Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rethinking Membership

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of membership lately.  I’m reminded of American Express’ slogan, “Membership has its privileges.”  That really works well for a service organization and company like AMEX, but how does that translate to others areas?  In so many ways, our consumeristic society has caused us to view everything as ours for a price.  We come to the conclusion that everything can be bought, and if it can’t, it must not be worth our while.

When I think of membership, I think of country clubs or pool and racquet clubs where a monthly or yearly fee is paid and amenities are enjoyed.  There is very little that needs to be done outside of paying your dues.  Annual meetings may be held, but there may be no membership requirement to actually attend as there is a board of directors which makes decisions on behalf of the membership.  In fact, it’s possible that dues may be paid and one might never even enjoy the benefits and amenities of the club or organization short of simply being able to announce to friends and strangers at parties that, “I’m a member of that club.”

When we enter into a member relationship with the idea that the club or organization that we are joining simply exists to serve us and meet our needs, there is no real relationship, and if it is a relationships, it’s an unhealthy one at best.  Healthy relationships are two-sided, they involve both parties giving and taking alike.  The moment that they become one-sided is the moment that they have ventured into unhealthy waters.  Arguments ensue, feelings are hurt, relationships are dissolved.

In many ways, the idea of membership has connoted the benefits received through membership rather than what is being offered in exchange for the privilege of membership.  Not to be cliché or beat a dead horse, but JFK’s famous quote of, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” seems somewhat relevant in the face of any organization, club, or country.

The idea of membership seems to have been distorted in the church.  Having grown up within the church, the phrase, “I’ve been a member for (fill-in-the-blank) years…” is never followed by anything positive.  In fact, most of the times that I have heard that phrase, it is generally just an excuse to domineer one’s opinion over others and create some amount of credibility among people that your voice should be heard.  I hold to the same ideology with membership that I do with experience, just as one should never confuse 1 year of experience repeated 40 times for 40 years of experience, neither should one confuse 40 years of membership to being as meaningful as it might sound.

I met with another local pastor a few weeks back and we talked about the church plant that he has been leading over the last few years.  We stumbled upon the topic of membership and he mentioned that they don’t have membership classes but that they have partnership classes.  I stopped to think and realized that the term was much more agreeable to me than membership.  The idea of partnership means commitment, means unity, means joining together for a common goal.  Partnership means that decisions that are made take into account the others who are impacted by those decisions.  Partnership also conveys the idea of ownership, in a good way.

Not too long ago, I read a book by Joshua Harris entitled Stop Dating the church: Fall in Love with the Family of God.  It’s a fairly quick read that gives some good insight into the importance of being a part of a local church body.  While I don’t agree with everything that Harris says, any objections are insignificant compared to the beneficial wisdom that he imparts regarding communities of faith.

Whether you’re part of a club, a church, or any other organization, what’s your view of membership?  Do you look at these things as simply means to serve you and your family, or do you see yourself in partnership with others, seeking the well-being and furthering of the mission of the organization, club, or church that you are a part of? 

I have begun to appreciate more and more the importance of a partnership and ownership mentality towards my church, if you’re not at that place, ask yourself how much you’ve given and how it compares to how much you’ve received.  While I don’t think that relationships should be checked by balance sheets, I do think it’s important to consider that they be two-sided.  Two-sided relationships are the only healthy kinds of relationships that exist, what kinds of relationships are you looking for?


  1. I couldn't agree with you more that years of church membership is not a statistically valid way of measuring anything of importance in the kingdom. It certainly is not listed among the fruit of the spirit. It does not denote a commitment to take up your cross daily. I like the idea of partnership of individuals and church entities working together to 'fearlessly make known the mystery that is the gospel for which (we are all) ambassadors in chains.'

  2. I see it as similar to marriage v. living together. It seems that married folks are more reluctant to dissolve the union and work harder at making it work than folks who are living together. So is there a tangible benefit? Maybe not. But...