What's the Big Deal about Church Membership?
Who needs church membership? Why does it even matter? I heard this all of the time growing up. Many of my friends attended Calvary Chapel churches and thought church membership was a joke. They believed it was an unbiblical formality that only divided the body of Christ. They sort of had a point. They would ask me, "Where in the Bible does it say, thou shall become a member of a local church?" I was speechless.
Then something happened.
These friends began shopping around. Church hopping. Floating from church to church, never landing for too long. They joined the one out of seven adults who change churches every year.
Part of it was probably a fear of commitment and accountability, and a fear of relationships and responsibility. Or maybe some of them were giving in to the consumerist view of church life. According to the American Demographics magazine, "Religion and spirituality have become just another product in the broader marketplace of goods and services." People "shop" for churches; if their current church isn't fulfilling their every need, they get rid of it and look for a better "product."
What's the Big Deal?
This is precisely why membership is a good idea. You see church membership is not about having your name on a dusty roll sheet. It's not about secret clubs, silly handshakes or more rules. It's about something many in our culture are terrified of: commitment. It's about making a public promise to live according to Scripture and support the work of the congregation.
Think about it--we make public promises for all sorts things in our society: marriage, employment, citizenship, etc. These promises are about relationships of accountability. We need them, even in the church. This is why, although he's overstating his case to make a point, Rick Warren says,
The difference between an attender and a member is the difference between living together and getting married. A lot of people want to date the church, but they don't want to get married. That is spiritual adultery."
According to Warren, membership is an act of commitment, not just conformity. It's about belonging to God's family and committing to being a contributor and not just a consumer. This why membership is a good idea. This is why membership matters and this is why membership is assumed throughout the New Testament. (See the five points at the bottom of this article).
If you are a regular attender at Hope and a follower of Jesus, I would encourage you to "go public" with your faith and join our church. Become a member. Commit to God's work here and enjoy the many benefits of membership:
- You receive care and are accountable to your spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:17).
- You have the benefits of church power (i.e. voting at Hope) to shape the ministry of our congregation (Acts 6:1-6)
- You are identified with Christ and the local expression of his body (Make 8:38)
- You stop being an independent Christian (Matthew 18:15-17)
- You openly demonstrate the reality of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)
- You encourage new believers to commitment at the local body (Hebrews 10:24ff)
- You choose to identify yourself as a genuine believer (Ephesians 2:19)
If you are interested in membership there are three steps to becoming a member:
- Core Class: Take our Core Class which tells you about our history, beliefs, structure, etc.
- Church Covenant: Sign the Hope Church Membership Covenant form (Click here to view)
- Shape Interview: Meet with Pastor Duane or Pastor Brandon for a 30 minute interview about your gifts, passions and testimony.
Feel free to contact me anytime if you have questions or would like to sign up for the next Core Class.
The Biblical Basis for Church Membership
The biblical metaphors used to describe local churches
- Flock, temple, body, and household are used specifically of local churches (Acts 20, Eph 2, 1Cor 12, 1Tim 3). Each of these metaphors has a clear distinction of who is part of the church, and who isn't
The meaning of "the whole church"
- In 1 Cor 14:23, Paul says "if the whole church comes together in one place..."How would the leaders know if the "whole church" was there if no formal relationship was established?
The instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership
- Pastors/overseers/shepherds were to care for "all the flock" (Acts 20:28. cf. 1Tim 3, Acts 20, Phil 1:1, Titus 1). Leaders of the citywide churches must have had some listing of believers. Since leaders were accountable for the souls of the flock under their care (Heb 13:17), they must have had some commitment for care.
The meaning of the word "join"
- After the fiery end of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:13, no non-Christians "dared join them [the church], but the people esteemed them highly." The Greek word for join has strong connotations of commitment. The same word is used to speak of sexual relationships (1Cor 6:16) and joining to the Lord (1Cor 6:17).
The instructions for church discipline
- Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5 talk about putting a person out of the church (remove NASB, expel NIV) and treating him like an unbeliever. Since unbelievers were welcome at worship, removal must have indicated a distinct formal association.
*Adopted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church