When we hear the phrase, “church membership,” we often think of the type of membership that one would have to some type of club – a country club, fitness club, etc. This type of membership is focused on privileges and entitlements. People join for selfish reasons and exclusivity is highly valued. This is not the way that we should think about membership to a local church.
When the word, “member,” is used in the New Testament, it is generally referring to a member of the human body (i.e. finger, arm, foot). A body is one of the primary metaphors that the Bible uses to describe the Church. The body metaphor helps to explain what the Church is and how it functions. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul declares that believers in Christ are the body of Christ; we are each individually members of it. Just as one body is made up of many members, individual believers, with their unique spiritual giftings, are to become unified with one another and together function as Christ’s body in the world.
Biblical Church membership, therefore, refers to a believer’s commitment to be a functional member of Christ’s body in a local church. This involves using our unique spiritual giftings to build up the body and glorify the head, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18).
The first step to becoming a member at Mercy Road Church is to sign up for our New Member’s Class. We will put on these classes multiple times throughout the year. After going through this course, each person is invited to sign a covenant to confirm their commitment to membership at Mercy Road Church. For information on our upcoming membership classes, contact Kerry Davison at email@example.com.
Apart from Scripture’s teaching on being members of Christ’s body, there is no explicit mention of “membership” in the Bible. However, membership is implied in various passages throughout the New Testament. For example, Hebrews 13:17 states, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (ESV). This verse wouldn’t make sense without some kind of membership or commitment to a local church body. Without church membership, how would people know which church leaders to submit themselves to? And how would the pastors and elders know which people they will be held accountable to shepherd?
Below is a quick (not exhaustive) list of other places in the Bible that point to church membership:
- 1 Cor. 5:1-12 – Excommunication or other forms of church discipline are impossible without membership.
- Acts 2:37-47 – There is a numerical record of people who received Christ and joined the Church in Jerusalem.
- Romans 16:1-16 – There is an implied awareness of who is a church member in this passage.
- 1 Timothy 5:3-16 – Widows were “enrolled” to receive special care from the Church in Ephesus.
Reasons for Church Membership
We were created for community (Gen. 2:15) and designed to be a part of something larger than ourselves. Church membership provides a sense of security and belonging that comes from being formally identified with a particular community. As long as the membership requirements are reasonable and are open to all people, this sense of belonging need not lead us to a place of unhealthy exclusivity in the body.
Membership is the way in which a person formally submits themselves to church leadership and welcomes guidance, counsel, protection, correction and general accountability (Heb. 13:7). This idea of accountability can have a negative connotation to it, as we often associate it with holding people accountable for mistakes and sins. But accountability is more than just sin correction. It is the idea of a church body being responsible to love and care for its members. And without some form of church membership (formal commitment to a local body), accountability is very difficult.
In his book, “9 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.
The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone and in secret. Church membership discourages “Lone Ranger Christianity” by promoting commitment to a local community. Church membership also creates an opportunity for people to publicly acknowledge their commitment to Christ and to His Church, which is a pattern seen in the Scriptures (Rom. 10:9-10).
The church membership commitment should promote or even require some type of service within the church as everyone should be playing a part in building up the body according to their spiritual giftings (1 Cor. 12). The idea is to move people from being spectators on a Sunday morning to active members of Christ’s body who are serving and engaging with people both inside and outside the church. Apart from a commitment to a local church, it is difficult to move people from being spectators to being active participants in the church body.
People in the Western world tend to avoid commitment and shirk responsibility (especially those dang millennials, of which I am one). The simple reason for this is sin. Fallen humanity generally does not desire to be “tied down” with commitments or responsibilities because they value selfish independence. Church membership does not allow people to stay in this place of disobedient independence. It rightly calls people to commit themselves to the body of Christ and take responsibility to participate in the life of the Church.
 Matt Chandler, “Is Church Membership Biblical?” April, 2011.
 Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, 2007.
 Kevin DeYoung, “6 Reasons Why Membership Matters,” May, 2015.