From the inception of the evangelical church, the doctrine of membership has been a prominent and often controversial issue. Depending on custom and tradition, the expression of membership may take a variety of different forms. Today, a number of different modern church movements are rejecting the idea of church membership altogether by stating it is a human idea and unnecessary addition to the Christian faith.
At Grace, we are fully aware that our members, regular attendees, and guests are coming from a broad spectrum of different backgrounds and that many have strong opinions regarding the doctrine of church membership. As a church, we believe this is an important issue and one that needs to be addressed thoroughly.
First, let’s consider why many people are hesitant to join the church. Some of the most frequent oppositions to membership are:
- I don’t understand how it will benefit me.
- There are too many “hoops to jump through.”
- I don’t think it’s biblical.
- I don’t understand the importance.
- It seems too worldly, corporate, and restrictive.
While some of these concerns are understandable, Church membership is a means by which we mark the boundaries of the church. Throughout the Scripture, God goes to great lengths to distinguish between his holy people and the world. This is evidenced by God distinctly making man and woman in his own image, by his calling out Israel as a distinct and holy nation, and by his launching of the New Testament church. Although there is not a single book or verse that details the idea of church membership, a closer look at the New Testament shows that local church membership is evident over and over again. Here are just a few examples:
- Numerical membership is recorded (Acts 2).
- Leaders are elected over a specific, local body (Acts 6).
- The practice of church discipline shows the public knowledge of who is inside and outside of the church (1 Corinthians 15, 2 Corinthians 2:6).
- Leaders have authority over specific local bodies (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 5:17).
- Widows are recorded as church members (1 Timothy 5).
- Paul demonstrates an awareness of members (Romans 16).
Since we take church membership seriously and want people to consider the decision to join thoroughly, Grace strives to create opportunities for non-members to engage the church. Many non-members attend weekend services and participate in ministries such as re|engage, re:generation, and our care and recovery ministries. These ministries serve our community as well as provide an opportunity for participants to understand the people and mission of the local church. While we want to provide an environment that is inviting to all, we also want to clearly communicate our belief and desire for all Christians in our community to be moving towards membership in the local church.
Why should Christians be members of a local church?
- Biblical Obedience—Although there isn’t a chapter or book of the Bible designated to local church membership, as noted in the scripture references above, the idea permeates the pages of the New Testament. As Christians, we are to submit personally to the local authority of the elders appointed by God. All Christians should be members or moving towards church membership.
- Covenant Commitment—Church membership communicates a visible commitment to both God and the body of believers in the church. It is an expression of interconnectedness that states you are committed to the body and the body is committed to you. This covenant declares that you are in agreement with the church and submit to the authority and direction it provides.
- Dependent Accountability—As a member, you show that you understand that Christianity involves being part of a local church in which members practice mutual submission to one another and church leadership. You make yourself open to reproof, correction, discipline, and training that is necessary for spiritual maturity. In an age where independence is ultimate, church membership communicates a message of gospel dependence as you identify your true need for the church.
- Protective Blessing —By aligning yourself with the local church, you enter into a fellowship that serves to protect you. Peter warns us in 1 Peter 5 that our spiritual enemy is ready to devour us like a lion. The training, equipping, and fellowship found within the community serves as a shield of protection that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. In Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever writes:
“Church Membership is our opportunity to grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastors and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We allow fellow believers to have great expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve and encourage as well.”
What is the membership process at Grace Church? The membership process at Grace Church consists of:
- Discovery—Discovery is a one-time class that provides prospective members the opportunity to hear staff and elders articulate the history, beliefs, and mission of the church.
- Foundations—Foundations gives an in-depth look at the church’s core values and provides opportunity for membership.
- Completing a Membership Guide—A membership guide is a tool that helps the church’s leaders shepherd potential members in a more efficient manner. The guide is not an application but rather a compilation of resources, which helps give a more complete understanding of the member. The guide includes:
- Covenant Agreement—A formal statement that communicates each person’s covenant with the body towards the common goal of spiritual growth under the authority of God’s Word as directed by the elders.
- Life Story—Each person’s story is different. Not only does this help the leaders understand you more fully, it also allows us to worship God as you give accounts of his saving grace through your unique experience.
[Note: Often, we are asked if we will accept a transfer letter from a prospective member’s previous church. While we welcome information from other churches, we ask that all members of Grace go through the process laid out above. We do not claim that our process is perfect, but we do believe it helps accomplish our mission by allowing us to get to know the prospective members personally and granting them the opportunity to learn more about our church before making a commitment.]