Our upcoming Discovering Hope class has me thinking a lot about Church Membership and specifically why it is important. The reality is that too many people these days believe Church Membership is not important. A case in point is Hope Chapel. Our attendance averages over 350 people per week, but our active membership is less than a third of that. So the majority of people actively participating at Hope have never taken the next step and become a member. Is that a problem?
There are lots of reasons why people don’t become a Member. Some just won’t take the time to go through the process. Some don’t want the responsibility that comes with it. In Hope’s case, some just don’t want to get baptized. But there are many others who don’t become Members because they don’t think they need to. I attend and that should be enough. Others spiritualize it: “I’m a Christian and that makes me a part of the Body of Christ, so why do I need to join any individual church? Church Membership isn’t mentioned in the Bible is it”?
Now, quite frankly, I don’t want people as members who don’t want to take the time or to have the responsibility. Until they have a change of heart, they wouldn’t be very good members anyway. But the idea that membership isn’t necessary, or even biblical, really bothers me. It spiritualizes something that is actually harmful.
Why do I think Church Membership really matters? Let me answer that two ways. From a practical point of view, Church Membership allows the Church to function in the “real” world. The reason we have a building to meet in, a staff to lead us, a bank account to deposit your tax exempt gifts in and send out checks to Mission agencies, have an account with the Light Department and insurance on the Church van is because we are incorporated in the eyes of the State. To be incorporated you have to have Officers of the Corporation and in a church therefore you have to have members of the organization to elect the Officers. Without someone being willing to “join”, none of that happens, and we meet on the street as a bunch of loosely connected people and the most effective missional system comes unraveled. Not a good thing.
But the stronger reason is the biblical/spiritual reason. We get the word “member” from 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul says we are members one of another. He is referring to a specific covenantal relationship where the believers had entered into an interdependent relationship. Church Membership is that covenantal relationship. It is the mechanism by which a believer says I am committing to you and you can depend on me as I can on you. As a Pastor, my assumption is that the only ones I can really count on in the task of keeping the Church faithful to the Lord are the Members, because they are the only ones who have specifically said I can count on them. The quality and quantity of our membership is a direct indication of our strength to take on the Kingdom challenges that confront us and in many ways informs me if we are ready to meet those challenges. That is why I get so heart-broken when folks take membership so lightly…as though it really doesn’t matter whether they join, or whether they stay or go. When we cheapen membership, we rob the church of its confidence to boldly follow Christ in reaching a lost world because we have no idea who is really with us in the battle.
So are you regular army or just volunteer militia?