When we talk about church membership, several ideas pop into our heads. We feel that membership entitles us to a church that matches our personal preferences and meets all of our needs on demand. In our culture, membership is about privilege. But the idea of church membership is really about something else.
Consider this letter we received from the Lett family, who recently became a part of Grace Hills by attending our Newcomers Lunch and signing our Membership Covenant…
Lacey, Adele, Owen and I have been enjoying attending Grace Hills since this past June. We are so appreciative of how welcoming the people of Grace Hills have been. We love how the gospel of grace is communicated and lived out among the church. It is clear that you all love Jesus, love one another, and love the lost and broken people around us.
Lacey and I are ready and excited to become members of Grace Hills. In addition to filling out a membership covenant, we wanted to include this letter to communicate how much we have enjoyed the first few months attending Grace Hills and how excited we are about continuing on as members. We firmly believe God has led us here and look forward to seeing how He will use us as a part of the Grace Hills church body in the future.
In becoming members, we are committing to those leading Grace Hills as well as to the other members. We do not take our commitment to you lightly. We are all in with you guys! Please never hesitate to speak truth into our lives regardless of how difficult it may be. And, don’t hesitate to ask us to serve in specific ways. We want to serve the church well and be useful in extending Jesus’ rule and reign to our area, region, and beyond through the local church. We love you all already, and look forward to continuing to get to know each of you more.
Jared, Lacey, Adele, & Owen
Church membership is essentially a covenant made with a body of people who share a common devotion to Jesus as Savior, Leader, and King. It isn’t a contract with an institution. It’s an agreement to be part of a family. So everyone who becomes a member of Grace Hills is becoming a part of a movement of people who are willing to do life together, to disciple, accept, affirm, encourage, and challenge one another.
Membership at Grace Hills is contingent on three big requirements.
- You know and follow Jesus.
- You’ve been baptized by immersion as a believer.
- You’ve signed our membership covenant.
When you join a church, there are certain expectations you should have of the body as a whole. Namely,
- I expect my church family to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice and honor Jesus as the Head.
- I expect my church family to faithfully believe and teach the Scriptures.
- I expect my church family to be equipped by its leaders and to serve each other.
And, when you join a church, you are agreeing to some reasonable expectations. We spell these out in a membership covenant:
Having received Christ as my Lord and Savior and been baptized, and being in agreement with Grace Hills’ statements, strategy and structure, I now feel led by the Holy Spirit to unite with the Grace Hills church family. In doing so, I commit myself to God and to the other members to do the following:
- I will protect the unity of my church by acting in love toward other members, refusing to gossip, and following those who lead me. (Romans 15:5, 19; 1 Peter 1:22, Hebrews 13:17)
- I will share the responsibility of my church by praying for its growth, inviting the unchurched to attend, and warmly welcoming those who visit. (1 Thessalonians 1:2, Luke 14:23, Romans 15:7)
- I will serve the ministry of my church by discovering my gifts and talents and developing a servant’s heart. (1 Peter 4:10, Ephesians 4:11-12, Philippians 2:3-4, 7)
- I will support the testimony of my church by attending faithfully, living according to the teachings of my church, and giving regularly. (Hebrews 10:25, Philippians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 16:2)
Unfortunately, in many churches that claim to have high expectations of church members, there is little or no communication about what membership means. There may be an outdated, difficult-to-understand covenant hanging on a wall, but membership is open to anyone simply willing to walk down an aisle.
And then to another extreme, some churches take such ownership over the lives of members that membership is akin to an agreement to submit to spiritual abuse and control. We make it clear that our pastors aren’t collecting bank account numbers, expecting to name anyone’s kids, or to control or dominate people in any way.
But membership should mean something. It is a real and legitimate commitment.
This is not to say that membership is a prerequisite to receiving the blessing of a church’s ministry. At Grace Hills, non-members can attend worship, take part in functions and special events, volunteer in most areas of ministry, and be part of a small group. But as we seek out leaders, teachers, and equippers, we readily know who can be counted on because a group of faithful, available people have signed up to serve others and have made their commitment clear.
We believe in making all kinds of room and giving all kinds of time to people who are seeking, investigating, and figuring things out. Some people choose to wait a while to join so that they can recover from past pain, think through their decision to follow Christ, and be absolutely sure of the Holy Spirit’s leadership. We respect that! In fact, it thrills us when someone waits to hear from God about the matter of membership rather than joining out of a sense of pressure.
At the end of the day, we want to invite people into the family – to become a real, committed part of the body, and to share in the blessing of growing God’s kingdom together. That’s why, at the end of every Newcomer’s Lunch, after we’ve read through the covenant, we’re always faithful to say, “The moment you sign this covenant, it ceases to be about you. You’ll be joining arms with the rest of us and facing outwardly together to go find more lost people that need Jesus and the love of this church family.”