Church Membership: Harmful or Helpful? (4 of 4)

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Membership has its privileges. We hear this quite a lot. But, there are many understandings of what membership is, and what it means-especially when it comes to the Church.

For instance, I am a member of a health club that I have not been to in over 3 months. Why am I considered a member, even if I do not go and workout? Because I pay my dues (requirement) and so remain on their membership roster (relationship). This is the institutional or organizational model: Fulfill the requirements, stay in relationship.

Many churches operate from this organizational model since the church became an institution in Western society. Like my health club, people can be a member of a church that they have not attended in years simply because they fulfilled the membership requirement to remain on the roster.

In churches, I have seen organizational membership requirements like these:

  • Baptism
  • Coming forward in a service to profess Christ
  • A letter of membership in good standing from a previous church
  • A membership class
  • Signing off on a statement of faith.
  • Signing a membership covenant that commits a new member to a certain set of practices
  • An interview with an Elder

A friend of mind who grew up in a very large and reputable congregation in our community, decided not to "join" his church after attending the membership class when he became an adult. An Elder at the church who knew him well asked him why he wasn't joining the church he had grown up at and served in for years. He said simply, "Because it is easier to get into Heaven then it is our church!".

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Nuff said.

 At Eastside where I serve as Director of Assimilation, we come at membership with a different, and fresh understanding. We see membership as an organic reality, rather than an organizational necessity. The only illustrations of membership in the Bible are organic, not organizational. The 2 main ones are being a member of a body (Rom 12:5) and being a member of a family (Eph 2:19).

 

Note the two implications of that:

  1. You do not make yourself a member of a family or the human body, you just are.
  2. You fulfill a needed function and purpose as a member of the family or a body.

This is why we explain to our guests in our First Step Experience what a member in the Body of Christ is, about The 2:47 Factor, Why God brought them to our church, and how only God can add to our "number those who are being saved" to our collective advantage. I explain to them how neither they, nor the pastors of our church, can "make" them a member but if God is adding them to our church, he has done it already...and the best person to discern that is them!

We then pass out a membership declaration: not a membership application or membership covenant. A hand doesn't have to be interviewed or promise to pick up anything before it becomes a hand, just like an infant doesn't need to fill out an application to become part of its family or to even act like other members of the family. Based on their discernment, we code them as members on our database for any communications that we would want to spare our guests from. In that sense, membership has no advantages at our church whatsoever because we treated them like they belonged the moment they walked through our door.

Membership has no advantages at our church whatsoever because we treated them like they belonged the moment they walked through our door.

 

That is how we help people make the journey from a first time guest to becoming a connected, serving member. That is how they become assimilated into our spiritual family. 

How does your church do it? Share comments and questions to expand this discussion to all our benefits and look next week for a new 4 part series on the role of Communion in the assimilation process.

  • What does your church believe about membership?
  • When do you think someone would call themselves a member of your church?
  • On a 1 to 10 scale, organic being a 1 and organizational being a 10, where would you place your churches understanding and practice of membership? Why?
  • What is one shift you could make in how your church handles membership that would empower your assimilation process?