these tips for making membership updates:

• Annually update your congregation's membership list to keep the task manageable. Years ago mission support was determined by a set amount per confirmed member, which was an incentive for many churches to keep accurate membership lists. Now many consider such record-keeping busywork, reflecting an outdated model of being the church. While there is some truth to this, as long as congregations own property, elect leaders, borrow money and benefit from nonprofit status, keeping accurate membership lists will be necessary as a legally incorporated body.


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