Q: Dear Pastor,
What’s the deal with church membership? I’m not sure I like a members-only situation.
A: Ah yes, the membership thing. This is one of my favorite topics and I’m glad you asked. I have a feeling you and I may have walked a similar path.
About 20 years ago, and long before I ever had the thought to become a pastor, I was attending a “Spirit-filled” church. (This is charismatic lingo for a church where regular visitations from the Holy Spirit occur with evidence of people speaking in tongues and prophesying.) It was called The Vineyard, a non-denominational group with a 40-something pastor named Steve who preached in Hawaiian shirts and jeans. Steve was fresh from the Anaheim, California coast where his mentor, John Wimber, had crashed the denominational party and started a movement of God that changed the way Americans worshiped God forever. Wimber was the manager of a rock band called the Righteous Brothers who got saved in Vegas while reading his Bible at a bar. He was immediately introduced to the Holy Spirit and left the entertainment business to follow God by planting unconventional churches with three distinct tenets: 1) The worship music would always include guitars, drums and contemporary sounds. 2) Miracles of healing are embraced and therefore happen often, with opportunities for the laying-on-of-hands available at every service and gathering. 3) There is no membership.
I’ll never forget the day I heard it from the pulpit. “We don’t do membership here,” Pastor Steve quipped. “This isn’t a country club.” Shocked and delighted, my newly-saved soul had been fleeing the bondage of oppressive religion for many reasons - chief among them being my disdain for religious people and their elitist mentality. Joining a club to experience God was not on my map. Spiritual freedom was. The Vineyard gave me a foundational understanding of the love of the Savior I could never have received from denominational religion. It saved me, calmed my rebellion, soothed my wounds and was exactly what I needed at the time.
The first eight chapters of the book of Proverbs, personifies wisdom by explaining clearly that respect (awe, reverence or fear) of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom (Psalm 111:10.) This means, when you go deeper in God, you get smarter in life. I’m now a Pastor of two churches in a mainline denomination, and I finally understand church membership: It can be useful in our development as Christians.
Church membership, like a marriage vow, forces the person to think through their priorities. It causes a pew-sitter to dig deep, look around them and declare with purpose, “I want to be a part of this.” It’s commitment. It’s a mature approach to our business with God. This is where you have chosen your God and want to seal the deal with a commitment to a congregation that embraces you as a family member. Once you’ve embraced church membership, you’ll have the joy of joining a herd of believers who will walk together with you on your journey in Christ.
Sadly, church membership can be a prideful statistic for both the pastors and members who attend. God does not measure success by the size or location of his churches! Some of the smallest, most unknown churches in the world are recognized in heaven as mighty bastions of faith-filled power. How do I know? Because biblically, the greatest moves of God were begun by one man, or came through one woman or ignited forest-fires of faith through a spark with a small group of unwavering believers.
No, you don’t have to be a member to attend a church. And I still applaud churches that refuse to acknowledge membership on principle. But I do challenge you to think differently, too. What are you afraid of? That you’ll join up and someone might actually get to know you? Exactly. So much will be missed if you hide.
Adrienne Greene pastors two Christian churches in southeastern Indiana. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030.