I was scrolling through email and deleting the mass emails that I get regularly (sometimes I read them, sometimes I don't) and saw an article title that got my attention: 'Does Membership Matter Anymore?"
I appreciated the article because it resonates with me. His questions are questions I ask myself regularly. It speaks to so much of how I feel and think about
membership in my own church. I wonder, "Why bother?!" when people who
never "join" but actively participate already consider themselves
members because they have a sense of belonging And others, who never
attend, or give, or help, are tied to the church because they grew up
there, or their family is still there or they attend once a year and are
still considered "members" even though for all intents and purposes they aren't acting members. Honestly, we
have out of town visitors who participate more intentionally.
There have long been critiques of churches who "padded" their membership roles by allowing anyone and everyone to join the church. One joke I heard when I first started ministry was "Back in the day, if you golfed with the pastor, you were added as a member." I definitely think membership should mean more than numbers. We offer membership classes once or twice a year and invite people to join. But we don't set strict requirements (after all, how could we when we have people who participate minimally that are considered members?) And, as I mentioned above, we have others who have never officially joined the church, but attend regularly, give generously, help in active ministry, and consider the church "theirs". So what's the difference between the one with the title and the one who doesn't? And what is the reason for advocating for church membership? The title of member doesn't make us a better disciple. It doesn't make the Bible easier to read. It doesn't make the marginalized less off-putting. And it doesn't guarantee relationships that matter or strengthen us.
So if the title of member isn't what transforms us, what is? And why should we continue to advocate for membership? Don't worry, I'm not refusing to allow folks to become members. But I do genuinely struggle with what our role is as the church and what difference it makes to be a member or not.