Church Membership

What is involved in membership in a local church? How important is it? Many people claim membership or affiliation to a church. The criteria varies, but in general, membership in a local church is something that is commemorative of one’s conversion.

Quite often, on Memorial Day, there are homecomings or special services held and people will return to attend the church wherein their conversion occurred. From this, we see that it is much like a reunion. Such behavior reveals the attitude that prevails toward membership in a local church.

Several years ago, I read an article about someone very prominent in the religious realm, who switched membership from one church to another. It further substantiates that membership is, at best, a token commodity with most. Let me first share a scenario about church membership and see what you would conclude as to my claim of church membership. 

What if I had never lived in Somerset, Kentucky, and had only occasionally visited this congregation over a span of 55 years? What if my residence had been in Miami, Florida? What if I said I was retiring and switching my membership to New Orleans, Louisiana (I still live in Miami)? The reason for this is that I have long maintained a close relationship with the preacher in New Orleans, and that he had worked with me over the years. I’m unable to travel now and watch the worship services of the New Orleans church on TV. Upon what basis might I claim membership Southside or at New Orleans? 

I now share with you a factual situation regarding church membership. The date is December 29, 2008. Dallas Morning News published this article:

After more than half a century as a member of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, the Reverend Billy Graham has switched his membership to a church closer to his home in the North Carolina Mountains.

The famed evangelist, 90, was voted in as a member of the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Sunday.

The Reverend Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, said he had been contacted by Mr. Graham’s personal assistant in recent days about the membership switch. “We’ll always treasure the relationship,” Dr. Jeffress said.

Mr. Graham joined First Baptist Dallas during his first crusade in the city, held at the Cotton Bowl, in 1953. First Baptist Dallas was then led by the Reverend W.A. Criswell, and was widely considered the preeminent church in the Southern Baptist Convention. But the globetrotting evangelist has never lived in Dallas, and visited the church only rarely through the years.

Mr. Graham has long lived in Montreat, North Carolina, and is essentially homebound there now. He watches TV broadcasts of First Baptist Spartanburg services.

The pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg, the Reverend Don Wilton, has preached for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and has ministered to the evangelist in recent years. “He has been faithfully visited by Dr. Wilton, who he refers to as his ‘TV pastor,’” said Larry Ross, a spokesman for Mr. Graham. Mr. Ross added, “This was not an easy or quick decision by mr. Graham, but he increasingly felt it was important to unite with First Baptist Spartanburg, as that has had his attention and focus, especially through television, in recent years.”

The evangelist has relayed to Dr. Jeffress his “love and appreciation” for First Baptist Dallas and Dr. Jeffress’ ministry, Mr. Ross said.

What is involved in membership? How important is it?

The importance of membership in the local church can be seen from the example of the apostle Paul. In Acts 9.26, we find that Paul, shortly after his own conversion, purposefully tried (“assayed” (KJV)) to “join himself to the disciples” when he arrived at Jerusalem.

The apostle Peter’s directive to the overseers of a local church (1 Peter 5.2) suggests that membership in a local church is necessary. He told the elders to “feed the flock…among you (i.e., under your care).” We find from Acts 14.23 that each local church had elders appointed. Elders must be able to determine who is and who is not “under their care.”

Membership in any organization involves both benefits and responsibilities. This is recognized in the physical realm. A company employee enjoys the benefits of employment, yet has responsibilities to his employer. Club membership has privileges as well as obligations to remain in good standing.

Such is also true in the spiritual realm as it relates to church membership. A member is under obligation to contribute his time, talent, and monetary support of the gospel. The spiritual benefits are pardon from sin and continued fellowship with God.

Each local church is to independent and self-governing (autonomous) as it carries on the divinely ordained work of evangelism, edification, and benevolence of its needy.

Let each of us take heed that we fulfill our responsibilities in supporting the gospel message, remembering the words of Jude: “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1.3).