The Meaningful Mess of Membership – Part 1
Membership has fallen on hard times. Throughout American history membership in a local church was unquestioned and largely viewed as a great privilege, but today it has fallen into disrepute. Fewer than half of Americans who regularly attend church services are even aware that those churches have official membership. And among those who do know about the opportunity for membership, many struggle to understand it as something necessary or meaningful in their discipleship to Christ.
Even the terminology can be a distraction. Language of “membership” seems to connote involvement in a club, as if the church is just another voluntary association wherein I pay dues and receive services. What is the benefit of joining in a formal and binding way? Many Christians don’t have a sufficient answer and so they continue church shopping, receiving services here and there. Even if one decides that official membership is important, there remain many concerns and hesitations. What if I don’t agree with everything they practice and believe? What if I regret my decision later? What if something more exciting pops up? These expectations and fears, some legitimate and others unrealistic, keep people from moving on from the dating stage with the church to the beautiful mess of marriage.
Over a series of posts I want to help us better understand our hesitancy regarding church membership and try to encourage you to move forward in the process of becoming a faithful and active member of a local church, whether here at All Saints or at another Christian church by considering the following:
- Characteristics of our culture which hinder our desire for membership
- The necessity of membership in a local church for our identity with Christ, relationships with one another, and witness to the world.
Before I continue I do want to acknowledge and affirm that there is a legitimate use for “dating” the church1. You do not need to commit to a church the first time you visit. Allow yourself some time to get to know the church and maybe even compare it to others in your area. But, and this is a big “but,” don’t date the church forever. Dating is never to be an end to itself. It only makes sense if it has a goal, a telos, which is an informed but faith-filled commitment, a la marriage. Be wise before you make a commitment, but don’t remain at a critical distance indefinitely. Treat Christ’s bride with the respect she deserves. He died for her, and calls you into a particular community of His body so that you might be a part of the messy process of helping her become beautiful, holy, without spot or blemish.
- I prefer this metaphor over the more common language of “church shopping.” The latter is passive and consumeristic, just seeking to receive from the church, whereas dating is participatory and relational, and resonates with the understanding that the church is the bride of Christ.