Like many Christian kids, I was raised attending church. My family moved around a lot and never settled at one local church. In high school, I loved going to youth group, mainly because I enjoyed being around cool people and the concert-like worship. Around the same time, my family started attending a small church plant. There were no young people. The preacher wore a tie, and they sang old hymns.
You can imagine my frustration when my parents wanted to become members at that church. It was the exact opposite of what I thought church should be like. Despite my rebellious heart, that little church had a greater impact on me than I could have ever imagined.
Because it was the first time I experienced church membership.
Church membership, whether formal or informal, is when you’re a committed part of a local congregation. But why is it important? Why do you need to be a member of a local church?
I’m a millennial, and I pastor a church with many millennials. So, I’ve had to answer this question many times.
Why become a church member?
We love Jesus, but loving the church is much more difficult. Is there a good reason to commit yourself to it? Yes, there is. Church membership is not only biblical, but it provides many benefits for the Christian as well as the body of Christ.
1. Church membership is biblical.
Did you know that “church” is a Christian idea? You won’t find the same concept in any other world religion. Other religions have temples, synagogues or mosques, but only Christianity has the church. In “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church,” Mark Dever explained that in Christianity church is not defined as a building. He wrote, “According to the New Testament, the church is primarily a body of people who profess and give evidence that they have been saved by God’s grace alone.”
The church is the global body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Consisting of believers from every corner of the globe, it’s demonstrated in local congregations. Being a church member means that you become committed to one of these local expressions of Christ’s body.
The first place we see this was when Jesus called His disciples in Mark 1:16-20. A particularly noteworthy attribute is that He called them in pairs. They are not just individual units but part of a community in discipleship with Jesus. In fact, we see this frequently across the Gospels. Jesus always called His disciples to himself and into a community with one another. So, when you become Jesus’ disciple, you also join His community of followers and commit to fellowship with them.
That commitment is a thread that runs throughout the entire New Testament. In Acts, Luke gave us the first description of Christians. The preeminent attributes were that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship” (Acts 2:42, emphasis added). In Hebrews, we find this exhortation: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis added).
Obeying the call to discipleship includes church membership. The most fundamental duty of membership is regular fellowship with a local congregation.
2. Church membership is beneficial.
One of the most significant benefits of church membership is the experience of being a part of something larger than yourself. Whenever people join our church, they are thrilled because they know that they are not just there to be consumers but to be contributors. There is organized and corporate worship, teaching, sacraments and service to one another and the community. Another significant benefit is having accountability — because you’ve submitted yourself to the church leadership.
Local churches are missionary organizations. We’re partners in this great objective to spread the glory of God and to bring people to Jesus. That’s a grand goal. Being a participant in that mission can bring rich meaning and fulfillment to your life, a fulfillment greater than “happiness.” You’ll experience the profound sense of purpose that comes from joining a cause greater than yourself because the church’s mission is to bring the gospel of life into a world of death.
3. Church membership is all about love.
Finally, you should commit to a local congregation because church membership is fundamentally about love. One of the best parts of my role as a pastor is when I get to sit down and talk with our new members. Many of them are joining a church for the very first time, and they’re often single. I love when I get to tell them that they are no longer alone but are part of a spiritual family.
The defining mark of a Christian is love for the fellowship of believers. Jesus said that when we love one another, we are showing the world the power of the gospel (John 17:23). The best place to see this love is in the local church. As members, we support one another. When someone is mourning, we mourn with them. If one rejoices, then we all rejoice. An individual’s financial struggles, sickness or hardships are an opportunity for the church body to step up and set love into action.
We strive for love and unity with believers in the church because this brings glory to God.
How do I find a church to join?
Searching for a church home looks entirely different based upon where you live. Your search might include dozens of churches or just a handful of congregations. Since I pastor a young group, our people are always on the move. So, I’m used to counseling people on how to find a church home. The most critical step is the first — prayer.
1. Seek God’s direction.
You cannot skip this step because it will influence all the rest. I know it sounds cliché to say “start with prayer,” as though prayer were an introductory formality before beginning the real work. But prayer is the only way you will find your church family.
You must start with prayer because you need to discern where God is leading you through the entire church-search process. If discipleship is following Jesus, then you cannot determine where your church home will be on your own. As disciples, we answer the call of God in our lives and follow His lead. You want to land in the church that God desires for you. Draw in close to God and seek His presence. Discerning His direction is the only way to find the congregation that He wants you to join.
2. Identify core values.
Prayer is a submission of our will to God’s. It is an attempt to get our motives aligned with His desires (Matthew 6:10). Once you have sought God’s direction, then you are ready to identify the core values that will guide your search.
Begin by brainstorming a list of values that you know are necessary in any church home. Values are not the same thing as your preferences. A value that you are looking for in a church could be that they have biblical preaching, whereas the age of the pastor is a preference. A value is that the church has a loving and graceful community, whereas location is a preference. If you’re unsure of the core values to look for, Mark Dever’s book “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” is a helpful resource.
One issue might be the demographics of a congregation. For example, if you’re single, then you might like a church with other singles. This issue, like other preferences, should be seen as a bonus when you can find it; yet it shouldn’t be your primary metric.
Once you have brainstormed that list, cut it down to the top three to five core values. Use these to guide your search and aid your decisions.
3. Give the church a few chances.
Once you find a church that appears healthy and might be a good fit, give it a few chances. Attend that congregation for several weeks in a row so that you get an accurate sense of what this church is like. You need to hear the preacher several times because no one is at his best every single week. Visit at least three weeks before you decide to commit or to leave. There are reasons you should not revisit a church, such as lousy doctrine or unbiblical practice. Otherwise, make sure you get an accurate picture of this congregation by observing for a few weeks in a row.
How do I become a church member?
Every church has a different process for how you become a member. At some churches, you undergo a formal process to become a member through classes or interviews. At others, you simply become a member by being a committed attender. Yet the most crucial step to becoming a church member happens within you.
You must change your posture from being a consumer to being committed. By joining that congregation, you are signifying that you intend on serving them, not just being served by them. You signal that you are supporting that church’s vision and mission, not bringing your agenda. You are saying that you are prepared to contribute to their health, not just criticize their weaknesses. You are committing to give time and money, not just receive their resources. You are deciding that the glory of God and the gospel mission are higher than your personal needs or preferences.
In his essay “Membership,” C.S. Lewis highlighted the unique nature of Christian community. Church members are not merely units within the larger collective. A family is not the same kind of collective as a country club. If a country club loses a member, then they have gone down in one replaceable unit. In contrast, family members are not interchangeable. Each unit is a different and complementary part of the whole.
That means that there is no such thing as expendable church members. You have a unique purpose and contribution to bring to a local church. Your service will, in turn, cause you to flourish into the person that God intends for you to become. But you must take the posture of a committed member. Take the steps toward being a church member by making these commitments:
I will go to this church in a posture of service, not with an agenda.
I will go to this church to contribute, not to criticize.
I will go to this church to be a blessing, not just to be blessed.
I will go to this church out of obedience to Christ, not just to fit my preferences.
When my parents and I joined that little church, which I believed didn’t have anything for me, I learned the benefit of church membership. And I learned the importance of my own commitment — at a heart level. The spiritual community, leadership and discipleship transformed me from a consumer into a member.
With prayer, wisdom and a little effort, you can experience the same. And in return, you’ll witness first-hand the blessing of covenantal community.
Copyright 2018 Aaron Shamp. All rights reserved.