Why Does Church Membership Matter?

Why is church membership important? Why not just do away with membership and let people be involved as they so choose?

It’s true that some people today are reluctant to make the commitment to join a church, perhaps because they are skeptical about churches and institutions in general, because they want the freedom to move easily if they become unhappy, or because membership just seems unimportant.

But membership is important and should be encouraged, not first of all for the church but for those who belong. For starters, membership addresses the basic human need to belong. People need connections with others and human interest in themselves. Membership is also important because promise making is important. One way to answer the question “Who am I?” is to ask, “What promises do I keep?” God made us to make and keep promises. But can’t someone make commitments and keep promises to a church without being a member? On one level, yes. But isn’t the church more than a collection of individuals making ad hoc commitments? There is an “us” to the church that is more than merely the sum total of “me”s. Isn’t this part of the mystery and glory of the body of Christ? In a culture that by and large wants to be commitment-free, could the interlocking commitments that go with membership in a church perhaps be one of the strongest witnesses to Christ in us?

The church to which I belong recently went through a building program that stretched our faith and our pocketbooks. The building program was necessary because of specific ministry commitments to which God has called our church. Without a strong sense of “us,” I don’t think our church would have made those ministry commitments and financial commitments. And now that it has made those commitments, our sense of “us,” of a called community, is stronger than ever. Church membership seems to be natural and important as we seek to be the community of belonging that is the body of Christ.

About the Author

Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and an adjunct professor at Calvin Theological Seminary and Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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Comments

I wonder whether the question of "membership" merits some peeling back of layers like an onion?

CRC Church Order equates "profession of faith" with membership in the "body of believers or, covenant community." It has been my experience, however, that many who decide they want to "give their lives to Christ" do not make the necessary linkage to the "body of Christ," i.e. the church both local and universal. This occurs for a number of possible reasons:

1. There is a disconnect in what we teach / catechise, i.e. that the faith commitment to Christ is both personal and corporate. Related to this issue is a societial individualism which has tilted our commitments towards institutional disassociation, undermining communal affilation. The question is how to find a re-balance, as well as, how we catechise.

2. In contrast to some denominations, CRC Church Order assumes that "profession of faith" is equivalent to "membership in a "legally incorporated body," as well as, to "the corporal body of Christ." Unless one has been encultured to understand things this way, it would be a mistake to assume it to be the case. Many new Christians do not make the connection, etc. It is not enough to catechise individuals seeking to make profession of faith, but parallel to that, one also needs to conduct a membership class outlining the responsibilities and obligations of belonging to a legally incorporated body.

  

I have been attending a CRC church for about 18 months now and have just started attending classes teaching about the doctrines and such of the CRC: Canons of Dort, TULIP (a helpful but poor acronym in my opinion, I agreed with the article 'Pulling Up Tulips') and more. I'm learning so much and find myself examining my faith and my relationship with Christ in a very deep and meaningful way.

I took this step because I don't believe its simply enough to show up for worship every Sunday, the life of the Church is so much more.  After the first year I started volunteering for things like VBS and teaching Sunday School, but I think something like a profession of faith is important.  Individual members will each have differing views on some matters, but I think its important for both someone like myself, and for the larger corporate body, to know that there is common ground rooted in the same ground.  

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