Christian Living

The Fallacy of Church Membership

Segregating Attendees into Members and Nonmembers Divides Jesus’s Church

In our look at things the church must change, we’ve already considered our buildings and facility, our paid clergy and staff, and our tithes and offerings, that is our charitable giving. Now we’ll turn our attention to some secondary issues, starting with church membership.

Membership is something that most everyone in church accepts without question. But we should question it.

Church membership is not biblical. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to go out and find members, make members, or sign up members. Increasing membership is simply not a biblical mandate. Jesus doesn’t command this, and biblical writers don’t order it.

In fact, the word membership doesn’t even occur in the Bible. It’s something well-meaning religious leaders made up. It may seem like a wise idea, but it’s not.

Membership establishes two levels within Jesus’s church. We must repent of making this distinction. Membership causes division among Jesus’s followers, segregating attendees into two classes of people, the insiders who are members from those on the periphery, the nonmembers.

Alternatives to Church Membership?

Some churches, attempting to correct the fallacy of membership, have come up with new labels. I’ve heard them use the term missionaries, and I’ve also heard of partners. I’m sure there are more.

But these perspectives, though well intended, are merely different names for the same membership problem. The result is that church membership still creates two classes of people in Jesus’s church: insiders and outsiders.

At some churches, baptism makes this membership distinction, as in a baptized member. Once a person undergoes the rite, or sacrament, of baptism—often by emersion—they automatically become a member. Though if they are underage at the time, they might not become a voting member until they reach adulthood.

This makes a third class of attendees, a third division in Jesus’s church: nonvoting members.

Instead, Jesus welcomes all (Romans 15:7, Galatians 3:28, and James 2:1–4). We should do the same, ditching membership as an ill-conceived, manmade tradition that has no scriptural basis.

We must resist the human tendency toward membership, which segregates people, and instead embrace God’s perspective of inclusion. Instead of encouraging church membership, we should promote Christian unity.

Check out the next post in this series addressing the Kingdom of God.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.