Whatever happened to church membership?

Published 8:51 am Monday, January 17, 2022

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I saw her at a funeral recently and remembered her telephone call. She was a member of our church, though I’d not met her since I was the new pastor. She called to tell me she’d joined another church.

“This church won’t send acknowledgment, so I wanted you to know for your records,” she said.

This incident was about seven years ago, and it’s the first time I began to see the waning of the traditional practice of churches acknowledging transfers of membership. In the Baptist church, we call this one’s “church letter,” which we borrowed from Paul’s word that he didn’t need “letters of recommendation” from the Corinthian church since their changed lives were the validity of his missionary work (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). In our denomination, we used to joke letters of transfer are important and only granted when joining another church or going to heaven!

The church our former member joined wasn’t a Baptist church, but even many churches in our denomination aren’t managing membership records as people come and go. I’m not sure why other than there’s no official to make us do it, and it’s one more thing for busy congregations to do.

I’ve battled some church members over the years who’ve insisted we remove people from membership who don’t attend.

“All they’re doing is hurting our records,” they said.

I’ve gingerly reminded critics that people are our “record.” At one time, we accepted a spiritual responsibility to care for these folk. If we cavalierly remove people, who will care for them? Who will pray for them? Who will seek to serve them in the name of Christ? We must love people more than they sometimes love us.

We know that trusting Christ for salvation is primary, but it’s biblical to seek out like-minded believers as a new spiritual family once we come to Christ.

Churches have members whose names are on their rolls but who attend other churches, have joined other churches or don’t attend any church. Thus, the matter of church membership has taken a hit, and we struggle to maintain meaningful church memberships.

I think we’re the poorer for this. Accountability is lessened.

Being a Christian and being an active member of a local church go hand-in-glove. The church continues to point us to a world in need and says, “Brothers and sisters, let’s go.”

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is Siluriabaptist.com.