Saturday, June 28, 2008

Re-Thinking Church Membership (Part 24) - The Fruits of Formal Membership

I happened across a pastor's blog while link surfing, and found a very good example of the logical conclusion of the idea of formal membership. This pastor is a Southern Baptist pastor and he made a couple of posts about a membership problem the SBC is dealing with. (Read his first post, then his second post that links to this one here about the meeting [Update: links no longer in use]). It seems that his denomination has 16 million "members" while only 6 million of these "members" actually attend church on a regular basis. This problem was addressed at an annual meeting, and the discussion had some interesting twists. In trying to tackle the problem, they found it necessary to look at how "church" is defined, then had to look at what constituted an "ordinance." This might not be necessary for a church if it looked at what a member actually is. It is a baptized Christian who assembles. Being tempted to redefine "church" or "ordinance" based on an understanding of "membership" is dangerous, because it looks at the relationship inside out.

There was also talk of purging all non-attending members from the rolls, but an objection was made that this would eliminate their greatest source of "evangelistic prospects." I'm not making this up. All this shows how basing one's idea of membership on things other than what the bible demands of us can lead to huge problems. Human nature (the sinful one) dictates that people will take the "formality" of "formal" membership and run with it. Apparently 10 million SB's think they can be members without assembling. They view "formal membership" as license to, well, do nothing. Membership is found in assembling, not in being formal. The fruits of each of these concepts will always follow.

This is a real life example of what I have said before: "formal" memberships serve mostly to create the very kind of Christians (non-attenders and pew-sitters) that they are designed to prevent.

Read parts 1-10 here, parts 11-20 here, and parts 21-30 here.

Part 23 . . . . . . . . Part 25


  1. I reckon churches get confused about "membership" in the Body of Christ and membership in their non-profit association. The non-profit association is refrred to as a "church", but it is not "the Church" as decribed by Jesus and His Disciples.

    The association can make just about any rules it wants about qualifications for "membership" in the club. The association is just a tool by which belivers in a particular locale facilitate certain activities as Members of the Body.

    Becoming a member of the association may be seen as making a commitment to a group of people as they take their journey as Disciples and ministers. It does not, however, have any special spiritual significance.

    The issue is important to the institution of the association, so it is likely that those with a stake in the institution will seek to conflate Membership in the Body with membership in the association so as to promote institutional health.

  2. License to be slothful! Cool.

    This issue is so amazing to me. The more they try to make something work, the more convoluted it gets. The bylaws of many (most?) 501(c)3 organizations (AKA Churches) are longer than some books of the Bible!