To Be or Not to Be… A Church Member
Membership has been a hot topic of discussion in the church over the past decade or so. Some more recently-established churches are dispensing with “membership” and developing the concept of a “partnership” that’s renewed each year. There’s some merit to this approach because the benefits of membership in the church can be quite unclear. We regularly encounter those in our congregation who are surprised to find they’re not actually members of the church, even though they’ve been attending, serving, and even giving their tithes and offerings for many years. By contrast, others play the member card even when they haven’t crossed the threshold in years.
So what does being a member really mean, and what’s the importance of “signing on the dotted line,” if you’re already “plugged in?” I believe there are at least three reasons church membership is still important.
First, and most importantly, being a member of the church is a testimony that you are a redeemed believer and follower of Jesus Christ. When you join the church, you’ve gone through a process whereby trained individuals have affirmed, to the greatest degree possible short of seeing inside your heart or having the mind of God, that you’ve genuinely received Christ as your Savior and Lord. Sure, you can be saved without being a member of the church, but membership is one way of stating publicly, with the church’s affirmation, that you’re a child of God.
In our church, that process includes a one-time membership class, a spiritual assessment, and a process of determining your gifts for service in ministry (the gifts-based aspect of service is a core value for us, and I’ll blog more about that later).
When you join, you’re spiritual qualification is identified by one of four means: 1) by profession of faith, a first-time decision for Christ followed by baptism; 2) by baptism, meaning you have come to faith in Christ previously but have not been baptized; 3) by statement of believer’s baptism, meaning you are saved and have already been biblically baptized in another denomination; or 3) by transfer of letter, meaning you are transferring your membership from another Southern Baptist Church, in which case we trust that the spiritual standard was met for membership in that previous Baptist church (although that spiritual qualification should still be questioned and affirmed). Identifying by which of these methods one is joining requires a spiritual conversation about membership that was regrettably absent in the church for many decades of our 20th century history.
Secondly, church membership is important because it means you are committed. If someone regularly attends and is even involved in serving in the church but has never joined, the commitment and motivation of that individual could be in question. In a culture that sees commitment as passé, how important is it for us to be committed to the church of the living God?
Finally, church membership is practical. If you have indeed determined the place God had called you to live out your faith and walk with Him, then it sure helps to be “on the roster” for purposes of communication and connection. A church that’s using its database effectively has a great amount of information on its members that assists in the relational and spiritual connections of the membership and leadership.
It may be less important than it used to be, but I think membership still has its place in the life of the church.