Some “Humor” About Religious Membership

Though the way this comc strip is phrased, I think it’s intended to be a bit of a jab at religion on the whole, it’s a great window into the relative absurdity of our perspective on “membership” in today’s world.

Do we even need membership anymore? Does it mean anything? Amy and I grew a church for eight years without membership. Does it make some more invested? Does it turn others away? Does it really speak to the radical openness that we’re supposed to be offering the world as followers of the Way of Jesus?

I welcome the thoughts of others on this.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://twitter.com/annajvos Anna Vos

    At the church where I am a member, we have a membership that resets every year. At the beginning of each year (ours go June to May), every person must re-sign the membership covenant and any new members will have just taken our short course and sign the covenant for the first time. It’s not a scary covenant, so that’s good.
    I like this method because we have no large number of members who are no longer active. Our membership are the folks who are committed to our church, both with their time and their finances. They are the ones who, generally, are in charge of the activities at the church. They are the only ones allowed to vote in church matters (which recently have included buying our church building, deciding whether to expand the sanctuary, etc.).
    I think it’s helpful to have the membership because it is somewhat of a statement of commitment. I also appreciate that we reset so it is a meaningful reflection, each year, of people who are giving their lives to one another in our community. I also appreciate that although it is a statement of some kind, it’s not an exclusive club.
    On the whole, we have maybe 40 members in a body that is about 80-100 people on any given Sunday. I hope this is helpful to the conversation! If it’s any more helpful, you can find our church at artisanchurch.com (Rochester, NY).

  • Sherrill Morris

    I’ve been part of a homechurch for 19 years now and we’ve never had membership….we joked once that “after you’ve been asked to write a letter to someone on behalf of the church you are a member” back when we were writing lots of letters to the region/synod/insertyourmiddlelayerhere. But seriously, those who come to church get to be part of the consensus making (we never vote) and those who want to support a particular program financially do, others don’t. We’ve lasted 19 years so far and see ourselves growing in terms of who comes, not a list of members. We kind of feel Jesus did it this way…

    • Frank

      Jesus would want His church to reach as many people as possible. How many did you start of with and how many do you have now?

      • Tony

        Another person who measures success by numbers? Qualitative vs. quantitative, Frank…..

        • Frank

          Meanwhile while this Chriatian club is enjoying each other, people are separated from God and no on is reaching out to them.

  • Church-Wounded

    My family and I inquired about membership at a large, locally popular, mainstream denomination contemporary church roughy 8 years ago … and were ushered into a conference room and subjected to an “inquisition” … We walked out stunned and my (ex) wife in tears … It was a most un-Christlike response to our interest in membership … a terrible testimony …

    • Tony

      You have my sympathy. Nobody should treat anyone like that – but on the plus side, think of what you escaped! It would have done you no good to be part of an organisation like that, and had you joined, there would have been a risk that you could have ended up thinking and acting like they did. I don’t want to appear callous, but I would say that in this case, despite the pain, the best thing happened for you in the long run. You avoided membership of a narrow-minded bunch of bigots. That’s gotta be a Good Thing :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ellen-Painter-Dollar/1411877911 Ellen Painter Dollar

    Like Anna, I used to be part of a church (non-traditional, met in a coffee house in inner-city D.C.) in which you re-upped your membership every year. I liked that system because, as my husband pointed out, he remained as a “member” on the rolls of his childhood Methodist church for years despite not even living in that area any more. Which was silly.

    Also, plenty of people at our little coffee-house church worshipped with us and never took the plunge to membership; membership was a fairly intense process of committing to certain disciplines (a tithe, daily prayer, an annual retreat, etc.). At one point, I actually decided not to renew my membership even though I had every intention of continuing to worship there, because the level of commitment was burning me out and I wanted to step back to consider things.

    Is membership necessary? No, I guess not. But being a Christian is a big commitment, and I like the idea of church membership being one way we make good on that commitment—the way it requires you to say publicly, before a community, “YES, I am committing to this faith and these people, and willing to do what it takes to grow in faith with them.”

  • LostandFound

    The kind of membership being discussed here is organizational, and there are good points overall from that perspective: what are the rights and responsibilities of members, whether having formal membership increases involvement in the organization, how to track progress and people, etc. But I prefer the Catholic view: my baptism made me a member of the Body of Christ, and that membership does not cease and restart when I move from one parish to another – I can receive the Eucharist in any Catholic church worldwide. For organizational and record-keeping purposes I register in a parish, and my love for the Body (Christ and his Church) compels me to offer my time, talents and resources to that parish. Does everyone participate equally? Of course not; some are always on the far periphery. But as others have said, the best recourse for this is to find ways to help people grow in their faith and thus become more fully integrated into the Body – with Jesus and with fellow believers.

  • Tony

    The Body of Christ is His; it does not belong to a particular denomination or organisation. What matters is whether or not you are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and this is not for any earthly organisation to decide!

  • Bill Shearer

    Why do churches take membership? To show the bank when they apply for a loan to build a bigger building. I’ve seen a sheet listing total membership, giving units (yeah, you read that right), and large donors. I find it all sort of depressing and backwards.

  • http://twitter.com/mgbesq Michael Bell

    I think that congregational membership, while not a scriptural command, when handled properly is a sign of Christian maturity. Of course it matters how the congregation is structured, and membership has to be more than getting your name on a name tag or mailing list. We see over and over in the people of God demonstrating that they belong to Him by

  • Watcho

    I’m not sure what happened up there, but I’ll try again, from my computer this time…

    I think that congregational membership, while not a scriptural command, when handled in a Spirit-led fashion is a sign of Christian maturity. Of course it matters how the congregation is structured, and membership has to be more than getting your name on a name tag or mailing list. We see over and over in scriptures examples of the people of God demonstrating that they belong to Him by formalizing relationships with each other. Most obviously in the OT we see membership in the form of who is and isn’t an Israelite; we see in Nehemiah these people, inspired by the reading of the scriptures, deciding to organize how and when families take care of the temple. In the NT, we see prevalent metaphors for membership as belonging to a body, as well as Spirit-filled new believers gravitate towards congregations for community and support. The epistles even go so far as to recommend leadership structures to make sure everyone is being taken care of.

    Where church membership is most helpful, I believe, is in the area of sin and church discipline. Christians are given methods of addressing sin, conflict, confession, and forgiveness – pretty tough stuff. These methods work best, again, in my opinion, when there is an explicit understanding of community and authority. When I join my church, what I am saying is that I am placing myself into the accountability of the group, and submitting myself to the authority of my church leadership. James teaches that the wisdom of the Spirit is one of submission, and as we mature towards that wisdom we must learn to lower our defenses. I totally understand folks who have been burned by power-hungry leadership or harsh Eldership. As I said before, these things only work when they’re Spirit-led.

    I don’t believe that one MUST enter into official congregational membership to experience accountability, and I don’t believe it’s wrong for people to not join their local church. I do think it puts a different light on difficult times, in the same way that marriage does. I think that as one’s commitment to a group grows to the point where you’re financially and spiritually invested in the well-being of a particular group that congregational membership is a natural next step.

    • Watcho

      As for joining a religion on a national level, like, being able to say officially that you’re a Baptist or whatever, who cares about that?


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