Church Membership

I grew up in a wonderful church that functioned more like a very large family than a structured organization. Children stayed with their parents during the service, everyone was invited to participate in ministry, people regularly gave sacrificially to those in need (whether they “deserved” it or not), and young people were given opportunities to serve and lead. There was no foundations class, except when it was preached on a Sunday and no such thing as church membership. We believed that if you regularly attended, participated in service projects and events, and needed to be loved, you were part of our family. We would open our arms to you, give what was needed, be it hours of labor at your house, money for rent, or a meal. It hurt went somebody would leave because it was like a brother or sister moving out. And it was devastating when somebody would leave without a goodbye.
I’m not saying our church was perfect or had everything all figured out, far from it. We hit many bumps, lost many people because we weren’t “normal”, and it seemed a lot of our struggles were because we didn’t fit the normal pattern of a church and so there weren’t easy answers. But I felt like these difficult times drove us, as a body, to the Lord’s feet and as a result and in general, closer to one another.
Now we live in another city and state. We’ve been blessed to find a great church that has completely opened their arms to us. We are excited and blessed to be part of this body and I love the relationships that are developing. We’ve been attending for almost six months now and so recently we attending a foundations class. Guess what topic came up? Membership.
Now for me, due to my very little experience with this topic my mind instantly conjures up images of stuffy ceremonies in which I am asked to swear that my loyalty and money will now and forevermore be tied to this particular denomination. When our pastor patiently explained what membership meant to this particular body his description, fortunately, did not match my little vision. However I am still a little hesitant to become a member. I’ve always greatly valued loyalty and I can’t enter into (or refuse to enter into) this lightly. I don’t really understand the purpose of becoming a member. I have lots of questions:

  • If membership is about commitment and I attend regularly, give regularly, submit to the authority of the leadership and participate in activities aren’t I demonstrating by my actions my commitment to the body?  
  • If Kris and I felt led to move again or participate in a church plant would we be violating the commitment we made in becoming members of a particular church?
  • Does church membership help or hurt in promoting unity between churches, especially differing denominations?
  • If a member decides to leave a church there is little that the leadership can or will do (in most cases) to stop them. That being the case, what is the point of becoming a member? Is membership just another formality that the church has created?

So, I’m hoping this post will serve more as a forum than a blog today. Are you a member of your body? Why or why not? I would love to hear your insight, experiences, and wisdom.

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9 responses to “Church Membership

  1. Great question, Nikki! It’d be fun for you to talk to Jeff when you’re here b/c this is a big question for him too as he’s contemplated pastoring, and he’s studied/pondered it a lot. I’ve always been opposed to church membership (since I came from the same church you did :-),and they never had membership at Calvary either, but recently pastors like John Piper have given me some different perspectives…I still don’t know where I land, but I think the advantages are that church goers recognize there is a level of commitment (you and Kris obviously already know that commitment, but a lot of independent americans just fill a pew), and that they commit not only to be a Christian but to be a member of the body of Christ. It can also assist in church decision making–those who have committed to the body get say in the decision making process, rather than just someone who comes every Easter. I think in a very small church like TVBC it’s certainly not necessary because the Family Model works really well at that size, but as churches grow they might need a more organized, structured way of allowing people to pledge belonging to a certain body. BUt, with that said, who’s to say if that’s the right way just because it works?
    Certainly you’d still be free to go plant a church or move…I don’t think any membership programs make you pledge allegience for life… The one thing I think is cool about a membership class is that it gives the pastor a way to interact with new people in closer, more intimate way, where the gospel can be clearly explained and you can make sure they really know Christ! As a church is larger, it’s just not practical for the pastor or leaders to be able to hang out with new people, as you can in a smaller, family church. Most new church goers aren’t at the level of spiritual maturity that you and Kris are, so it’s a great way to get new believers a foundation. Honestly, I still tend to prefer no-membership, but I’ve come to understand the other side a lot more and can see some really good reasons to do it…Let’s talk more when you’re here in a few weeks! I love getting to talk about stuff like this with you. Thanks for praying for us today!

  2. Hey Nikki,

    I got the address to your blog from Adrienne and what a great post! We have talked about this a little bit and I understand completely where you are coming from. I also appreciated Kari’s post. I do understand the advantages of membership, t know but I still don’t know if that is they way a church should be structured. Is the church meant to be a democracy? Is it biblical to “vote” on decisions that need to be made? Did the early church have formalized members other than the elders that Timoty talks about? I have always felt that if I trust the godly leadership in a congregation, I will trust their decisions and I don’t need to have my “vote” counted. I also grew up in a small “family” church and prefer that to the stereotyped church with their lists of members. I appreciate that our body here doesn’t require membership or make too big a deal of it. So there you go – more questions!

    Heather

  3. Thanks ladies for your comments. I appreciate what both of you said. It’s funny because both of my pastors didn’t want to post comments but instead emailed me with their thoughts…think it’s a pastor thing? 🙂
    Kari, I agree that in a smaller church there is little need for membership but it becomes more difficult when the church gets bigger and it’s hard to have relationships and accountability with everybody. I guess that makes me wonder if that’s a good argument for membership or for having smaller churches.

  4. Yeah, good point. I think maybe it is more of a small church/ big church argument. Since I’ve been part of both small and big churches and LOVED both (TVBC and CCC), it’s hard for me to think one is better than the other (although interestingly neither church had membership :-)…I saw different strengths in each one. Jeff and I took the intro class at Foothills (it’s not called membership but it’s basically the same thing) and loved that too! Go figure! So I guess I’m not a very good source because I’ve experienced big/small, membership/no membership and been really blessed with every environment for different reasons. Maybe God has different ideas for different congregations and there’s no one right answer? 🙂 I like the dialog though–thanks for bringing it up!

  5. I think you’re absolutely right Kari, when you said that maybe God has different ideas for different congregations and there’s no right answer. It seems very much like God to not have a formula in cases like these because formulas tend to keep us from seeking Him since we already know the “right” answer. I too love the dialog and the different opinions expressed. Seeking God’s heart together and learning about one another makes him happy I think. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  6. We’re members of our small church here. One thing I liked about it was that besides announcing one Sunday to the congregation that we’d become members, it’s never come up. I can’t look out at the congregation and tell who’s a member and who isn’t, so it’s not a clique.

    Last week I had a hard talk with our pastor because he’s been saying some things in his sermons I don’t like or agree with. We’ve been thinking for while about looking for another church, for various reasons. I think being a member helped me to feel a sense of responsibility to confront the pastor and make my concerns known. You know all those people who left TVBC without saying goodbye — maybe if they’d been members, it wouldn’t have felt so easy for them to leave. Anyway, it feels harder for me to leave, having made that investment.

  7. No I am not a member of a body. I believe the same way as you. My past involved regular church hopping so there was no time for the “commitment” becoming a member entailed. I think it is a church formality! I don’t think it’s needed. I look to the Bible for wisdom on such issues and I don’t remember reading anything about becoming a member…just about becoming a disciple of Jesus. To me that entails a more NOMADIC lifestyle! Jesus was a hiker who had church where ever He walked and with whomever. He was with his “friends” the 12 and sometimes He wasn’t.

    Do you think his 12 were His church members???

  8. Bill and I have never been “members” in 38 years of marriage, in 3 churches.
    And I remember MY parents saying they felt loyalty to their home church in Ohio (pastored by my mom’s dad). So they chose not to be members here in OR.. (They served quietly, behinid the scenes, attending and ministering faithfully,for their entire marriage, but never placed in a position of leadership,, tho they clearly were godly leaders.. if not “members”.)
    In looking back, I think they were convinced they were NOT to seek membership.
    So, tho Kris breaks away from family tradition, I admire him for making the decision to be a member, since he does not make decisions lightly or with out much thought andf prayer.
    I LOVED the intro class at Foothills, and the Foundations claas…they were just right for me. They didn’t seem to be “membership” classes.
    As for leaving without a “goodbye” opens up another whole topic…..we were torn over our decision to leave, but in the interest of not being devisive, we met with the elders, explained our move, and tried to be quiet and not cause any damage.
    Nikki, this is one of the most interesting and engaging topics on a blog posting I have seen. There are multiple discussion starters!!!!
    At the beach, we can continue the discussion! karen

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