Why Should You Join a Church?

Erik Raymond —  November 30, 2011

As a church we have recently transitioned to a more formalized membership. One of the questions that comes up is “why?” Why should I become a member of a church? Below are five reasons I like to provide. There are more, but this is a good start.

1) It Reflects the Gospel: Church membership is essentially the outward demonstration of the spiritual reality of being united to Christ and his body. Being a part of Christ’s body means that we identify with other disciples, learn the Scripture, submit to God’s authority structure, and serve others. Church membership openly demonstrates the reality of the Body of Christ.

2) It Follows the New Testament Pattern: While it is true that the term “membership” is not explicitly used in the NT it is certainly inferred. Remember that most of our NT books were written to people who have chosen to self-identify with a group of people in a local community. The ministerial structure established in 1 Timothy and Titus presuppose pastors and members who are in community together. Consider that needs and numbers were kept track of (Acts 1.15, 2.41, 4.4), shepherds knew who they were accountable for (Heb. 13.17), widow-roles were kept (1 Tim. 5.9); and formal discipline among members was practiced (1 Cor. 5.12-13).

3) It shows that you are not ashamed to identify with Christ or his people. This world is hard and it is tempting to retreat into a shell of personal discouragement. Church membership reminds you of the fact that you are not alone, the value of Christ, and the priority of faithfulness to him.

4)It undermines independent, non-committal Christianity. Accountability to one another, submission to biblical authority, and practice of the “one-anothers” are all elements of a church united upon Christ and his gospel (Heb. 10.19-25; Matthew 18.15-20).

 5) It is a context for using your spiritual gifts. The local church is the community of believers who are aiming to live faithful to Christ. It is in this context that we serve one another according to God’s gifting. God uses this service, in and through the local church, to build up the body of Christ into maturity (Eph. 4.11-15; 1 Cor. 12-14).

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

19 responses to Why Should You Join a Church?

  1. I would also add I John 3:14, where love of the brethren is given as a sign of the true believer. The Lone Ranger Christian is just a concept alien to the Scriptures.

  2. Erik, interested in hearing your thoughts/approach as a pastor on those regular attenders who seem to have no interest in taking part in the more formal membership role after an extended period of time at a local church?

    • Well, I would start by doing the secret membership handshake as often as I can around them so they would feel like they are missing something.

      Seriously, I think that is a tension. Membership provides a good opportunity to have that conversation. It provides the non-member/attender a chance to identify what is preventing them from joining. If it is nothing then I would encourage them to go through the membership process. If it is something that is legitimate then we can try to work through it or on it.

      I should also note that this issue should not be seen as a bad thing but as exactly what you want as a pastor, you want to know who the sheep are so that you can be accountable for them. Further, you want to make sure that you have a regenerate membership role (to the best of your knowledge).

      Does this help?

      • Erik, I would dissuade you from the assumption that “membership” is the primary determinant regarding who are your flock. Your flock are the members of the global church God has placed in your care, and while they may not be willing to comply with your membership requirements that doesn’t make them outside your flock. Membership is a tool used by many churches to assist a pastor in understanding who is willing to accept their authority, but it is not accurate to consider your responsibility limited to those who do so. If membership ceases to be a useful tool in your church, it should be put aside like any other useless tool.

        We fall so readily into ritualized behavior without thinking about the benefits and distractions they cause, and maintaining formal membership processes can become this as well. The church IS the global body of believers, and our “independent churches” are merely gatherings of the church submitting to specific leadership bodies. Being committed to the body and submissive to leaders is about much more than mere enrollment in a membership process.

        There is a reason why there isn’t formal membership process mandated in Scripture, and that is because this is an area where each leader should have liberty to implement it in the way that works best for their flock. This will always entail the unity and commitment described in your article, but may or may not entail the “formal membership” process common in modern US churches.

    • Tony, I would agree that “formal membership” is not an inherent requirement to being an active and committed part of the church. What I would disagree with is that you can be an obedient follower of Christ without submitting to the spiritual leaders he puts in your life. A big part of belonging to a local church is following the leadership of its pastor and elders. If you are not willing to submit to their leadership, you need to examine whether it is because you are unwilling to submit to the leaders God has placed in your life.

      How does this relate to formal church membership? Well if you are going to a church where the leaders have no expectation of their followers signing on to any kind of formal “membership role”, then it doesn’t. The church I am going is a relatively new church plant, and when I first started going did not have any formal membership process. This is a perfectly acceptable way for a church to operate. If the leaders of your church determine they they would like to have a more formalized process though, your refusal to do so is a refusal to follow the spiritual leadership God has placed in your life.

      If a professing believer has been going to a church for an extended period of time and still is unwilling to submit to the requests of the leadership in something as minor as membership, I have severe reservations about their spiritual walk and their willingness to submit to their leaders and to God. Formal membership is NOT a mechanism that is commanded by Scripture, but submission to God’s appointed authorities is. If you are unwilling to submit to the leaders of a particular church, I would advise finding leaders you ARE willing to submit to or prayerfully reconsider your unwillingness to do so.

  3. Hey thanks for your thoughts on membership. Our church has also now adopted the formal membership model, and so it is encouraging to hear from another pastor on the same journey. The “why” question is a big one even though most people are not honestly opposed to membership, they just want to know how its better for them and for our church.

    One question: We have a short membership class (doctrine and local church history basically), a leadership approval vote, and then we formally recognize new members at a Sunday worship service. What does your process look like?

    • Our process is similar. We have a class called “Getting Started.” This class intends to familiarize new people with life and ministry at Emmaus. The class is not merely informational but it naturally drives towards membership. We explain doctrine, philosophy of ministry, structure, membership and history. Towards the end of the (6 week class) we encourage people to schedule a membership interview. These meetings are conducted with an elder and then they are recommended for membership (or not). We then will introduce them to the congregation at the conclusion of a Sunday morning service.

      I should probably write a post that outlines some of the thoughts behind these things, especially in light of it being a change from how we did things previously.

    • As I mentioned above, I believe the lack of a formal membership process for local churches in Scripture is deliberate. Any true believer in Christ IS a member of the global Christian church, and no approval of a local pastor or body of believers is needed to affirm or approve that fact. Each member of the global church is commanded by God to submit to the spiritual authorities God has placed over them, and to fill the role in the body God has called them to fill. Formal membership is a tool used by many spiritual leaders to help them keep track of those they are tasked by God to care over.

      What this process looks like varies based on what you are seeking to achieve by it. Do you just want a list of people who want the church leadership to regularly pray for them? Do you want a list of believers who are accepting the authority of your pastor and elders over them? Or perhaps you only want a listing of strong spiritual leaders who will guide and lead the church? Since “formal membership” is not a Scriptural term, deciding what it will entail IS a responsibility of your leaders, and one which you must them communicate to potential members.

      You need to make sure potential members understand the commitment they are making to the church and to God by becoming members, and you must communicate the responsibility the church is committing to by accepting them as members. Some churches have members that haven’t attended in years and whom the leaders haven’t talked to in that time. That’s a problem, because it indicates a complete lack of commitment by the leaders to “members”. You want to think carefully about what “formal membership” means to your local gathering of believers (all of whom being full members of the global church), ensure that the expectations match to Scripture, and then communicate that to the members.

      There is no reason to expect they will automatically know what “formal membership” will or should mean, and definitely no reason to expect them to take your word for it that your expectations are Biblical. This isn’t an institution commanded or described in Scripture, but a tool that can be used to better achieve Scriptural mandates. Like Paul with the Bereans, you should be grateful for a congregation that examines the Scripture to see if what you are saying is compliant with God’s Word. And if your requirements are NOT, you should make adjustments.

  4. Erik, as always I’m most grateful for your posts. I found this is particularly relevant to the situation going on in our church. Our small groups in our church are being infiltrated with books such as So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, Pagan Christianity, the Gospel According to Starbucks, and other such books which promote a minimalist (and consequently heretical) view of the church. Thanks for bringing forth the biblical view of church membership.

    • Keep in mind that “church membership” is a tool. What is needed is not someone’s name on a list, but a real commitment to the body and submission to Biblical leadership. Someone can easily be in your church’s “formal membership”, but not be demonstrating the characteristics described by Erik. Someone wanting to be a “casual Christian” has deeper problems than mere church membership enrollment.

  5. Erik,

    I’m preaching on the importance of church membership this week. Just letting you know that I’ll be ‘borrowing’ from this blog post.

    I appreciate your ministry, bro!

    BTW, wear read for my DAWGS this weekend…we’ll need all the support we can get!

    Josh

  6. Thanks for this post Erik. My family is currently visitng a church after 15 years of membership in a local church that unfortunately we have had to leave. I do have a question for you. Is it theologically correct to say that in the New Testament all believers were members of local churches except those who had been put outside the church as a result of church discipline?

    • “Is it theologically correct to say that in the New Testament all believers were members of local churches except those who had been put outside the church as a result of church discipline?”

      Good question. I think that all believers are definitely members of the universal church (the body of Christ). But there are times when people may be moving to another area or even transitioning to a new church, for whatever reason. So I see some flex in there but this does not minimize the priority of coming under a biblical ministry and participating in that ministry.

      • Well said. Membership in the universal church is something shared by all believers. Membership in a local church means coming under the leadership of a local spiritual leader who can work directly to shepherd you. Formal membership is a tool that can be used by local pastors to shepherd their flocks. Whether New Testament pastors maintained formal lists of such members as we do today is unknowable, but many of the ministries we read about suggest the existence of such lists. We aren’t given any detail on what it might have taken to get on such a list, though it would have required at least a profession of faith in the gospel!

  7. So is the lack of interest in formal membership possibly a sign that the “secret membership handshakes” that Erik mentioned being practiced too infrequently? Or is it possible that we have failed to provide a high enough view of membership and as such it could be looked on as a burden rather than a privilege?

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