Martin W. Bender
This began with me researching about the Christian understanding of luck and grew into a triperspectival understanding of church membership. In retrospect, maybe I should have stuck with the luck idea.
In 1990 Grace Davie began publishing articles and books exploring the impact of Christianity in post-Christian Europe. Her work looked at how those who lack belief in the Christian faith often maintain a feelings of belonging to the church. Those who identified as such frequently held positions on political and social issues that were in line with their believing counterparts demonstrating a lingering sense of Christian morality grounded upon traditional association with the church while lacking formal acceptance of Christian doctrine.
Challenges to Davie’s work stated such indications should include not only the categories of belief and belonging, but must also include practice. Davie used ‘belonging’ to indicate participation in the life of the church and ‘belief’ as holding to its doctrinal positions. Francis and Robbins argue for an additional category to be added in order to allow practicing habits to also be included in future study. They demonstrate that there are many who identify as belonging to the church without holding to the beliefs of the church. Such are likely to actively engage in elements of church life while remaining doctrinally separate. Their contention is that “the religious climate within Britain today is one of ‘belonging without believing’, and of ‘believing without practising’.” When the category of practice is included with belief and belonging as ways in which people interact with the church they then fit neatly into Frame’s triperspectivalism.
Triperspectivalism (How’s that for a seminary word?) is John Frame’s attempt to develop a distinctly Christian epistemology. It divides the whole of human understanding into three categories: normative, situational, and existential. The normative perspective is that which is reveled to man by God in the Scriptures. The situational perspective is that which is known through community. The existential perspective is self-knowledge. When these perspectives are applied to Francis and Robbins’ categories belief corresponds to the normative perspective, practice to the situational, and belonging to the existential.
At this point you may be like my wife and wondering who cares about nonsense like this? I admit, it’s a nerdy way to think about the relationship people have with the church, but understanding this complex relationship will be helpful in ministering to and sharing the gospel with different types of people. Based upon these categories there are eight different types of relationship with the church.
First are members. These are those who engage in the church’s beliefs, practice their faith with the church, and identify themselves as belonging to the faith community.
Second are friends. Friends do not share the church’s beliefs, but do actively engage in the community and identify themselves with the church.
Third are traditionalists. Traditionalists actively participate in the church, but feel neither a sense of belonging nor hold to the theological positions of the church.
Fourth are mystics. Mystics maintain the beliefs and practices of the church, but do not have a sense of belonging.
Fifth are nominals. Nominals believe the doctrine, but have neither a relationship with the church nor identify themselves with it.
Sixth are the lapsed. The lapsed believe in the church’s teaching and identify with the church, but do not participate in the corporate aspects of Christianity.
Seventh are acquaintances. Acquaintances are those who identify as belonging to the church, but share neither its beliefs nor engage in the worshiping community.
Eighth are the non-churched. The non-churched are those who have no belief, sense of belonging, or practice within the church.
Identifying individuals in terms of these categories can be helpful in ministry. Knowing areas where people are detached provides the opportunity to overcome those disparities. On a larger scale, if a congregation has a disproportionate number of a particular category steps can be taken to overcome the corresponding area of weakness.
What do you think? Could such a system of categorization be helpful in planning ministry activities in both individual and group settings? Hit me up in the comments below.
 See Grace Davie, “Believing without belonging: is this the future of religion in Britain?” Social Compass 37 (1990): 455-69; Religion in Britain since 1945: believing without belonging (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Religion in Modern Europe: a memory mutates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); and “From obligation to consumption: a framework for reflection in northern Europe,” Political Theology 6, no. 3 (July 2005): 281-301.
 Davie, “From obligation to consumption,” 282.
 Leslie Francis and Mandy Robbins, “Belonging without believing: a study in the social significance of Anglican identity and implicit religion among 13-15 year-old males,” Implicit Religion 7, no. 1 (April 2004): 38.
 Todd Murphy, “Tri-Perspectivalism: An Introduction to John Frame’s Reformed Epistemology (Part I),” The Aquila Report, http://theaquilareport.com/tri-perspectivalism-an-introduction-to-john-frames-reformed-epistemology-part-i/ (accessed April 19, 2016).