Is It Important?
Church membership is debated in some circles today. There are two articles on the website under Christian Life, "Why Attend Church" and "Why Attend Church Regularly." Not quite the same thing, but they are certainly related. And here are some thoughts on membership itself.
Is it necessary to officially join a local church? Can't we simply attend, and help out if we want to? It is certainly true that many attend a particular local church regularly, contributing in various ways to its ministry, but they never join. (Often they are called "adherents.")
Some argue that church membership was not required in Bible times, but that is really an argument from silence. It is not mentioned by that name, but we know that, even early on, the believers had some means of decision-making (cf. Acts 6:3, 5; I Tim. 5:9). In order to do that, there had to be some understanding of who was qualified to decide or "vote," and who was not.
Membership does have value. It says, "I believe in this church sufficiently that I not only want to attend, I want the church family, and also the community, to know it has my full support. Here's the case for making things "official," for making a public commitment to a church by coming into membership.
1. Membership says, "I am in agreement with this church's stand on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and want to do my part to uphold the truth"–something God's Word calls us to do (Acts 2:42a; II Tim. 4:2; Jude 3). You will become a church member if you believe doctrinal soundness, and the clear teaching of the Scriptures, are important in our day, and you want to testify to that, and encourage and support those who are committed to these things.
2. Membership says, "We share the same ministry goals." And God says that believers are to be committed to one another for the sake of spiritual impact (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-16). You will become a church member if you believe the Lord has a work to do in your community and around the world, and you're willing to join with others to see that it gets done.
3. Membership says, "I accept responsibility for a group of fellow believers in the family of God"–and that's God's plan as well (Gal. 6:1-2, 10; Heb. 10:23-25). You will become a church member if you want to be part of a caring network of people, sharing one another's joys and sorrows, and helping one another grow through worship, Bible study, and fellowship.
4. Membership says, "I am accountable to other mature brothers and sisters in Christ for my walk with God." And God's Word warns us against spiritual independence (Heb. 13:17, Matt. 18:15-20). You will become a church member if you don't want to go it alone standing for Jesus Christ, if you want to receive the guidance, equipping, and assistance necessary to remain on target.
5. Membership says, "I accept responsibility for how things are done here." And God says that's how it should be (Acts 6:3, 5; I Cor. 12:20-27; 14:40). Members elect elders and other church officers. They approve an annual ministry budget. They have a part in recognizing God's call on pastors to serve as their spiritual leaders. You will become a church member if you desire to have a say in shaping the church's direction and ministry goals.
6. Membership keeps us legal, and this is an appropriate concern for us as Christians (Mk. 12:17; I Pet. 2:13-17). The Canadian government recognizes churches if they have a credible membership and organization. (Other governments likely have similar laws.) Obedience to the law affirms that we are responsible citizens. You will become a church member if you want to see things done in a proper and orderly way.
7. Though there were no denominational tags early on, churches in Bible times did take an interest in what was happening in the Lord's work beyond their own community (I Cor. 16:1-3; II Cor. 8:1-5; Phil. 4:10-14). If your church is associated with a broader group or denomination, church membership likely gives you the opportunity to be a part of decision-making that strengthens and supports other ministries beyond your own community. You will become a church member if you see this as an important opportunity.
While local congregations greatly appreciate "adherents," and recognize some may have personal reasons for not joining the church officially, each faithful attender needs to consider the possibility of church membership. If not, why not?