Written by cycleguy on May 6th, 2013


That is my first thought.  As such there is no right and wrong.  There has been talk for quite awhile about the pluses and minuses of church membership.  In fact, there are some pretty passionate people on both sides of the argument.

Some who fight tooth and nail for membership in church.

Some who fight tooth and nail for no membership in a church.

Frankly, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue any more.  Nor am I convinced it really matters.   I see value in both sides.  I see the importance of “belonging” to something, of being able to call it your own.  I also see the value of not being tied down to a certain denomination or circle of thought.

I would think any thinking person would not choose to become a part of something-either seriously or as an observer-if he/she was not on board with what makes that organization (in this case a church)  tick.  Or what drew that person initially.

What got me thinking about this was this devotion by Greg Laurie.    I totally understand what Greg is talking about.   I still struggle some with the feelings he mentions when I know someone who could be there isn’t, but those who have every reason to stay home show up.  It never ceases to amaze me how those who live the farthest away will often be the ones who show up on a snowy day.  🙂  I also have to admit being one who for years preached against those who skipped out and didn’t make church-going a priority.  Those legalistic days are gone (thanks be to God!).

But the case before you is not whether church attendance is/should be “mandatory,” but still how important is church membership?  I really do want to know your opinion/thoughts.  As I see it there is no biblical directive, unless I am missing something.  Please feel free to express your opinion and back it up with Scripture if you can.  If not, state it anyway.   How does your church feel about membership?  Does it require it for participation in say, a worship team?  Leadership role?  Volunteer ministry? 

Please let me know your thoughts.  I am running stuff through my mind at this time and have no answer.  Thanks.  For more on this, check out this post.


46 Comments so far ↓

  1. Daniel says:

    I have never given a thought before to a formal membership agreement to a church. But as you asked the question, I don’t think it is necessary for the worshipper. Folks should come to a given church as they are led. If they feel a reason to leave and have prayed about it, I think it is the right thing to do. It is, after all, about pursuing God, not about any particular group of individuals. As for additional rules and regulations that might be tacked onto this “membership” requirement, I don’t think that I would be keen on such a notion. I am not sure that there is any need to quote scripture to back up my position as it feels like common sense to me.

    • cycleguy says:

      People come and go for sure. I think the key is what you state: they have prayed about it. Many don’t (or give language to it) because church becomes about them. Thanks for your honesty Daniel.

  2. Paul says:

    I believe that our names are written down in the Lamb’s book of life. That is what counts…nothing more. However, if for convenience we scribe names on earth for record keeping I see nothing wrong with it. However, like money, clothes or things, it does not go with us to the afterlife. Just my quick off the top thoughts. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • cycleguy says:

      You make a good point Paul. too many look at church membership as their ticket to heaven. Good to hear from you. Thanks for coming by.

  3. It’s interesting that you have brought this up. We are basically considered members of our church, yet we have not officially joined. You have to attend a class to officially covenant and join. However, they haven’t offered the class since we have been going, which is 7 months now, so there isn’t much we can do about it. There isn’t much I can think of that we would be denied in the church.

  4. Debbie says:

    I’m not able to physically attend the church I am a member of any more. Well, for a long time now. I still tithe there. I left it up to them on whether to keep me a ‘member’ or not, and so far they have still considered me as such. Praying for you and others as this matter is discussed, that God shines His light on it! God bless you!

    • cycleguy says:

      Interesting thought Deb. How does attendance, especially when physically unable to, affect “membership.” In your case especially it shouldn’t. Good for you that you still support the church in some way. Always welcome your prayers.

  5. I don’t think that formal membership is all that important. Having said that, I am a “formal” member of my church. Our church does require that the teachers and committee members be members. They also require membership to vote in our business meetings. I can see both sides of the argument for and against membership. But I don’t think that official membership is all that important.
    I think of church membership as much more than just having your name on the books. It is the interaction and your actions within the church. Serving God, serving others, participating makes you a member of the church.
    The book in the post that you linked to (thank you btw), encourages us to think of church membership as an opportunity to serve others, rather than a place that you go to be served. Rainer makes the point in his book that when you join a country club you expect all of your needs and desires to be catered to. Unfortunately, there are those that think of church membership in the same manner. They think that the church and its leaders are there just to cater to their wishes, needs, and desires. His book is not pro-membership or anti-membership in terms of the politics of the church but rather a discussion on what it means to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ and how we should act and serve others within this body.
    Regardless of any official membership role, we should look for ways to serve others in our church, we should look for ways to lift up and encourage others in our church. We should look for ways to serve God in our church.

    • cycleguy says:

      I like Rainer’s approach as you describe it Sele. A place to serve. Too many use it as a place to “feed me” or “serve me.” Your idea of church membership takes it beyond a country club to an involvement. Thanks for the comment and review of Thom’s book.

  6. David says:

    I’ve attended 3 different church bodies over the past several years and stayed more than long enough to be “involved” with each one. We were free to formally join any of those bodies. I only actually “joined” one of those churches. Frankly I don’t see any real benefit for joining a church body, and as you said, there is no biblical precedent for doing so.

    I was fortunate to get involved with one church right when they opened their doors. They needed a keyboard player and I was ready willing and able to do so and I didn’t have to “join” to play, I was filling a need. Later though, they began to require that you “join” to serve in any of the ministries and I didn’t agree with that. I had faithfully played for over 2 years without being a “member” and then all of a sudden I was being “required” to join. It didn’t settle too well with me. I felt like I had already shown my commitment to that body and there was no “benefit” for joining nor was I seeking any.

    I don’t think a person should be required to join a church to serve in a ministry but I do think it is a good idea to have a “formal” training session(s) so that those serving in any given ministry are working within the context of the vision and ideals of that particular ministry and church body. I think what is paramount is that people are freely willing to serve and that only requires membership in the Body of Christ.

    • cycleguy says:

      That is an interesting scenario David. Playing for 2 years and they were willing to use your talent, but then you weren’t “good enough” when it came to requiring membership. Makes a person think for sure. I do agree with your last paragraph though since it is important to have people who buy into the mission and vision of the church. Thanks for taking the time to comment at length.

  7. Tom says:

    ummm, I just wrote a mile long thing and seemed to hit the wrong button:) If it is not waiting to be approved I may try again at my lay person’s perspective:) Blessings Bill!

  8. Dan Erickson says:

    Personally, I prefer to not be a member of a church. I have been a member in the past, but now am not and don’t ever intend on being one again. I’m a member of God’s people. That’s enough for me.

    • cycleguy says:

      No problem with that Dan. Just so you are connected to other Christ-followers in some way and not trying to go it alone.

  9. Ben Nelson says:

    Church membership – my thoughts have morphed on this topic over the years. There was a time when I thought it was a really bad idea, because, at least in my circles, it seemed that to allow a member to join a church was a stamp of approval, or proof of salvation for some. Like – can I show this card to St Peter and get in for sure? That piece still irks me a bit.
    Then there was the church where I was teaching kids Sunday School, and they wanted me to teach adult Sunday School. In order to be an adult SS teacher you had to be a member, but they would entrust me with their Jr High kids (hmmm – that’s is another story all together) I went through the membership class and got the card to fill out. I asked me to sign a card, and on the card it said I commit to giving 1 tenth of my income to this church. Let me be clear, I believe in and preach tithing, but I also know that this particular congregation with scores of family units in membership was struggling to pay the bills.
    The board of the Church was not dealing in any way with the fact that people were being coerced into signing a card with a commitment they had no intention of keeping, and we not being held accountable to what they had committed.
    I handed in my card without checking the box – and put a note on the card that read “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (not sure if I stand behind this excuse not to tithe, but that was then)
    I was not accepted into membership, but was welcome to continue teaching Jr High as long as I liked.
    Now I am on a Church board, and am still uneasy with the ticket to heaven thing, but am actually really in favor of committing – covenanting with a group of believers. In fact I am not sure we can successfully pull off the Christian life if we are not living in community. I look at all the “one anothers” (full listing in my blog post OUR Father – sorry for the shameless plug) in the New Testament and wonder how you could do this if you were not committed to the Body of Christ. Further the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) could never be done by an individual, only by a body- the whole body. Other scriptures that play into my opinion are:
    Hebrews 10:25 – don’t forsake gathering
    Ps 27:17 – Iron sharpening iron
    Ps 133:1 brothers dwelling together in unity
    Romans and 1 Cor 12 –
    Well – I have taken up way too much space on your blog – but there you go.

    • cycleguy says:

      I appreciate the depth of your answer Ben. I can see the incongruity that a church would trust you with their Jr high kids but not their adults? I will agree with you on the importance of belonging and the “one anothers.” We do need to connect in some way, but like you not sure it is a requirement to be a member of a church body.

    • Zee says:

      Ben – so you’re on a Church board and can teach their junior high kiddos, but they did not accept your application for membership? That’s… illogical.

      • cycleguy says:

        You ain’t just whistling Dixie there Zee! It makes absolutely NO sense whatsoever!!

        Also, in my world, when someone desires to become a member, there is no vote. A statement of belief that Jesus is the Christ (and in our case immersion) is all that is needed. No hand high. No card signed committing to tithing.

      • Ben Nelson says:

        sorry – no time line – different church – different decade

  10. Tom says:

    Bill, good topic. I will try this again to share my lay person’s experience and perspective. I grew up in the Methodist church and sensed my parent’s sense of importance to the “letter” and the transference there of if moving. Later, in a non-denominational church where is was not an emphasis I did attend the new member classes and filled out the paperwork. However, never receiving any kind of follow up acknowledgement from the church I was never really sure if I was accepted and considered as a “member”. I served as if I was but also moved on after a few years as if I wasn’t…still not sure. In my latest (something wrong with that, huh?!) church it seemed that they were hesitant to allow anyone to serve that hadn’t become a “member” which felt a little judgmental/legalistic to me. Soooo…I think there is value to having “membership” for both parties as far as commitment and accountability without limiting to those who want to serve (with appropriate background checks for particular duties). I think there is value in making an outward sign to acknowledge the relationship and the commitment both are making to serve Christ. This can be a call to action/responsibilities for both parties. In turn, a “member” is more likely to feel committed to serving in this particular family of believers. If no membership is acknowledged there is a tendency to roam as there is no formal commitment…just my opinion of how I have reacted to the spectrum…

    • cycleguy says:

      I do think you are right Tom in saying there is value in an outward sign. Baptism is like that. Church membership can also be like that. The whole “signing this card gets me to heaven” idea is what really bothers me. i do think there is some value in membership so I hope I am not misunderstood about that.

    • Zee says:

      Commitment and accountability – thanks, Tom, I was looking for those words. I think that’s what the entire thing should be. An outward sign of inward decision.

  11. floyd says:

    Well big surprise.. I think a piece of paper saying you belong to a group doesn’t make you anymore of that group than a gorilla showing up to the duck registration.

    Since all matters of the NT are about the heart, I think this one should be as well. I could go on, (like I sometimes tend to do) but I’m with you to, in that if someone feels strongly about, fine too.

    • cycleguy says:

      Agree with you about the heart thing Floyd. I do know people who put a lot of value in that piece of paper though. That is sad.

  12. Vicki Hollowell says:

    If a person/family attends a particular church regularly it is important to commit to it. To me, that means the people should come forth in front of the congregation making the believer’s confession. Why attend a church if you don’t want to enjoy the interaction of the people you’re with whom you worship? I think to serve, this action should be a precursor to doing that service.

    • cycleguy says:

      I do understand what you are saying Vicki. Making a public stand does speak volumes to those in attendance. (See my response to Tom above). As for service, i do not see membership as a precursor to serving. Leadership however, is a totally different matter. Thanks for speaking up. (Vicki is my sister-in-law whom we will be visiting in about a month. I hope I’m able to write after she gets done raking me over the coals). 😛

  13. We don’t have a formal membership, but I can see the benefits of having one too. I guess the only real thing we’re looking for when people are ready to serve in a greater capacity is a demonstrated commitment to the local body. I will say that this has usually come by us asking and not someone saying, “What can I do?” It’s a very interesting question. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses. Thanks Bill.

    • cycleguy says:

      I think what you are looking for is part of the issue many face Jason. Are you committed to this body? Many are on an “ego trip” so they want to serve to feed that. Wrong motive! I think the question you want to have asked is a valid one. Thanks for taking the time out of your “gettin’ ready” to respond.

  14. Zee says:

    We have discussed this very issue at the Church board meeting. We used to have classes every year for those who wanted to become an official member of the Church of the Nazarene here in Ukraine, but then it sort of stopped. Now we have a bunch of leaders who are not official members.

    My own opinion? Membership is important. For me, anyway. When you are an official member of something, it means you once made a conscious choice to be a part of that. And when something happens and you simply want to quit, that membership makes you stop and evaluate the issue seriously. In a way, it’s like marriage. When people just live together, they [technically] can do whatever they want, sleep with whoever they want, and leave when they want. When it’s a married couple, there is either a process of divorce (which takes time and during that time people can evaluate whether they really can’t live with each other any more) or they try to work out the issues.

    So I am for membership. It should not be obligatory in a way like “If you’re not a member of our Church, you’re not saved or you cannot participate in Communion with us.”

    Also, I think it is important because to become a member, you need to learn what your Church is all about – beliefs, traditions, etc. Therefore, leaders should be members of the Church so they can lead the Church in a proper direction, not just everyone leading where they want to.

    Those are my 5 cents worth 🙂

    • cycleguy says:

      Each church denomination has its own struggles/beliefs with this I think Zee. It is not one easily settled with a cursory “Yeah” or “Nay.” I do grasp your idea of membership as a commitment, and it has merit. But I also agree with it not being obligatory for ministry. I would think becoming a member allows “buy in” to the church’s mission and vision and values. Thanks for your response.

      • Susan says:

        I agree with you, Bill. People who regularly attend and want to belong but don’t know Jesus yet should still be considered members of the church. Judas, for example, was Jesus’ disciple right up until the Last Supper. He ministered with the other disciples, worked with them, and walked with Jesus.

        • cycleguy says:

          I have tried to figure out how to answer this Susan. I may have given the wrong impression. I do believe coming to faith in Jesus is a prerequisite to being a “member” of a church. I don’t think it should stop someone from helping or ministering in non-leadership roles. For example, teaching a class should require saving faith. But interpreting for the deaf, although a ministry and in some way a leadership one at that, does not in my mind require saving faith, because he/she is interpreting what is being said from the pulpit or class. Feel free to chime in however you feel you want. 🙂

  15. David Rupert says:

    Nothing like hitting a nerve!

    People in this age aren’t “joiners”. There is something distasteful about ‘belonging.” They think that independ and free is a much better way to go. That’s why Elks clubs, Lion’s Clubs, and church membership is down.

    On the other hand, I listen to Mark Driscoll preach a lot on membership and how much it means to the life of his body. It’s a sign of commitment.

    It is an extra-biblical add on — so I’m good with whatever works in the local body.

    • cycleguy says:

      Just acting like i was when I was growing up David…hitting nerves. 🙂 You are right about our current culture of “non-joiners.” What you have stated is the value of local autonomy: each church has to decide for itself.

  16. Dave says:

    Just found your blog, cycleguy. May just have to come back. Interesting things happening here.

    As for church membership, been there, done that. I never experienced any iron sharpening iron. It was more suffocating for spiritual growth than anything edifying.

    The dissatisfaction that is appearing may be due to the fact that the truth just ain’t being preached. Lots of fluff, lots of entertainment, little substance. Maybe there is a growing hunger for the truth, the whole truth, and a gospel of power and not just words. And perhaps many people are wanting to walk with God, not with other people who want you to think like they do.

    Enoch walked with God. God took him, no one else. As for the rest, the Scriptures declare: And they died.

    Jesus ascended by himself. No one went with him. He returned to his God and our God; his Father and our Father.

    Elijah had the fiery chariot. Alone.

    So perhaps going it alone with God isn’t so bad after all.

    • cycleguy says:

      Glad you found my blog Dave and I certainly do welcome you back. I try to vary things along the way. This has been a unique discussion, one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Sorry to hear the lack of iron sharpening iron. I tend to be a people person so going it alone is not something that I am too familiar with. 🙂 I do believe without question that you are right about too much fluff, not enough truth. The celebrity status and rock star status given so many is way out of hand. Thanks again for coming by and hope to see you again along the way.

  17. jeff says:

    A membership implies certain benefits for it’s members. I would think that doesn’t fit the basic premises of a Christian Church. But I suppose some people would like certain benefits for themselves. To vote, to sing with the choir or whatever. I don’t want a membership.

    • cycleguy says:

      You assume correctly for some Jeff. Membership has its privileges. That can also lead to “its all about me.” I prefer people doing things because they want to and not because there are benefits.

  18. Craig says:

    You whacked a bee hive didn’t you? 🙂

    I have been on both sides of the fence on church membership. When I was younger and more “rebellious” I didn’t think it mattered. Fight the system! Jesus doesn’t keep score! Know what I mean?

    Today I do think membership is important. Not in the sense that Jesus is keeping score. He isn’t. My church wants people to be a part of the Core team (trendy way of saying membership :).

    Why is it important? Because today’s culture is dropping out of church like crazy. God is not important. People shop for a church like they do a car. Test drive for a few weeks and if the church offends them or is too boring, then off to the next church. Its not about numbers. Its about having a family. So many people are disconnected today.

    Membership is a way of staying connected & committed. To something bigger than yourself. Keeps the focus off yourself and on other people. Feels good to serve, give, and help other people.

    Will membership get you in or keep you out of heaven? No.

    • cycleguy says:

      I like that phrase Craig “whacked a bee hive.” I see your point about membership and connection/commitment.

  19. Karen says:

    I want to weigh in on this one since I am a member (per se) of OVCF. My very wise Grandma, who is now with Jesus, once told me that church membership meant that I belonged to Jesus, along with every other Christ follower in the world. She said it was a good idea to be a member of a congregation too so you would know who would perform weddings, baby dedications and funerals. I love that! I belong to another fellowship where I can go to any meeting I want but I have a home group that is like family. OVCF is my home group…my family.

    • cycleguy says:

      you know I’m glad you feel that way Karen. 🙂 I would be concerned if you didn’t. Your grandma said a good thing except there are those to whom membership means only that. It should be much more. I have no heartburn one way or the other to be honest-membership or not. I do have trouble with those who look at membership like a social club.