Thomas Rainer wrote a short, clear, and simple book on church membership. It’s an excellent book. I’ve used it as a pastor in new members classes. Here are some recent comments he made about the relevancy of the term “church member.” I wholeheartedly agree.
“Two years ago I released a book…and I’ve been blown away with the response; sales are about to reach one million books. One of the more frequent question readers have asked me is: ‘Do you think the term “church member“’ is still relevant?’’‘ My simple response is, ‘Yes I do.’ In fact, I have seven reasons why I emphatically believe churches should never let go of this descriptor.
It is biblical. One of the best descriptions of church membership is in 1 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul specifically uses the term “member” at several points in the chapter. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12: 27, he says: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.”
It is a perfect metaphor for belonging. Read the same chapter, specifically verses 15 to 20. Look how many times Paul uses the word “belong.” To be a member of the body of Christ, the church, is to belong to an incredible gift given to us by God.
It is a perfect metaphor for contributing. As Paul describes the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, he highlights the diversity of gifts of the members, and emphasizes the absolute mandate for every member to function and contribute. There is no place in the church for non-contributing members.
It is a perfect metaphor for caring. Because church members all belong to the same body, they are motivated and mandated to care for one another. Paul states this truth clearly: “So there would be no division in the body, but the members would have the same concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
It is a perfect metaphor for unity. Church members are members of something greater than themselves, the body of Christ. Once again, we are reminded of this truth in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it (emphasis added).
It is commonly understood by most people. Some churches use terms other than church member to describe those affiliated with their congregation. My purpose in writing this article is not to disparage them, but to advocate for a term that is both biblical and clear. Most people do indeed understand the basic meaning of church member.
It does not yield to culture. We have abandoned too many things in our churches in order to accommodate culture. While we recognize that some people will think of membership in the sense of country club membership, we in the church need to reclaim its biblical intent. Church membership does not mean we get perks and privileges because we “pay our dues.”
It means we give, sacrifice, and serve. The essence of church membership is the sense of belonging to something so much greater than any one of us individually. We are thus motivated to give, serve, love, and care. The biblical understanding of church membership is an incredible concept. It is not a term we should abandon.”