My first premise is that churches and congregations ought to be mission - driven institutions. as opposed to merely democratic institutions. Power should be in the hands of those who are most committed to and active in fulfilling its mission. Right now, this is not true in most congregations. Right now, there is a lot of power in the hands of those who like the church as it is, or as it was, and that power is used to keep things as they are.
My second premise is that the broad general "membership" category overly empowers the passive consumers.
My third premise is that most churches have too many people involved in the institutional maintenance through committee work. It is said that "People come to our congregations because they are seeking the transcendent, and we put them on a committee."
I want to empower the "actives" -- the people who are enthusiastic about working on the substance of the mission. And understand that I don't just mean external community service and justice-making as the mission. Our mission includes offering free worship to the community, inspiring the young to a life of religious liberalism, being a social center, facilitating community dialogue as well.
At the same time, congregations need people to sit on budget committees, and organize the pledge campaign, and write building use policies and employee handbooks. People who are willing to dive into the details of how we provide health insurance for our employees in the era of "Obamacare." We need people to make sure that we have the resources (money, facilities and staff) to fulfill our mission.
I think LadySkySong is right in that making the voting roll the "Institutionalists" may overly empower change resistant leadership in the congregation. She poses this in terms of age, which I don't think is fair, or maybe I just resent it personally, but I think her point is valid. People move toward 'institutional' leadership as they get older and more experienced and more accustomed to dealing with the church as a whole.
But I don't want to pull our 'actives' away from the work of the mission to waste their energy combing through budget spreadsheets. The "actives" are the flame in our chalice; the "institutionalists" are the cup. We got a lot of congregations with big ornate chalices containing a little bitty flame.
So to me, it comes down to creating missional commitment among our leaders. I don't think that anyone ought to be at the highest levels of leadership in the institution before they show a serious commitment to the mission of the congregation as unfinished business, before they are willing to meet some standard of sacrificial giving and some serious personal commitment.
So, what's your opinion? How should membership be defined in the church of the future?