8 Myths About Church Membership

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Prevent unrealistic expectations from affecting your success with these tips.

How do myths affect the local church? Present expectations confine us, and myths will keep any church in a rut. We need to be aware of the myths churches face today:

Myth One: The church is a volunteer organization.

The average church member has been led to believe that activity within a local church is strictly voluntary, meaning members can come, give, share, and participate as they please. Church rolls have too long carried the weight of inactive and spiritually immature people who wrongly believe they may do as little as possible and still remain part of the local church. To counter this myth, consider the attitude of Paul, who often likened himself to a soldier, a servant, and a prisoner. He took his role in ministry seriously, and so should every believer.

Myth Two: We should use guilt to enlist people.

How many people have been recruited to serve by means of guilt-ridden phrases such as “If you love Jesus, you will serve in our preschool?” Any person who serves the Lord out of a sense of guilt loses the joy of ministry. We need to connect members to ministry through church by utilizing their spiritual gifts, personality, and passion.

Myth Three: Membership cannot have expectations placed on it.

Expectations of involvement are regularly placed on church members through civic organizations, sports, etc. The work of the local church carries much more weight than worldly pursuits such as these! The lack of impact in our world is evident because there are little or no expectations placed on church members. Like the believers in the New Testament, we must be committed to ministry through the local church.

Myth Four: Discipleship and evangelism are two separate things.

The work of evangelism—sharing one’s transformation in Christ with others—is the joyful task of every believer, not just the “gifted.” Transformation discipleship gives dual focus within believers. Simultaneously, believers mature in their Christian walk while sharing Christ with the world. A disciple of Christ can’t grow without also being a vibrant and verbal witness for Him.

Myth Five: It is impossible to get people to serve today.

Often, this myth results from a lack of clear vision in leadership. The truth is that members will give their efforts to exciting ministries with effective leaders. They’ll commit to work that makes a difference in others and in them.

Myth Six: Programs outweigh purpose.

The calendar of a typical church reflects attitude toward ministry. If a program rolls into next year’s planning without proper evaluation, people become loyal to a program at the expense of the purpose of the church. As a result, churches sacrifice the best ministries to do good ministries. Churches need to ask questions about the programs with which they are building ministry. They need evaluation against the Great Commission purpose of the church.

Myth Seven: The “80-20 Rule”

A common saying in churches is, “Eighty percent of the money and effort are given by 20 percent of the people.” The church has long accepted actions and attitudes that allow the minority to give sacrificially in doing the work of ministry to support the majority. But this kind of behavior was not part of the first church, as seen in Acts 2:41-45. The early church was filled with involved, generous, servant-hearted, unified people. We must be proactive in addressing this issue.

Myth Eight: Belonging to a local church is irrelevant.

Churches must remind their members of the relevance of membership in the local body of believers through addressing low expectations and reasons people are not actively involved. Every believer should participate in a local fellowship because Jesus died for the church. Should we not be willing to give ourselves to that for which Jesus sacrificed?

When we allow myths such as these to become reality in our congregations, we limit our impact for Christ. Myths rob our churches and members of being all that Christ intends them to be.   

John S. Powers is a pastor at First Baptist Church, Norfolk, VA, and author of The BodyLife Journey: Guiding Believers into Ministry.

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  • Eagle36

    Reply to Susdgs – I have seen you make several comments similar to the one you left here but I see that this one was made 7 months ago so I am not sure you will see my reply.  And maybe things have changed for you but I will reply anyway.

    If the churches you went to did indeed require you to become a member before you could accept Christ as your Savior they did indeed have it backwards.  All of the churches I have been associated with required that you accept Christ before becoming a member which is proper for many reasons.  No one should be seeking to become a member of a church if they have not first asked Jesus into their lives because that is the key to being a member in a church.  Why would you want to give your money and your time to the church if you did not first have a relationship with Jesus?

    Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior and given your life to Him?  If you haven’t then becoming a member of a church makes no sense for the church or you.  Unless you have given your life to Christ you will not have a “spiritual gift” or want to give your money or time to serve Him – you will see it as “slave labor”.

    Membership in a church should never be equated with salvation but I am afraid that many people think that becoming a member of a church means that their name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life in heaven.  They believe salvation comes through the church and not through Jesus.  There are many members of churches that may end up missing heaven because they put their trust in the church instead of in Christ.  The “requirements” of membership in a church are just natural things that we should be doing as Christians. 

    I believe that churches may be helping lead people down the wrong path by making it too easy to become members and then not holding people accountable to the “covenant” that they made in front of God, the pastor and the rest of the church.  If people sign a membership covenant stating that they will be active in attendance and ministry in the church and will tithe their income to the church, then they should do it or not be considered a member.  Too many people choose to become members for purely social reasons and when they are not held accountable, other members see that membership doesn’t really make a difference so they fail to keep their covenant also.  Those who claim to be members of a church but are not Christians damage the institution of the church because people outside of the church see the “members” acting no differently than anyone else, and maybe worse, so they see no reason to become a Christian if it makes no difference in your life.

    I pray that you are continuing to seek God and have accepted Jesus as your Savior.  That is the most important decision you will every make in your life.  After that, find the church that God leads you to and follow His plan for your life.

  • Rich

    Some of the article borders on the “guilting” that is spoken against in Myth 2

    • Stevosrs

      What is the difference between guilt and conviction? I think we may conveniently  confuse the two.

      • Ryan

        Conviction is a desire given by the Holy Spirit to get involved in some area where guilt is getting involved because you feel bad if you don’t.

  • MyoungSr

    I think this is a “re cycled” article (based on the dates of the responses).  Still a good topic to discuss – so, like Eagle36 I would like to comment – wondering if anyone else will see it?

    I mourn Sudgs experience.  It only needs to happen one time, and every similar situation can become an experience ‘colored’ by that FIRST ONE!  So, even if subsequent church visits are not as bad as the first one, the first one was “the teacher”.  (Much like how children grow up to become adults – life and first experiences are grand teachers, for good or for bad).  Only a personal experience with Christ and the total belief and acceptance of His work of salvation does one have any hope of correcting a false understand, teaching or experience.  It’s call NEW LIFE or A TRANSFORMED LIFE in Christ.

    I agee with with Eagle36 comments, too.  Well put.

    Now, my thoughts:  The fellow who get credit for writing this article, Senior Pastor John S. Powers, is from where (I mean besides Norfolk, Va)?

    I have read, pondered, studied and concluded that the ‘modern church’ or more accurately, the “POST moder church” is probably exactly as Senior Pastor John S. Powers of First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va., describes it.

    But it does NOT resemble the one Christ built upon that ROCK!  THE New Testament Church.

    Church:  ekklesia = ek, out from; kaleo, a loud voice or call.  Or, “called out one”.

    AV-church 115, assembly 3; 118
    1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly 1a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating 1b) the assembly of the Israelites 1c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously 1d) in a Christian sense 1d1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting 1d2) a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order’s sake 1d3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body 1d4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth 1d5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven

    CALLED OUT of the world? But not called IN-to a post modern facsimile of a religious business model!!

    Jesus said:

    Mt 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
    Mt 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
    Mr 8:34 And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
    Mr 10:21 And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
    Lu 9:23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
    Lu 18:22 And when Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
    Joh 21:22 Jesus *said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”

    Mt 8:22 but Jesus *said to him, “follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”
    Lu 9:60 but he said to him, “allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of god.”

    17  when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some were doubtful.18  and Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.19  “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit,20  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

    GO, DO!
    OK?

    I guess the POST MODERN Senior Pastor has different ideas, methods and models.  All good.  All well intentioned.  But, still POST MODERN.

    Now, I wonder where Sudgs got his ideas that he can’t shake?

    (And I hope Sr. Pastor John S. Powers of First Baptist Norfolk, VA., can forgive my umbridge – I had an experience too)

  • Murphy-i001

    Mr. Powers, I have been actively involved in a church(how I define “church” is a body of believers in Christ, not just a building) in Dallas TX and I have been on the fence on declaring my membership there.  The leaders have seen my genuine, and sinsere Faith in Christ and have graciously allowed me to participate in their times of worship by either leading  communion and offertory meditations or the children in their time of worship.  As far as I see it through the scriptures, I am already a member of the Body of Christ, therefore, why is there just a push or emphasis on declaring a physical membership to a select body of believers, the church?   This by no means is a challenge to your article just a person who knows he needs more wisdom on the things of God and would like an answer either by Mr. Powers or anyone else.

    • JoynJesus

      I agree with what you are saying, but I am going to say this in a stronger way.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ our Lord, then you ARE a member of the Church!  All of this “church membership” stuff is for the dogs.  It is Exclusive, even though it is advertised as being Inclusive.  This is what fuels the fire of competition that so permeates the body of Christ.  That type of church membership is wrong.  It is based on arrogance and greed.  Yes the world has memberships, but aren’t we supposed to be Leaders in Righteousness.  Leaders.  Not followers.  The only One you are called to follow is Jesus.  Even Paul said to only follow him as he followed Christ.  Enough of this following this pastor or that.  Follow Jesus and only seek His approval.  Right now I am involved in 3 different congregations and also minister to people in my house.  It’s a shame that I can’t let that be known to some of them because it would cause no small stir.  The only time I ever give up and become a member is if the pastor says there is no other way to be involved, and I strongly believe that I am supposed to serve there for a time.

      • Mar Komus

        Well said! Glad you’re involved with being the church (which transcends 501 (c)(3) npc’s). But don’t give into anymore pastors who demand your allegiance to serve! That’s very unbiblical and selfish of them! :)

  • Ryan

    Part of the membership thing has to do with being able to have the tax-free status thing and also if the church needs to get a bank loan for building programs. They need to show to the banks they have the membership and financial backing to pay for the project. This makes having and pushing membership necessary. Call it a curse of our time.

    The bible doesn’t teach, push or command membership in the way we have it but it also doesn’t teach against it. It’s just what a pastor and church leadership have to do to have a church. I wish our churches were more up front with the reality of this. It unfortunatly would make church seem they just want people for thier money. Church is a business being registered as one to the government.

    While churches hid all the cursed messy worldly financial and business crap behind closed doors with the leadership in meetings during the week, the above is basically what they present to the regular people and prospective members, people who are visiting and considering making that church, thier church. Maybe it’s a good thing to shield the regular people from other realities of the local church so they can come and take a break from their own financial crap in the real world.

    But yes, we as Christians are all part of the body of Christ no matter where we go, if we go and whether a member or not.

    • Mar Komus

      VERY well put! Our God doesn’t need our buildings, “preachers”, or nonprofit statuses. He needs people of faith. Our fathers in the faith met in homes, rented out lecture halls–who knows but that maybe they even met for fellowship at the local “Starbucks” of the time? There are MANY who are joining such fellowships and ditching the nonprofit organization system. This isn’t to condemn many of the GOOD actions being done BY those organizations, but to call them to something even higher they think they can’t accomplish without said organizational structure.

      Thanks for posting.

      Even though this was a year ago. :) ha!

  • Wraxdy

    Today we are living in a dying world where people around us are confused by the man-centered “gospel messages” but in truth there’s no truth in it. I’m talking about the massive increasing number of cults (False Prophet) in our time.we need to boldly show our strong conviction towards the living and infallible Word of God. 

  • Mar Komus

    It is possible that the classes are to make sure you understand what you’re getting into. On the other hand, commitment forms are extra biblical material no one should ever feel obligated to fill out and sign. Unfortunately immersion has lost its impact in the forays by the enemy on sound, biblical teaching.

    I do hope you’ll find a good grass roots set of believers to meet and serve with. Denominations and churches organized as nonprofit groups get to be extremely slippery.