Rotary Founder, Paul Harris
For decades, now, what we normally consider the mainline Protestant churches in America have been experiencing a decline in membership.
Service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, even the Free Masons, have been experiencing similar declines.
While, on the one hand, service clubs boast increases in membership and claim they are not becoming less important, the facts are that the percentage of the population that comprise their memberships is far less than it has been in the past.
I think there is, perhaps, a correlation between the decline in church membership and Sunday attendance, and service club membership and weekly attendance.
Paul Harris was the founder of Rotary, and it happened in February 1905 when, as a young attorney who had moved to Chicago to begin his practice, he found that he would fail if he couldn't build a practice.
He reasoned that others had to be in the same predicament, so he and the few friends that he had made, decided to form a club where "professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, life long friendships."
In reality, this is the same formula for churches. A group gets together to build an organization where people "with diverse backgrounds can exchange ideas and form meaningful, life long friendships," as they learn more about God.
The constant trap that must be avoided for church or club to succeed is that all members have to be involved, not left out as a result of naturally established cliques that ooze into the memberships, and soon take over leaving the others behind as only observers.
The parallel is that the church has become like a movie theater. Come see the performance, and buy your ticket when the collection plate is passed. Say goodbye, and we'll see you next week for the repeat performance of the same movie.
Service clubs have the same problem. Soon, members are segregating themselves by sitting at the same table at each meeting. The only members they benefit from knowing better as a result of that membership are the other seven who sit with them.
The next step they take is to evaluate if membership in that church or that service club is personally meaningful enough to continue.
One of my friends is a fellow Realtor who goes to the same church that I do. He asked me awhile back how often a member calls me for real estate help. I found myself admitting that in the past eleven years, the answer is none.
He said he had the same experience, and was considering moving to another church where maybe he would have an opportunity to be more included.
Churches sell the intangible, and that's the hardest sale there is. To raise the money to pay the bills, the congregants are asked to contribute to the pot as much as they can.
One way to increase the amount in the pot is for the members to support each other's businesses. This is especially true with professionals.
In my case, if I sell, say, a $300,000 house and my part of the commission is $18,000, my church gets $1,800 of that. So a member who is planning a real estate transaction can, at no cost to him, increase the church's revenue by simply using my service.
That's the same way with service clubs. Their foundation purpose is to help fellow members build their businesses. For many, that isn't happening.
What I surmise is that the reason both are not as significant as they once were is that they have taken their eye off of the ball.
BILL CHERRY, REALTOR
My 50th Year