According to the Southern Baptists Convention’s website, there are 15,005,638 members of SBC churches in our country. However, weekly attendance is only 5,320,488. If those numbers are correct, then only a third of our members attend church each week. What’s going on with these numbers? While there are many contributing factors, it certainly shows that our view of church membership has diminished.
We continue to look at “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” by examining a biblical understanding of church membership. While many in our day would argue that church membership is unnecessary, Mark Dever argues otherwise:
I’m convinced that getting this concept of membership right is a key step in revitalizing our churches, evangelizing our nation, furthering the cause of Christ around the world, and so bringing glory to God (148).
In order to understand why Dever would place so much emphasis on the importance of church membership, one must understand what a church is and why we should be a member.
What Is a Church and Why Should We Join?
All believers in Christ throughout the entire world make up the universal church. However, while there is the universal aspect of the church, the majority of passages in the New Testament refer to a specific local congregation. Believers in a specific location meet together regularly for worship and mutual edification. Joining a church doesn’t save us, but it is certainly important for our spiritual growth and witness to the world. Dever provides five reasons we should join a church:
- To Assure Ourselves– local church membership can provide testimony that we are truly a part of the universal church. As Dever states, “Church membership does not save, but it is a reflection of salvation” (152). We cannot live the Christian life on our own; we need brothers and sisters walking with us, encouraging us, and helping us see our blind spots. Also, we need to be providing those things to our fellow brothers and sisters.
- To Evangelize the World– as believers meet together and love one another, we are being witnesses to the world in a way that we cannot do individually. As we join together, we are better equipped to reach out and minister to those around us, as well as help with the needs of others. Jesus said the world will know we are his disciples by the love we have for one another (John 13:35), but this simply isn’t possible if we are not a part of the local church.
- To Expose False Gospels– as we do church together, we will show the world that Christianity isn’t a group of self-righteous people gathering together each week. Hopefully, they will see our humility, love, and self-sacrificing service as we reach out to our community.
- To Edify the Church– Not only do we need the church for our education, but each of us has gifts and talents that we are called to use to minister to others. We should see our church membership as an act of service. Dever states:
Dr. Dever says:
“Joining a church increases our sense of ownership of the work of the church, of its community, of its budget, of its goals. We move from being pampered consumers to becoming joyous proprietors. We stop arriving late and complaining that we don’t get exactly what we want; instead, we arrive early and try to help others with what they need. We must begin to view membership less as a loose affiliation useful only on occasion and more as a regular responsibility involving us in one another’s lives for the purpose of the Gospel” (157).
- To Glorify God– as we join together as imperfect people redeemed by our Lord to serve and witness to our communities, our good works will bring glory to God (1 Pet. 2:12).
The Responsibilities of Church Members
Our consumeristic culture can lead us to think that being a member has little if any, responsibilities. However, being a church member has several requirements to which we should all hold ourselves accountable:
- Attend Services Regularly– We know that we are not supposed to forsake the assembling together (Heb. 10:25), yet we see less and less commitment to church services. Some suggest that the biggest reasons church attendance numbers are down isn’t because there are fewer people, but there is less consistency with regular members. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon reminds us of the power of Christian fellowship: “Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation.” One of the most basic responsibilities of church members is to obey the command not to forsake the assembling.
- Attend Communion Particularly– our unity as believers is particularly on display as we take communion together. Communion is a special time to examine our hearts in relation to God and one another.
- Attend Member’s Meetings Consistently– whether you call them member’s meetings, ministry meetings, or business meetings, the point is they are important. Many see these meetings as boring and pointless, however, it is in these meetings that major decisions are made and valuable discussions take place. Thus it’s important for each member to attend and engage.
- Represent the Gospel and the Church in the Way You Live– Philippians 1:27 says, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” If we are a church member, we are representing the gospel and our local church to a watching world. This doesn’t mean we should pretend to be perfect, but we should walk in confession and repentance when we fall into sin.
- Serve Regularly– There are always areas in the church where we can serve (even if it’s the things nobody wants to do). Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church. We must rid ourselves of a consumer mindset and instead have the mindset of a servant (Phil. 2:3-8, John 13:1-7).
- Pray Regularly– obvious enough, but how often do we pray for our church? Dever recommends using the church directory as a guide to your daily prayers. Go through small portions of the directory each day…and if you don’t know a person then call them and let them know you prayed for them!
- Give Regularly– we don’t like to talk about giving, but we are required to give to our local church to support her and her mission. It’s great to give to other organizations, but our first responsibility is to support our local church.
We conclude with a plea from Dever:
This membership is not simply the record of a statement we once made or of affection toward a familiar place. It must be the reflection of a living commitment, or it is worthless. Worse than worthless, it is dangerous. Uninvolved members confuse both real members and non-Christians about what it means to be a Christian. We ‘active’ members do the voluntarily ‘inactive’ members no service when we allow them to remain members of the church. Membership is the church’s corporate endorsement of the person’s salvation. Yet how can a congregation honestly testify that someone invisible to it is faithfully running the race?
In our next article in this series, we will examine church discipline.
9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever