I read this question recently: “why do churches say they have five to six hundred members, but only worship a hundred?” Many people gave various answers, but I’ll be honest with you… I think the concept of church membership should be abandoned as quickly as possible. If I had my way we would take the membership rolls and burn them on the front lawn. Actually, our membership records are digital now so it would be a lot easier (just hit the delete button), but less dramatic. I could rant for a while about the concept of membership, but I’ll just give you a few reasons why I think the idea is silly.
1. Membership makes it seem like the Church is something you choose.
Various organizations have “members.” Country clubs have members, the Rotary club has members, online forums have members, and etc… The common thread through all these organizations is that they are optional organizations. A person joins when they feel motivated and can leave when they feel these organizations aren’t worth it.
Look, whatever the Church is the Church shouldn’t be a club. The Church shouldn’t be something that we can drift in and out of as our interest gets peaked. I mean, if God really “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4), and if “We are united with all the baptized in the one body of Christ, anointed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and joined in God’s mission for the life of the world” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, p. 227) then shouldn’t our relationship with the Church be just a little stronger than our Sam’s club cards.
2. Membership is a concept that doesn’t really make sense anyway.
I mean this statement in a couple of different ways. First, I mean that our membership requirements don’t really make any sense. The ELCA model constitution says this:
Voting members are confirmed members. Such confirmed members, during the current or preceding calendar year, shall have communed in this congregation and shall have made a contribution of record to this congregation. Members of this congregation who have satisfied these basic standards shall have the privilege of voice and vote at every regular and special meeting of the congregation.
So basically to be a “voting member” you have to have communed once and have contributed once. That is a pretty flimsy requirement no matter how you look at it. If you look at this from a more strict and hard nose point of view I want to ask “why on earth are those the only two requirements?” Shouldn’t we at least demand a little more out of people?
Looking at this requirement from a more grace centered view doesn’t really help either. Are all welcome or aren’t they? Or do we mean to say that all are welcome, but we are ok having two classes of citizens in our churches (voting and non-voting)?
Second, I mean that membership doesn’t make sense because of our world today. What does it mean to be a member of a church when we split time between several different churches? We have a lot of people in the church I work at now that split their time between our church and the Methodist church up the street. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but does the idea of “membership” make sense to them?