No Membership Addendum.
Reasons for no membership.
- Local church membership is not mandated by Scripture. While there is nothing in the Bible that forbids the formation of a membership process for the local church, there is nothing that requires it. It is not mentioned. The development of membership in the local church is not built on the voice of Scripture but the silence of Scripture.
- Local church membership is not rare among evangelical Churches today. Local churches with no membership are not as scarce as one might think. They are not unheard of. For instance, Calvary Chapel has no membership. This can accelerate growth. The late founder of Calvary Chapel, Chuck Smith was often heard to say, six of the ten largest Churches in the United States were Calvary Chapels.
- Local church membership is rooted in culture not Scripture. We live in a one person, one vote culture. It’s a vested right that is native to our identity as Americans. It’s who we are. We carry the sense of voting entitlement into the Church. However, the Church is not a one person one vote entity. It’s a “submit to the ruling Elders” paradigm (Hebrews 13:17). The result is a somewhat unique, American mindset. It’s submissive on one hand and defiant on the other. It’s submissive the idea of Elders leading but defiant to the idea doing so without a vote.
- Local church membership is anchored to tradition. The seven deadly words to any organization are: because that’s how we’ve always done it. Doing the same thing the same way, endlessly, eventually becomes a key factor in the decline in the life of an organization. Tradition is not a principle. Traditions must be altered, modified, changed and even ended for long term survival. Principles are sacred and should be protected at all costs. Membership is a tradition not a principle.
- Local church membership can limit the authority of the Elders. It can hold the majority of the congregation, including the Elders, hostage to the whims of a few members. The following scenario can and does play out in churches that are heavily dependent on membership votes. Imagine an emotionally charged issue crops up in the church. The Elders come down on one side of the issue and the old guard members on the other side. A showdown vote is scheduled. Let’s say 300 people attend the Church and 65% (195) are members. Let’s say the constitution says it only takes 20% (39) of members qualify as quorum. Let’s say the vote can be decided by a simple majority of quorum (20). Theoretically, it would only take 20 members to decide the outcome for every 300 people, and that would occur regardless of the authority of the Elders. The tail ends up wagging the dog. If this seems extreme your experience with church issues is limited. Sadly, this scenario is the all too common end result.
- By Laws that include membership risk painting themselves in the corner on contentious issues. They’ll find they’ve created a group of people called members, who have a tight grip on the outcome of issues. This is the American way of doing things. It is not the Biblical way to doing things.
- Local church membership can be cumbersome. Trying to create a set of By Laws that captures a healthy end point to all the possible membership variables can be burdensome. “What do to if...” outcomes are mind-boggling.
- Local Church membership can limit the growth of the church. This occurs when the majority of membership prefers clean and neat over messy and somewhat chaotic. It’s in play when the membership seeks to maintain comfort and convenience over going and obeying. It exists when practice undermines principle. It is common when the membership votes to preserve tradition and ritual over relevant and new. Membership can hinder growth by preventing the implementation of new paradigms designed to keep the Church attractive to a new generation.
- Local Church membership can diffuse the focus of the church. It can prevent the Elders from implementing a plan that sacrifices the good for the great. This is a hard call but one that leaders in the church must be willing to make. Offering too many good programs and fun options waters down involvement in a few focused ministries that are highly aligned with the purpose of the church. Leaving this decision to the membership guarantees these hard choices will never be carried out in a timely or effective manner.
- Local Church membership can delay the time needed for change. Most churches that change by a vote of membership do so too late. The fate of a plane in a nose dive does is not decided when it hits the ground but when it falls below the altitude necessary to pull up and recover. Membership rarely calculates this correctly.
- Local Church membership is not necessary for discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1-8). Many churches equate membership and eligibility for discipline. The problem with this is the Bible does not differentiate between unrepentant believers in the local church who have attended a membership class and signed a covenant statement and those who have not.
- Local church membership becomes entwined with attending, serving and giving. All too often a formal membership covenant includes agreements about attendance, participation on ministry teams and financial pledges. All of these should be left as voluntary and not made compulsory.