Greg Hazelrig often poses thought provoking questions. His question for the day for Friday deserves more than a brief comment, so I'm posting my answer here.
Should church members be held accountable for both personal spiritual growth and commitment to the Church in some way on a yearly basis?
Absolutely. What other organization requires nothing of its members? I've been a member of a number of different service groups, Rotary, Jaycees, Kiwanis. If I never showed up for a meeting and didn't pay my dues, my membership would have been revoked. This won't mean that I couldn't rejoin sometime in the future. It simply recognized that if one was wanted to be considered a member of the group certain minimum requirements had to be met.
The Church is the most important organization in the world. Sadly, few United Methodist congregations expect anything from their members. As a result membership has become meaningless. An individual who hasn't set foot inside the church building nor contributed a penny for decades (I have such people on my membership roles) has the same rights and can claim membership in the congregation equally with the individual who contributes of their time, talent and treasure sacrificially.
I once did a funeral for a woman who had moved away and lived her entire life in another community. When she died, she was brought back to her hometown for burial. Unbeknownst to me, her obituary listed her as a member of my congregation. She literally hadn't been back in 50 years. But because she was once a member of the congregation, her family felt comfortable listing her as a member. Part of the reason this was necessary was that in all her years away, she never became involved in another church.
This may be an extreme case, but it demonstrates what happens when there are no standards for membership. While it is difficult to measure personal spiritual growth, the Bible does say that you may know a tree by the fruit it bears. Our membership vows set the standard by which one's fruit is judged. Is an individual upholding the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, and service? Those are concrete actions that can be seen.
If so, should membership be taken away if they are not taking both seriously?
Again, absolutely. The only way that membership within in the UMC will regain its meaningfulness is if individuals are held accountable for the fulfillment of their vows. If a pattern of unwillingness to do these things develops, that person should expect that their membership will be removed. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule; college students and others in transitional periods in life, military personnel stationed away from home, elderly who are physically unable to take an active role in the church.
John Wesley didn't hesitate to remove an inactive member from the roles of his societies, why should we?
And finally, how would this be done?
With love. Sometimes love must be tough. The Church has taken on a very unbiblical understanding of love. Love is seen exclusively from a feminine, nurturing point of view. The masculine, harder side of love has been watered down or completely tossed out. Any time I have visited with people about holding people accountable for their membership vows, the response is "We don't want to offend anyone." Jesus, the epitome of love, was very offensive at times.
Specifically, each inactive member should be visited by other members of the congregation to find out if possible why the person became inactive and to invite him/her back into the fellowship. If that doesn't have any effect, then the person should be notified in writing, that the church will be removing the person from membership if he/she continues to be inactive. Finally, the inactive should be removed from the roles, though not completely cut off from the church. The person should be treated with respect and kindness by members in hopes that they might repent and return. Perhaps if these individuals knew they were no longer a member of a congregation, they would pause to consider their relationship with Christ, rather than simply assuming that because they're church members they're covered.
Though this kind of accountability has long been a dream of mine, I don't foresee it happening any time in the near future. At least in the congregations I have served, keeping everyone happy is more important than helping them to grow spiritually.