Since NLCC formalised its constitution and opened its church register to receive members, more than a hundred people in our congregation have taken this step toward membership. For many, this has been a natural and expected progression. But for others, the concept of church membership may seem a little foreign.
People may well ask (and have often done so): what is the purpose of church membership?
Is it essential, is it critical, and most importantly – is it doctrinal?
With these questions in view, this article has been written to help explain some of the reasons why NLCC believes membership is important, both for the church and for the individual.
To start off with, many of us realise that there isn’t anything in Scripture that says we must sign up for membership for an individual church. In the early New Testament times, there weren’t individual churches as we know them at all. When Paul wrote, he wrote to the church of the city: the church of Ephesus, the church of Thessalonica, the church of Corinth and so on. No one joined an individual church, because none existed! Despite this, in modern times, we see that almost all churches do have membership, or as many other contemporary churches call it – ‘partnership’.
So the question remains – why?
The response is divided into two categories: practical and ideological.
The most basic, and least spiritual reason why we have church membership is that as a church registered as a non-profit organisation, we have a responsibility to the governing bodies of our state and country (as do all churches) to have a public constitution and to have formal membership, whereby members are allowed to input into the decisions made by the church through an annual general meeting (AGM) and other extra-ordinary meetings. Simply put, Australian regulations require us to do so.
Membership also has direct benefits for the church body organisation as well. It helps the church plan for future budgets, by allowing the leaders to estimate how many are committed people to the church, in contrast to the number of visitors. While smaller churches such as ours can estimate this reasonably well without having formal membership, in larger churches it becomes critically important to know who the regulars are (or at least how many), so that the church does not undercommit or overcommit its resources in upcoming years.
Church membership comes with a sense of formalising your commitment to the church. So are people who don’t choose to become members then inherently ‘uncommitted’? Of course not. But while it is true that you can essentially do all the things that a church member can do, yet not officially be a member, the concept is like marriage. From a worldly point of view it is possible for a couple to live in a de facto relationship, have all the experiences of marriage, and after a while, acquire the legal ramifications of marriage. But the truth is, they still are not officially married. Membership – like marriage – is formalising a commitment even if you already had elements of that commitment before. To become a member is to acknowledge and celebrate your relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ in your local church; your involvement by your active choice and decision.
What advantages are there in being a member? From a purely functional point of view, just about the only specific benefit is that members are able to vote in AGMs or similar meetings (some may not even consider this a benefit anyway!). Analogy-wise, it is similar to the concept of Australian citizenship versus permanent residency. Some people say that the only benefit of citizenship over permanent residency is that you can vote (again, with the current state of politics, voting in elections may not appeal to many people either!) However, the reason why I’m a citizen (apart from the fact I was born one), is that, voting notwithstanding, I’m actually proud to be an Australian citizen: I’m proud to affiliate myself with this country and what it stands for. In the same way, joining in membership is saying that not only do you attend NLCC, but you are proud of what it stands for, where it is heading, what God has purposed for it and to be part of it, too.
So why does NLCC promote church membership?
At our most basic level, we do so because by law we are required to do so, and because it assists with church planning. But on a more sentimental note, we join in membership because we want to formalise and celebrate our commitment to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and because we want to identify ourselves as people who believe in and are part of God’s vision for our church, New Life City Church.