Church Membership/Placing Membership

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Christians & Membership

What does it mean to place membership in a church? When I was growing up my parents were the type that believed you weren’t supposed to place membership when you started going to a church. Christians are members of the church so why would you have to do something special? While I agree with that in principle I can see a whole new side of things from the ministry perspective. From the church’s perspective it is important to know who has the desire to be involved vs. who does not.

The question I have is why would a Christian want to come to church but not be involved? The definition of a member is a Christian who is attending. Christians should desire to be involved at church in some way, shape, or form. So members by definition should be involved. I wonder if past generations of emphasis on passages like Heb 10:25 that says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” have led people to believe that being a Christian is to be at a church service. Membership should not be about having your name on a roll sheet somewhere or a favorite auditorium pew that everyone knows they are not supposed to sit on. Membership should equal involvement. Membership should equal involvement in the mission. Can you imagine an employee who decided not to do any work to advance a company or a family member who decided chores weren’t for them? Can you imagine if your hand decided it didn’t want to be a member of your body any more or if your ears decided they didn’t want any responsibility any more?

Non-Christians and Membership

Then there is the question of what do you do with people who are not Christians and yet want to be involved or even want to place membership. At Northwest we meet with them and teach them about the basics of Christianity. We don’t allow people to place membership who are not baptized believers. Some churches do not take that approach. Some allow non-Christian to serve communion, greet, and do other things without being a baptized believer. Their rational is that they don’t want to turn people away so it is better to get them involved early in as many things as possible to help them feel like they are a part. The problem is, until they are a Christian they aren’t really a part. They don’t yet belong to the body of Christ. People need to understand there is a difference and that once you become a Christian there are things expected of you that were not expected beforehand.

What do you think?

0 Responses

  1. I fully agree with your article. What do you think about this situation?

    As I was having my hair cut this morning, I became aware that my hairdresser was feeling low. I asked her what was troubling her. Her and her husband are fairly new believers. This was her sad tale. They had experienced a wonderful sense of love and acceptance from the leaders and members of the church where they were fellowshipping. Now that they had left the church they were fast discovering just how empty and shallow this love had really been. Though they had resigned their membership, their desire was to continue their close friendship with its members. They soon realised that this wasn’t going to happen. They were told that such relationships just was not possible because it was they who had left the church and not the other way around. The church informed them that they could rejoin and would be welcomed back with open arms.

    This saddened me terribly, but it shouldn’t have surprised me at all. We have also been at the receiving end of similar attitudes. How could the church have perverted the purity of undeserved love and favour, making it out to mean love in return for commitment? Grace in return for anything at all is not grace at all, it is called reciprocation. So called love is reciprocated in return for commitment. This is the precise antithesis of grace – a better word for it is “selective selfishness”.

    At churches where selective selfishness is practised, even faithfully committed members can never be quite sure that the love which they are receiving is genuine. If their commitment is the reason for granting them love, then it isn’t love in the first place. Remove their commitment and the love simply vaporises into thin air. (1Co 13:7) “Love never gives up… (it) endures through every circumstance”.

    We understand that God would not have had to grant us grace if we deserved His favour. The very reason for granting us grace was because we do not deserve it. The moment we are given favour because we deserve it, we have experienced something other than grace – it’s called “reward”. Reward and reciprocation are exactly opposite to grace.

    We understand that the church is the only organisation that exists for its non-members. But this is not what we hear from some of our pulpits. “We are committed to those who are committed to us”, they say. Where does the pure agape love of God fit into this kind of thinking? Jesus never once turned away a single request for healing. He never once asked them to commit themselves to Him before He committed to healing them. ”Whosoever” – is a word frequently used in the New Testament. There is nothing further from God’s love than selectivity and there is nothing further from agape than reciprocation.

    A more accurate description of this form of love, which on the surface appears to be genuine, is “selective selfishness”. Selective selfishness says that we will reward you with something that makes you feel as though you are loved in return for your commitment to us. If you drop your commitment, we drop our grace towards you.

    We must ask ourselves the question – are we “our church minded” or are we “Kingdom of God minded”? One of my previous pastors got the revelation of what it means to be kingdom minded. He would say from the pulpit, “I don’t want to see you here every Sunday – visit other churches in the city – bless and encourage them. Let’s build the Kingdom of God in the city and leave the building of our church to God”. This liberating message didn’t empty our church, to the contrary, our church grew rapidly from a humble house church to become the city’s biggest and most influential church.

    If you have been at the receiving end of this form of emptiness, take courage, don’t conclude that this is representative of God’s completely undeserved love for you. Although some church leaders may not fully understand agape love, you can be sure that God understands it fully and loves you regardless. You may have fallen out with people but you have not fallen out with your Father. Bear in mind that God expects you to forgive them – if they understood how unchristlike and damaging this form of love is, they wouldn’t do it. They are also God’s precious people whom He dearly loves – don’t return like for like – give them something they don’t deserve – love them the way you want God to love you.

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  2. I believe that placing membership is a person making a commitment to a congregation with a congregation. It is the individual or family saying we are going to wroship, serve, with this body of Christians.
    I do think that as ministers, elders ministers we should ask if they are Christians and hold to the belief of the churcch when placing membership, if not then we need to study with the idividual and family before they place their membership with the Church.

  3. My personal experiences has been that most churches don’t care whether you are a member, as long as you are tithing. And they are always happy to accept your tithe, member or not.

  4. Yogi and Preacher, I have a few thoughts that I will have to get to another time.


    We specifically tell our visitors that they are not expected to give/tithe. We also don’t really preach on giving – almost to a fault as stewardship is an important topic. People just need to know churches aren’t in it for the money (note the new investigations of churches that promote giving to the extreme). We are in it for Christ and for people, not for money.

  5. Yogi49,

    Your stories are powerful and really sadden me to think about people who have been hurt by the church. We are called to unconditionally love all people, even those we disagree with or who lose their sense of commitment. Those who don’t get that don’t get grace, as you said. Thank you for the encouragement you offer to those who are struggling with this issue.


    I agree that those questions have to be asked up front. If people are not on the same page with the church doctrinally, hopefully they will be willing to sit down and discuss their differences. We can have unity without uniformity.


    Thanks for stopping by. I have been greatly encouraged by much of what you have written and I hope what you have found here has been a blessing to you as well. What you wrote is a powerful statement and I would love to hear more of how you put that into action. Can you flesh it out a bit for us?

  6. Briefly, I think it’s wise to make some sort of a commitment of faith a pre-requisite for membership. But I don’t think it’s necessary to make membership a pre-requisite for service and volunteering. It is often in the context of serving alongside others (whom they can see) that a person finds the help they need to make that connection with a God they cannot see.

    Now, I wouldn’t want a pre-Christian to be in a teaching role, but I think they should sing (if they can sing) or pass plates or rock babies or direct traffic or whatever they’re gifted to do.

    In fact, I wonder how different things would be if we made service and volunteering a pre-requisite for membership instead of the other way around.

  7. John,

    Thanks for the follow up. Tom Rainer’s book – Raising Expectations talks about how the churches who require involvement often grow the most. I hadn’t really thought about the involvement coming prior to placing membership. I always thought about it as you place membership that you commit to an area or service. I will have to do some serious thinking about what you just wrote. Thank you.

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