Promoting the Practice of Church Membership
by Jeff White

If you want to put someone to sleep, you could do a lot worse than speaking on the subject of church membership. Yet, the practice of church membership is one of nine practices we encourage people to pursue in their quest to become increasingly devoted and mature disciples of Christ. Why would we do that? Without over-promising that I can make the topic thrilling, let me see if I might be able to achieve something on the order of compelling.


Let’s ask two questions: Is church membership biblical? Why does it make a difference?

1. Is church membership biblical?

Though there is no direct command, “Thou Shalt be a member of a church!” the biblical witness assumes it. Not only do the Scriptures understand believers in Jesus to be part of a people (“I will be your God, and you will be my people”), but the New Testament letters were written to communities of people who were doing life together and close enough to make a difference. Additionally, consider the following Scripture passages (NIV):

  • Hebrews 13:7, “ Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”
  • 1 Cor. 5:12-13,  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”
  • Matthew 18:15-17, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.”

From these and other verses, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that something akin to church membership has always existed. These passages assume that each follower of Christ has a location in a local manifestation of the body of Christ in which there is a sense of belonging and mutual accountability – i.e. membership!


“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4,5 NIV).

Since you are inherently a member of the church, the only question is are you a healthy member of the church or a poorly functioning member that hinders the body from accomplishing what God has called it to do? Neither you nor the church will be what we were meant to be apart from you taking your membership seriously. And that is critical. For, not only did Jesus Christ give his life for the church, but the church is also the primary means by which God is bringing about redemption in the world.

2. Why does church membership make a difference?

So, what difference does committing to membership in a local church make? Most important are the intrinsic benefits. In Pastor Pete’s sermon on the subject, he masterfully made the point that while many people believe that it is by not committing to anything and keeping our options open that we find fulfillment, research shows the exact opposite. It is in committing to the right things that our lives become substantive and filled with a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.  Additionally, we all know intuitively that the more you give to something, the more you get out of it. The more you put into practicing an instrument, the more rewarding the playing of the instrument. So it is with the church. It is critical to make explicit, deliberate, and intentional that which is implicitly true: you are a vital member of the body of Christ! Taking the step of becoming a member makes participation in the life of the church come alive in a way that is nearly impossible without it.

There are, of course, some extrinsic benefits of church membership:

  • Members are of first priority when it comes to pastoral and diaconate care;
  • The voices of members are given substantial weight when it comes to the direction and shape of the church;
  • Members can both elect and serve as officers of the church.

Still, as lovely as the extrinsic benefits are, it is the intrinsic benefits that are most compelling.  You miss out in a multitude of both obvious and non-obvious ways when you don’t move towards membership.

And what do we expect of those who become members? At the heart of it all is a relationship of mutuality. On the one hand, you are to help our congregation become all God intends for it to be through the use of your gifts, your financial resources, your participation in our congregational life of worship and community groups, and your encouragement of others to grow into faithful followers of Christ. On the other hand, you are to allow us to speak into your life so that you too grow into a faithful follower of Jesus. Our vows get this across in part by asking you to “submit to the discipline and government of the church” which is a reminder that we need others to help us see our blind spots in order that we all might be marked by the beauty of holiness.


Let me raise two final matters. First, some have been involved in abusive churches in the past and are understandably nervous about joining another congregation where there might be a repeat of the past. I certainly understand this sentiment. On the one hand, it does mean that before joining a church as a formal member, it is important to see that the church has a healthy form of government and a system of “checks and balances” that makes abuse less likely (which Redeemer Downtown has). In addition, it is important that the church has leaders who are people of godliness and integrity. Don’t be enamored by celebrity pastors. Seek Christ-like leaders. All this being said, even though no church is ever perfect, the Bible still holds church membership as normative and important.

Second, please understand that even though church membership is to be taken seriously, the vows one makes in joining a church do not have the same import as, say, marriage vows. At Redeemer Downtown, we want people to be at the church where they can most thrive. We are neither the best nor the only Gospel-centered church in town. If you eventually decide to leave us for another congregation, we will do nothing other than wish the very best for you. But, while you are here, be a member here – both for your sake and ours.


So what is the conclusion of the matter? Come to a membership class so that you might further clarify what our mutual commitment to one another looks like. Then, become a member! We need you, and you need us. And after you become a member, serve. While the service Christ calls us to is far broader than service within the local church, such service (whether it be with Children’s Ministry, Ushering & Communion, Community Group leadership or hosting, etc.) is critical for the church to function well. It is my profound conviction that you will, having benefited from these steps, exclaim, “What took me so long?”