What Is Church Membership?

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To be a member of something is to belong. People are members of many things. Some are members of civic organizations such as the Rotary Club. Others belong to social organizations and clubs. The common theme in membership is a sense of belonging to, being in agreement with, and participating in the values and mission of a particular organization. No one belongs to a club or organization with which he or she hasn’t “bought in” or doesn’t feel a part of.

Often, membership requires that one buys or earns his way into the organization, whether by paying dues, passing a test, filling out an application, or purchasing a membership. Unfortunately, this attitude of “pay your way in” has crept into the church over the years. Sign a membership card, give your tithe, show up on holidays, and – BOOM! you’re a member. The church has long held a low standard for membership. For example, the standard for membership is often not much more than attending a few basic, middle of the road classes, and then being voted in by the congregation. Sometimes the new member plugs in and began serving and ministering. . .  and sometimes they’re never seen again.

Church membership rolls are clogged with inactive members and even deceased members!

Church membership should be taken very seriously. It isn’t a right, but a privilege. It requires commitment and fulfillment to that commitment. It is a covenant between you and a group of fellow Christians, as well as between you and God.

Some argue that church membership is not biblical. Being a member of the church is not the same as being a member of the YMCA or the Girl Scouts.

In becoming a member of a local church, you are declaring that you…

  • Are a Christian. You belong to Jesus Christ. You know him personally and follow him.
  • Believe in and will participate in the teachings, mission, values, and vision of the local church to which you desire membership.

For the purpose of this blog, we’re speaking of the local or visible church, not the universal church. The local church is the group of believers that gathers in a particular city, town, or community. The universal church is the church made up of Christians throughout the ages, many of which are now in heaven:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23). Jesus was speaking of the universal church when he said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). To be a member of the universal church you must be a Christian. At some point you had to have made a conscious decision to repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus.

The local church is a living, functional, centralized group of believers living in community with one another. Notice I said living in “community” and not “commune.” Christians may not live on the same street, the same side of town, or even in the same town. But, the local church is a specific gathering of Christians. It is within the context of the local church that you live out the Christian life: fellowship, learning/doctrine, accountability, encouragement, giving, exercising your spiritual gifts, corporate worship, missions, fighting sin, and discipline.

Church membership is biblical. The Bible uses the language of membership to describe the church:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The New Testament concept of church membership is not that you simply “join” a church, but that you commit to live in a covenant relationship with the church: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).

A covenant is a formal agreement between two or more people to do or not do something that is specified. In relation to the local church, a covenant is an agreement to live in unity and harmony with one another under the precepts of the gospel. Becoming a member of the local church means that we commit to God and to one another in the following:

  • To keep unity and peace within the church.
  • To support the church and its mission.
  • To serve and edify the church.
  • To believe and promote the doctrine (teachings) of the church.
  • To be submissive to one another and leadership, as well as the lordship and headship of Jesus Christ.
  • To gather with the church regularly.
  • To share the gospel in order to grow the church.

Being a functioning and productive member of local church is a big deal. It’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s not optional for believers. Church membership is an important decision you and your family will make. Choose wisely.

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