Every so often, I run into people who want to debate the matter of church membership. It’s typically when I’m speaking in a conference that someone will approach me and want to talk about the different aspects of church membership. Perhaps I attract this debate because I often press the necessity of church membership in articles and through sermons at various conferences throughout the year including the G3 Conference.
Several years ago, I met a young man who was not looking to debate me on the matter. In fact, he was discouraged and needed to talk. He showed up at our church the week prior to the G3 Conference and then at the event he approached me again and wanted to grab coffee one day. Since he was local to Atlanta, after the dust settled on the G3, we met for coffee one afternoon.
In the conversation, he described his journey and talked about how he had served on the mission field for a season and had returned home to the Atlanta area. He described himself as discouraged, battling sin, and even doubtful of his own salvation. When I began to assess his situation, it turned out that he was sitting in coffee shops and watching YouTube while avoiding the regular gathering of the local church. He was not part of any meaningful church membership at the time.
It was at this point that I explained that the reason for his discouragement and rebellion was very much related to the fact that he was avoiding the local church. I went on to explain to him the necessity and value of biblical church membership.
The Necessity of Church Membership
We find the early disciples in an upper room waiting on the Spirit of God as Jesus had promised (Acts 2:1). The number of the early church is given to us in Acts 1:15. They totaled 120 people. After the Holy Spirit came upon them, they went out into the streets and began to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus. It was there that a great multitude of people believed and were baptized. We are likewise given a specific number in Acts 2:41. The number was about 3,000.
As the early church continued to grow and evangelize, we see other places where the Scripture details a specific number of new converts. For instance, after Peter preached in Solomon’s Portico, we are told that 5,000 new men came to faith in Christ. In other words, the church was growing rapidly and with such rapid growth would come friction and a need for organization.
In Acts 6, we see that the disorganization was solved when the church chose and the apostles affirmed seven men who would oversee the practical ministry needs of the church which solved a dispute between the Hellenists and the Hebrews in the local church.
Why do you think we see all of these numbers given to us in Scripture regarding the growth of the early church? The point that’s being made is that as the early Christians understood the distinction between church and the general community. When Christians in the book of Acts went into the marketplace, they could distinguish between a Christian brother or sister and a general neighbor in their community. They understood who was “in” and who wasn’t. This is critically important. Church membership matters. It’s not enough to be part of the Catholic (universal) church. We must be identified with the Christian community who gathers together in a local body of believers.
The Value of Church Membership
When it comes to church membership, not only is it necessary and mandated in Scripture, there are many benefits to being joined together in a family of faith. Consider the words of Wayne Mack:
Church membership is not an incidental or optional matter for the Christian. Rather, it’s an essential and important aspect of the Christian life. According to Scripture, being a part of a local church brings with it tremendous privileges, and serious responsibilities, that can be fulfilled in no other way. 
The Relationship Between the Shepherd and the Sheep
An agrarian culture readily understands examples regarding sheep and shepherds. That’s why you see so many examples of that language used in Scripture (Matt. 7:15, 9:36, 10:6, 16, 12:11-12, and all of John 10 just to name a few). If the shepherd doesn’t know his sheep and the sheep don’t know their shepherd—that’s a recipe for disaster. The same thing is true in regard to the local church.
In Hebrews 13:17, the text clearly speaks of the leaders overseeing the church and how the church should properly submit to authority. If there is no such thing as church membership, exactly who are the people being called to submit themselves to in Hebrews 13? Do we submit to random pastors on YouTube or in our community? From a leadership standpoint, exactly who are the pastors in a community to be overseeing and leading if there is no real formal church membership? One of the great values of church membership is that the people recognize their leadership and the leadership recognizes God’s sheep.
Mutual Accountability and Encouragement
Another great value to church membership is the ongoing mutual accountability and encouragement that takes place between the members of the local church family. In Hebrews 10:24-25, we find these words:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
We are literally called to “stir up” one another to love and good works. This term “παροξυσμός” translated “stir up” has a literal meaning of “provoking” or “stimulating.” It’s the idea of not allowing one another to remain lazy and unprofitable in the Christian journey. The writer to the Hebrews goes on to warn the church about neglecting the gathering of God’s people. The point is clear—we need one another and we are not to remain little islands in the community. We are called to come together in a covenant family of faith where there is mutual love and accountability in the faith.
Love and Discipline
Finally, one of the great benefits of membership in a local church is the genuine love that is demonstrated through accountability resulting in biblical correction. It’s one thing to claim that your church is full of love, but another thing altogether to have a body of believers that demonstrates such love by a willingness to correct those who persist in sinful patterns of life.
Jesus himself provides us the marching orders pertaining to church discipline in Matthew 18. The obvious goal of church discipline is not to excommunicate someone from the family. The goal is to lead a person to a restored relationship with God and a restored relationship within the church family. However, if someone persists in sin and rebellion to the point of resisting all attempts of correction by the church in both private and public meetings—the loving thing to do is to excommunicate the person from the membership of the church.
That may seem harsh and lacking in love, but it’s actually one of the most loving things a church can do. In fact, I’ve written elsewhere that I would never join a local church that refused to practice biblical church discipline. Our sinful souls need to know that we have a church that will confront us and break fellowship with us if we continue to rebel and drag the name of Christ through the sinful mud in the community.
In the end, not only is church membership mandated—it’s one of the greatest gems that God will grant you this side of eternity. Church membership is a necessary privilege of the Christian life. Never underestimate the value and gift of the local church. If you are not a member in a faithful loving biblical church—make that an urgent priority.
- Wayne Mack, To Be or Not To Be a Church Member, (Greenville, SC: Calvary Press, 2004), 70.