Not long after I started my ministry at our church, we began having regular visitors who soon were asking about becoming members. While I was grateful to God for bringing them to us and thankful for their interest in joining our church, I knew that we needed to have a church membership class so that they could get to know our church better and we could get to know them better. But what should I include in a membership class and how should I structure our time together? I decided to focus on answering six questions that would be helpful for those considering membership with us:
Who Should be a Member of Our Church?
As Baptists, we believe that churches should be made up of regenerate church members. So only those who are believing in Christ for salvation and have followed Him in baptism can become members of our church. However, we live in a day when many will identify as Christians who have never believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation. Maybe their family background is Christian or they want their children to be raised with good morals but they have never come to faith in Christ. Others have been in churches who have not preached the gospel clearly and do not know the gospel clearly themselves. In a church membership class, I cannot assume that those who are coming already know and believe the gospel. So I present the gospel to everyone attending, appealing to them to repent of their sins and believe in Christ as their Savior.
Why Should I be a Member of a Local Church?
The biblical truth of church membership itself has fallen on hard times, with many Christians failing to understand why they should join a church at all. In my discussions with visitors and other believers, I have heard this question raised so many times that I wanted to include a defense of church membership in our class. From the accountability that it brings to the practice of spiritual gifts among one another, I want those attending to recognize the importance of church membership and why we take our membership so seriously. I have also asked them to read Jonathan Leeman’s excellent book Church Membership and given time during class to discuss what they have read to help develop our appreciation for membership. There are many good resources available to assist churches with a biblical defense of church membership, and I have found utilizing them in these discussions to be very helpful and rewarding.
Where Should I be a Member of a Local Church?
Obviously, I want people to become members of our church, but I care most that Christians will find a church where they can best glorify God and grow in Christ’s grace. So I want to lay out the biblical priorities in determining which local church to join, and then I spend some time explaining who we are as a church. Because the relationship between members of a local church is a close one of love and encouragement, I want those who are considering joining us to have a good understanding of who we are before deciding to become members. What is our history? What is our vision? What are our ministries? Answering questions like these and allowing time to answering their questions about our church are critical for them to get to know us. I also want them to have read through our church’s constitution so that they understand how we operate as a church.
What Does Our Church Believe?
Because of heresy and theological error, and in light of different denominations in our community and our own doctrinal distinctives, I want everyone who is interested in learning more about our church to know what we believe. This is why I love being a confessional church, because I can hand them a copy of the 1689 Second London Confession of Faith and we can discuss what they will hear preached and taught as well as the beliefs that we corporately confess God’s Word reveals. I am deeply saddened when I look at most church websites today and see nothing about a statement of faith, or their beliefs are so basic that cults could affirm them! I am not interested in leading a church which is trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I would rather share with them what we believe the Bible teaches so that they will know what they will hear when they are members with us.
What Does It Mean to be a Member of Our Church?
I also want to make sure that we are up front in showing people our expectations of members. I am thankful that our church has a biblical and faithful church covenant with the commitments that all church members make when they join and practice as long as they are members with us. Therefore, I work through our covenant statement-by-statement, explaining what this looks like practically among us. I would rather Christians decide not to join because of our commitment to the Lord’s Day and corporate worship or because of our desire to give of our time and money than later filling our rolls with people who disagree with us and refuse to live in light of way that we believe Scripture says we should live.
How Do I Apply for Membership?
Finally, I want those in our membership class to have a clear understanding of our membership process as well as what the next steps are if they decide to apply for membership with us. Since we ask member candidates to write out their testimony, I also provide them with a basic template to help them think through their testimony. I also invite them to schedule a time to meet with the elders for further discussion if they are interested.
I am sure that I will further develop and refine our membership class as the years continue, but I hope that these questions will be helpful to others who are thinking through how to start and structure a membership class. Above all, I pray that Christ will be at the center of our church life together, with unity among our members while we serve our Savior and one another.