When I started in ministry, I felt like Church membership was an archaic idea that meant very little today. In fact, most of the Churches I knew had huge membership lists with very few in attendance. It seemed like the concept of being a member meant nothing and had little value other than a nice line in your obituary. Through my years of ministry, I have changed my mind. The problem was not the concept of Church membership; the problem was the way some Churches handle it. At this point in my life and ministry, I have come to believe that membership in a Church is essential if the Church handles it correctly. Here are a few reasons I believe this to be true.
1. Membership is Biblical. While the phrase “Church member” is never used the concept is repeatedly found. I really think the leaders of the early Church had no dream of there ever being a Christian who was not a Church member. Here are a couple of examples: When the Church had problems in Acts 6 they were to select leaders (later called deacons) from “among you.” Who is the” you?” I believe the “you” represents everyone who was connected to that body of believers. We call those people members. Also, in 1 Corinthians there was a man living in public sin who was part of the Church (chapter 5). Paul says they are to put the man out of their fellowship. What does that mean? That means there were people who were a part of their group and people who were not. Lines had been drawn between insiders and outsiders or members and non-members. These are just two of several examples.
2. Membership Shows Connectedness. Every civic group I know has members. They understand that you need to connect with them to adequately represent them officially. The same principle is true in the church. Placing your membership in a Church is a public demonstration that you are connected to this local group.
3. Membership Raises Accountability. This is where many Churches fail. To me, if you are going to be a member then you are saying I want you to treat me like family. The Church then responds by keeping an eye on you like a caring parent. If you are sick, we come to pray. If you are absent, we ask what is going on in your life to cause this. If you are involved in public sin, then we lovingly confront you. The goal of membership is to care for you both physically and spiritually.
4. Membership is a Declaration of Belief. Personally, I teach a membership class that contains the basics of faith I believe are found in scripture. When someone becomes a member, they are declaring that they understand those beliefs that we teach and will never teach against them. This helps the Church to find teachers, leaders, deacons and elders who understand our beliefs and will support them publicly.
5. Membership Means Involvement. A true member is someone who has claimed to be a part of a group and really means it. The group then depends on them to help in their cause. This is true of all memberships but especially true in the Church. One of my goals is to help members find their giftedness and then use those gifts as part of our body. Membership means nothing if you do not get involved.
6. Membership is Practical. This is huge for me. We have hundreds of people who drift in and out of our Church. It is impossible for me (and the elders) to care for everyone who walks through our doors. We can try, but we will fail because people will fall through the cracks. What we can do is care completely for those who have stood up and said, “This is my Church.” Those people are easy to identify, lead and care for when needed. I take a membership list and then divide their names up and put together a plan to care for them. They are my people who want my care and I am clear on where they stand.
I know there are numerous people who will skim this article and ignore my words. Then down the road, they will complain that the Church is not meeting their needs. It is a level of craziness I do not completely understand.
When I was little, I spent a lot of time at a neighbor’s house, but I had no expectation of them to care for me. Not unless I stood up and denounced my family and had the neighbors adopt me. If I claimed them as my family, then the expectations changed. The same general principle is true for believers. If I want more out of my Church experience than a casual Sunday morning encounter, then I must stand up and say, “Count me in.”