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From Belonging to Becoming: What if we put belonging first like Jesus did?

By: Mike Clarensau

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The meanings of membership

Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 3:55 PM CST

The meanings of membership

Terry Raburn

In today’s complex society, membership is more like a multi-lane thoroughfare with several paths of value moving in both directions. Without understanding these complexities it is easy to miss the contemporary meaning of membership.

What does membership mean to church members?

Recent research focuses on the evolving significance of membership from the members point of view. Books like Dying for Change and Dr. Elmer Towns’ new study of 10 of America’s growing churches shed much light on this generation’s needs in membership.

The new number one meaning is relationship. Members want to belong to a family group rather than an organization–to feel accepted, affirmed, and appreciated as individuals rather than lost in a system.

Next, the new ideals of membership insist on sharing in management. Baby boomers resist dictatorial administration. They want to have a part in decisions which affect their worship.

Then membership must meet the needs of the new church adherent. People joining churches today care very much about missions, world hunger, and peace but demand some form of help with their teenagers or other problems that bother them on a daily basis. Present churchgoers gladly give, but they feel entitled to receive something in return.

What does church membership mean to the community?

The government is expending time and money to research the impact of church membership and attendance in communities. On every level–city, state, and federal government is finding that church people play important roles in civic life.

Churches can help the disenfranchised of society. Each year church members contribute millions of meals, tons of clothing, multiplied volunteer hours, and many dollars to community and human help projects. When civic leaders appeal to churches for help, they want the security of knowing the people they are working with are members of the local congregation.

Financial institutions look at membership rolls when considering granting loans to churches. If churches have only attenders and no membership, banks are nervous about lending money. Membership legitimizes the church in the eyes of the government structure.

Many different entities serve our communities. Hospitals, halfway houses, nursing homes, youth programs, relief plans of all sorts, and other efforts try to meet the various needs in every neighborhood. All these need volunteer help. Contrary to some reports, when these programs seek volunteers, they prefer church people. They also prefer church members because members tend to be reliable, consistent, and faithful to commitments.

What does membership mean to the church?

One of the most obvious values of membership is in the power of numbers. The church itself is often measured by the membership roll. It isn’t, of course, but it is perceived to be.

A more substantial value of membership is that it provides a solid base of operations for the church. People who believe in a church enough to join are going to support it financially, participate on workdays, support revivals and special meetings by attendance, and be faithful to departments like Sunday school and Men’s Ministries. When trials blow through the congregation, members are more likely to stay with a church. In many ways, members are the church.

Membership classes provide the perfect opportunity to assure doctrinal purity for an individual or a family. Members are more apt to be regular attenders and, therefore, receive more thorough teaching from sermon series, entire quarters of teaching, and continuous programs in Missionettes, Royal Rangers, and youth services. In other words, membership ensures sound theology and discipleship.

Discipleship in turn produces new workers for spreading the gospel–new Bible college students, missionaries, and ministers. The commitment of joining a church is sometimes the first step toward full-time Christian service.

One more important value of membership today is legal protection. With the great liabilities which now accompany working with children and youth, membership is essential. Careful screening before membership and ministry can save a congregation serious liability in the event of criminal action.

What does membership mean to our fellowship?

Membership totals have a significant impact on many of our international ministries, such as the armed forces chaplaincy. The Assemblies of God is allowed a certain number of chaplains in each branch of the military based on our national membership. Unlike most church organizations, we have more people attending our churches than we have on the membership rolls. This costs us chaplains, for our total membership compared to the total number of church members in America produces the number of allotted chaplains. (For example, if we have 10 percent of the total evangelical membership in the United States, we may have one out of every 10 chaplains in the armed forces.)

Church membership means commitment, solid working bases, financial and program stability, purity in doctrine and faith, and church respectability in the community. What are the needs in your church? What does membership mean to your people?