Church Membership Is Not a One-Way Street

Meaningful Membership

What is church membership? It’s the commitment Christians make to keep one another accountable for regularly gathering and centering their lives together on the gospel. That commitment and accountability takes on different forms in different times and places. Maybe there are membership classes and written church covenants. Maybe not. The point is, they’re striving to take that commitment and accountability seriously—to make it meaningful.

Apart from faithfully preaching the gospel, there’s nothing more important for a church to do than practice meaningful membership.

I don’t mean to pit good things against each other, but I believe what I’m about to say reflects biblical priorities.

What Should We Do about Members Who Won't Attend?

Alex Duke

Alex Duke highlights the benefits of church membership—discipleship, accountability, and fellowship—and offers advice on how Christians can encourage faithful church membership in their congregations. Part of the Church Questions series.

Meaningful membership is more important than sending missionaries to unreached peoples. Meaningful membership is more important than hosting evangelistic events in your neighborhood. It’s more important than pursuing justice, hosting a successful counseling ministry, baptizing hundreds, doing fantastic and fruitful evangelism on a college campus, pursuing excellence in the arts, starting a seminary, or anything else you can think of.

I wonder what your eyebrows did as you read that paragraph. Well, give me a second to defend myself. The paragraph above lists a lot of wonderful and essential things churches do. But meaningful membership gets at what a church is, and we must be a church before we can do what the church is supposed to do.

Failing to practice meaningful membership strikes at the heart of everything a church does. A flimsy practice of church membership and discipline will weaken everything a church does, whereas a meaningful practice of membership and discipline will fortify everything a church does. Consider how meaningful membership strengthens the church by comparing the following questions:

A good question: How many people have you baptized this year?
A better question: Are those baptized people being discipled into membership? Do you know even where they are?

A good question: Are you teaching your people to pursue justice?
A better question: Are you disciplining members who live lives of outward, serious, and unrepentant injustice?

A good question: How much money do you give to evangelize unreached people across the world?
A better question: Do your shepherds know the sheep on your own membership roll?

Apart from faithfully preaching the gospel, there’s nothing more important for a church to do than practice meaningful membership.

Simply put, without membership a church can’t be healthy. It might be a true church, insofar as it preaches the gospel and the same Christians regularly gather and recognize one another. But its preaching—and everything else—will be weakened.

Of course, no church is perfect. Having a membership class and practicing discipline doesn’t make a church healthy in and of itself. And practicing meaningful membership doesn’t cancel out the need to evangelize, pursue justice, send missionaries, and all the rest.

The Lord uses crooked sticks to make straight lines, amen? He uses weak things to shame the strong, amen? Every church is more-or-less crooked; every church is more-or-less weak. But a faithful practice of membership and discipline is one the best ways to know if a church is healthy.

Think of your church as a lightbulb hooked up to a dimmer switch in a dark room. Everything we do makes our witness brighter or darker. Practicing meaningful membership is one of the surest ways to turn that dimmer switch up; ignoring it is one of the surest ways to turn it down. Meaningful membership is more important than you think.

This article is adapted from What Should We Do about Church Members Who Won’t Attend? by Alex Duke.

Related Articles

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at