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Why Every Christian Should Join a Church

Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been talking about church membership more frequently.  Most times it has been just sharing my thoughts with a few guys I’m discipling, but a couple times it has been almost a combative defense of church membership.  The Bible is clear that Christians are not supposed to isolate themselves from other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25).  So, when I say “join a church” I mean formal membership as opposed to finding a church to regularly attend.

Unfortunately, there is a growing sense that church membership isn’t important.  Indeed, as the argument starts, what’s most important is that we become members of the body of Christ (the global church) through faith in Him for forgiveness of our sins.  Moreover, it is also true that we can worship and fellowship and even serve in churches without signing any forms.  The argument concludes, though, that church membership is just a modern construct to complicate true religion.  To make matters worse, many church leaders, happy just to see faithful attendance in this distracted world, often downplay the need for Christians to make their membership official.

I suggest that church membership is not a new construct but actually dates back to the First Century Church and is just as important now–possibly moreso–as it was then.

Membership in the First Century Church

The Bible has no explicit mandate to join a local church body; however, there are several statements that imply some concept of membership existed.  To begin with, after Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:40-41).  This suggests that there was some type of record keeping such that they knew the number of new believers and there was some existing count to which they were added.

Second, the First Century Church was forming an organizational structure that probably included membership.  For example, Paul writes that God has given church leaders, including local leaders like pastors and teachers, to the church for equipping believers (Eph 4:11-13) and he instructs Timothy and Titus regarding qualifications for deacons and elders (for example, 1 Tim 3:1-13, Titus1:5-9).  Also, Paul and Barnabas themselves are commissioned by, hold themselves accountable to, and report to the church in Jerusalem during their missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3, 14:26-27).  Both James and John write concerning membership in a local body as well responsibilities of leaders to the members of that body (see, for examples, James 5:14 and 3 John 9-10).  Church structure wasn’t just an idea of Paul.

Third and lastly, regarding how the believers in Corinth should handle an unrepentant believer, Paul instructs them to “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13).  The fact that a person could be excommunicated as a disciplinary measure suggests the existence of some type of formal membership in the local body that could be withheld or withdrawn, and reestablished upon repentance.

All these preceding examples reveal that the church was more than a committed group that met regularly (Acts 2:42).  It was establishing a formal structure for teaching, worship and fellowship as well for pastoral leadership, accountability to one another, and discipline.

Membership and Spiritual Growth

Since the same motivations that drove the early church to a formal structure are present today, it should be clear that church membership should be present today as well.  That is, officially joining a church actually improves our potential to grow in faith, connect with other believers, and serve God.

Membership Helps Christians Grow in Faith

Joining a local church can be a Christian’s first step to growing in faith.  Jude points out that there is no such thing as a personal theology of salvation for there is a common “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, emphasis mine).  Since, most churches have an “interview” during the church membership process, by joining a church the prospective member has an opportunity to affirm or possibly correct his or her understanding of salvation.

The act of joining also establishes a relationship between a believer and the church leadership who, as they are charged to do (for example, 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17), commit to helping members in their spiritual growth.  However, as a practical matter, the leaders don’t necessarily know who their flocks are–especially in large churches–without the members officially joining.  For example, it is a common practice for elders to pray for members as they go down a membership list.  Or, if someone has made no formal commitment to a local church, how should an extended absence be interpreted?  In such cases, if the leaders wanted to contact the individual, in many churches, his or her contact information would not be on record unless he or she joins.

Membership Allows Christians to Fully Connect with Other Believers

It is true that we can worship, fellowship, and possibly serve with other Christians without joining a church.  However, in making that claim, we ignore the fact that Christian relationships are bidirectional and we neglect what our membership commitment provides to other believers.

Primarily, membership provides accountability.  God has always wanted us to “bring [each other] back from his wandering” (James 5:19-20, also Psalm 51:13, Proverbs 27:17, Ezekiel 3:18, 33:8, Daniel 12:3) but many people resist the call to accountability because by nature we covet our independence.  Joining a church not only declares that we want other members of the congregation to hold us accountable to our professions of faith; it also declares that we will hold members of the congregation accountable.

Joining a church is actually an affirming act of love.  Accepting the invitation to formal membership takes the relationship to the next level much like accepting a marriage proposal takes a committed relationship to another level.  Jesus tells us, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  How much love for other believers can we truly claim if we are unwilling to enter a membership covenant with them?

Membership Allows Christians to Fully Serve God

Entering into a membership covenant  tells the local body that they can depend on you–your doctrinal position (as I mentioned above) as well as your expressed commitment–and that it is safe to entrust you with certain responsibilities, particularly responsibilities in leadership.

I experienced this first-hand in one of our previous churches.  I was honored and very excited to be asked to be a leader in the nursery ministry.  Unfortunately, when the children’s ministry leaders realized that we were not yet members of the church, the invitation had to be rescinded.  I was still able to serve in the nursery but I was not able to exercise my God-given leadership gift.

God has endowed every believer with spiritual gifts for use in the church (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 28-30).  It is sinful for us to choose to not use them (1 Peter 4:10-11).  By not making a commitment to the church, a Christian potentially limits his or her ability to fully exercise his or her gifts “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (v. 11).

Membership is Necessary for Practical Reasons

In addition to the spiritual reasons why churches of the First Century probably maintained some type of formal membership, churches today have additional practical and legal obligations that require documented membership.

As I mentioned above, Luke, the author of the book of Acts, was able to say that three thousand souls were added.  His point was to highlight the growth of the church.  Similarly, as a matter of good stewardship, churches today need to measure the growth or shrinkage of the congregation, the effectiveness of their outreach, and even the health of per capita giving.  This can only be done with accurate membership records.

Congregational churches also require documentation in order to determine eligibility for voting on church activities.  Such votes might cover the obviously spiritual issues such as supporting overseas missions or evangelistic outreach.  Admittedly, though, voting often deals with seemingly mundane topics like heater repairs, kitchen renovations, and parking lot repaving.  However, the time, energy and funding for those projects directly impacts the resources available for preaching the gospel and expanding the Kingdom.  In other words, all church business is important and all Christians should be concerned and involved.

Lastly, for safety reasons, many churches are starting to withhold budgeting and financial information from nonmembers in order to protect themselves from robbery and theft.  This is another area where a Christian could decide that he or she is unconcerned but, as with church voting, all church business is important and we have Biblical examples that even church leaders are to be held accountable for faithful stewardship (for example, Acts 6:1, 1 Corinthians 4:2).


Church membership is not a requirement for salvation any more than water baptism is.  However, like water baptism, becoming a church member is an act of obedience expected of all Christians.  There is no legitimate reason for a follower of Christ to decline the invitation to enter into a covenant relationship with the local body to whom he or she professes a commitment; however, I’ve identified several spiritual consequences and practical implications of not doing so.  God does not want our logical arguments and justification for not doing what is expected of us.  Instead He wants a broken and contrite heart submitted to Him (Psalm 51:17).  Every Christian should join a church.