The Christian church in England is continually changing and developing. When new congregations come along, you may wish to invite them to join your Churches Together group – or the request to join may come from them. What’s your best way forward?
In brief, good relationships are the starting point, but you’ll also need to consult your constitution, aka your Churches Together Agreement.
Relationships come first
As a first step, suggest that the new church develops relationships with existing members, if they haven’t already. There is no reason why you could not invite a representative to meetings as an observer (for most CT groups, this allows them to play a full part in the life of the group), encourage the congregation to participate in the activities of the CT group, and invite its minister to ministers’ meetings. This will ensure that membership has a firm, relational foundation.
After an appropriate time (during which you may discover that you need to find, possibly change or create your Agreement/constitution), you can take steps to accept the new church into formal membership.
If this gradual approach is not welcomed by the new church, gently and tactfully try to find out what the reason is. Occasionally it is due to school admissions criteria (see more information below).
Local Agreements/constitutions – a helpful tool
Good paperwork describes how you operate and does not require you to jump through unnecessary hoops. It allows you to do what you want to do, allows for future growth and protects you in various different ways. For example, a Churches Together Agreement (previously known as a constitution) should allow a Churches Together (or similar) group to accept into membership churches it wishes to accept, and give the ability to refuse membership to bodies which, for good reasons, it is not appropriate to accept into membership.
Find out more about local Churches Together Agreements and download a pro-forma template on our page Agreements/Constitutions for local groups.
What churches can our group accept into membership?
When answering this question, we recommend that you do not use membership of the national body Churches Together in England as a criterion, since CTE can only accept into membership national churches or councils of churches. This naturally excludes a local independent church which does not belong to one of the councils in membership of CTE. Yet that local independent church may enhance the life of your local CT group, so we’d suggest that your Churches Together Agreement should allow it to be accepted into membership.
Most CT groups limit membership to churches which are Trinitarian (believe in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity). A special clause allows the Quakers to be members since they do not have formal expressions of doctrine. However, in some places the relationship with Unitarian congregations is excellent and they, too, are accepted into membership by local CT groups – which therefore don’t have a Trinitarian requirement. The principle is always the same: relationships come before formal membership.
School admissions criteria
Occasionally a request for membership comes because a local school has as one of its admissions criteria that the family must belong to a church in membership of Churches Together in England (criteria which is against CTE’s advice).
If that is the case, try to explain sensitively that all CT groupings are autonomous and that membership of a local (or Intermediate/County level) Churches Together group does not confer membership of Churches Together in England (CTE). CTE is a national body with its own list of national Member Churches.
It may be that this information causes some distress or confusion, particularly when it impacts a child’s school place, so do be prepared to respond sensitively.
Find out more
Find out more about local Churches Together Agreements (which is also suitable for similar local groups), and download a pro-forma template on our page Agreements/Constitutions for local groups.
If you have any further queries about local group membership, do get in touch with your County Ecumenical Officer.