Journal: Church Membership and Baptism

Some Wednesday Morning thoughts: John Vest in his blog asks an interesting question.  Why join the church?  I decided to respond with my own journal reflections.

Speaking from my own experience there isn’t much of a difference between attending a church as a visitor and formally joining a church. In my former parish we had several non-members who were active in serving on committees. They also volunteered to help with church programming.   I recall a woman who was active in worship and church programming for over twenty years.  She never joined.  This was a personal decision.

Another gentleman didn’t join the church out of respect for his parents who were Roman Catholic and wouldn’t understand his becoming a Presbyterian. This gentleman was as active and invested in ministries of the church even serving as a regular worship leader.   The rest of his family and children were all baptized members and officers of the church.

I have known of others who won’t formally join until they are more comfortable with the profession asked of members: “Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior”.  Even confirmands were given the option not to join if they didn’t feel comfortable with the profession of faith they were asked to make.

In my former parish we created a “FRIEND OF THE CHURCH” category for those who wished to maintain a relationship with the church without formally joining. John Vest  talks of “Institutional Maintenance”.   So we simply create rosters and lists to help us stay in touch with our constituents?  Is this the sole value of having these lists?   Is this what church membership has become—Institutional Maintenance?

“Friends of the church” in many cases were active in worship and fully engaged as participants in church programming.   Some of our “Friends” were active in supporting church programs while maintaining an active membership in another church.  Many church “Friends” also made financial contributions.  From my experience, financial contributions come from both members and non-members.  In fact, churches that don’t actively invite non-members to contribute may be missing a valuable stream of income!

John Vest writes in his blog:

For a lot of people I think that membership has more to do with institutional maintenance than anything else. Sure, non-members support the church all the time.  But it may be that people have a greater sense of investment (emotionally and financially) in an institution of which they are ‘members’.   Becoming a member can (but not necessarily does) signal a shift from being a consumer to being more invested in the community and its institutional expression for the present and the future.

So back to the question: Is there a difference between joining and not joining?  Being a consumer of what the church has to offer is one thing.  Being fully invested in what it means to be part of the living and vibrant the ‘body of Christ’ is another.

This for me is the real challenge. Are we talking about the church as an institution or the “Living and Vibrant Body of Christ”?  What does it mean to be a baptized a member of Christ’s body—regardless where formal institutional membership rests? Can a person be fully engaged in growing in his or her relationship with God without formal membership?  Can a person be involved with more than one church?  Some interesting questions.

I believe it is time again to focus on what it means to be baptized a member of the living and vibrant “Body of Christ”! As adults, what does it mean to re-affirm our baptism?  Can reaffirming one’s baptism be done without formally joining a church?   Can a person join a church without professing and believing Jesus is Lord and Savior?  

I believe John Vest is correct in acknowledging that formal membership helps with the administration and institutional maintenance of the church. Otherwise, I think the church needs to be in the business of investing in the work of making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  (Matthew 28:19)

My Wednesday morning thoughts.

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