5 Reasons Why People Won't Join a Church (and What to Say to Them)

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What many Christians don’t realize is to remain aloof from a committed fellowship to a local church is to walk in spiritually dangerous territory.

Joe has attended your church for about a year. He says he’s a Christian. But he has not joined. Should you encourage him to join? How?

If you don’t think church membership is biblical, then you should say nothing. If you do, then keep reading.

First off, I do think you should address Joe. It’s easier to say nothing, but it may be self-protection that’s motivating you to keep quiet. It’s not love for Joe.


When I find out someone has not joined, I usually begin by asking if he or she plans on joining. Where I go from there partly depends on how well I know the person.

Don’t Miss

  • Just met: If Joe and I are shaking hands for the first time over bad coffee in a Styrofoam cup in the church foyer, I probably won’t say anything.
  • Fifteen minutes: If Joe and I have been talking for fifteen minutes, and there’s an easy rapport between us, and we’re on a second cup of bad coffee,  I just might, in the most affable manner I can muster, say, “You should think about joining!” And yes, I’ll say it with an exclamation point—a wagging-tail Labrador-like exclamation point.
  • Relationship: If Joe and I have known each other for any length of time, then I will probably push toward a more deliberate conversation.


These more deliberate conversations veer back and forth between the biblical and the practical. Typically, I generally encourage a person to join the church:

1. For the sake of the pastors. It lets the pastors know who you are and makes them responsible for you (see Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17).

2. For the sake of obedience to Jesus. Jesus did not give you the keys of the kingdom for binding and loosing. He gave the keys to the apostolic local church (Matt. 16:13-20; 18:15-20). You don’t have the authority to baptize yourself or feed yourself the Lord’s Supper. It requires a church to affirm your profession of faith, which is what membership is at its very heart (see Acts 2:38).

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Jonathan is the director of communications for 9Marks. He first joined Capitol Hill Baptist Church in 1996. After a stint in journalism, he felt called to ministry in 2001. Since then he has completed one seminary degree, is working on another, and has served as interim pastor in two churches. Jonathan is absolutely amazed that God has saved him, in spite of all the reasons he has given him not to. He’s also amazed that he has a wonderful wife, Shannon, and two young daughters, Emma and Hannah.

More from Jonathan Leeman or visit Jonathan at http://www.9marks.org/blog/by-author/jonathan-leeman

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  • Cathcart Boy

     – Lesson 1 in persuading persons to join (if persuasion is the objective) – ditch the bad coffee in Styrofoam cups. Pursue excellence.
     – Lesson 2 is offer access to smaller group activities and specific ministries – that creates a sense of belonging and from that sense comes initiative to join.
     – Lesson 3 is to build into New Believers class teaching (and if there is no forum for New Believers, create it) aspects of the life and ministry of the church, not only fundamentals of doctrine. 
     – Lesson 4 is to have a regular “Meet the Leadership” (yes, Senior Pastor, I’m talking to you, not your PA or any one of your assitant pastors, Heads of Ministry or anyone else) where persons recently saved or new to the area can meet those who will lead the instituition to which they are being invited to commit.

    • StephenWA

      Lessson 1. I agree bad coffee is like starting off on the wrong foot.

  • Dwillbower

    My own position as a church membership is “It’s not in the Bible.” The references of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians hardly are about the same presuppositions about Church membership that today’s Church holds. Looking at the followers of Jesus and Paul’s ministries would offer important glimpses about being in the Church. In addition, 1 John 1:3 captures wonderfully the difference between the contemporary Church membership and being part of the Church: “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

    I haven’t asked anybody to “join” a Church in years. Yet, I have seen uncounted believers make significant contributions to the Church through their involvement and participation without ever having taken the institutional steps necessary to join. They suffered only the consequences of not being counted during official business decisions.

    Frankly, I don’t understand or appreciate the obsession with getting people to join the institutional Church. They only need to be believers. The fellowship and benefits of faith come spontaneously with the faith itself. Now understanding its significance and meaning doesn’t but membership in the body of believers is automatic as soon as a person believes.

  • http://twitter.com/sgagne Steve Gagne 

    Wow. You don’t need church membership to be accountable to people, to know people, and to have authority in spiritual matters; and to be baptized for that matter. Church membership is a western-democratic system that is profitable for filling out attendance sheets and for knowing who isn’t tithing (and to manipulate them).

    • http://twitter.com/YPnevetz Steven Milner

      I have to agree with you Steve. The church where I worship does not ask people to join a church. We are about being the living, breathing body of Christ. All we ask of people is to be apart of daily living with each other in the context of community. We have shared meals. I was a member of a church that once threatened to “remove my membership” because I hadn’t tithed officially in a couple of months. It was crazy. 

      • Joevirgie_s

        Really..? how sad.. but not all churches are like that. There are churches they serve you even you don’t give your tithes. There are pastors/leaders who never dare to ask you if you give your tithes this week before they give godly counsel and pray over you. They don’t even look church remittance sheets when was the last time you gave your tithes. 

    • RevBrian

      I disagree with both Steves. I deeply value church membership, but we have no idea who tithes and who doesn’t. I do believe one reason people don’t commit to a church is so they won’t need to commit their finances to that local church, which then weakens the local church. Refusing church membership does seem to keep people form being accountable to others, and no one wins that way.

  • kb

    Good article.   Nothing wrong with a pastor being able to know who is in the congregation, and for the congregation being bound to each other.     That’s what membership does.    Also, in a congregational-led church, only members ought to be able to participate in voting and hold positions of leadership.    If you are refusing to identify and bind yourself in a membership covenant with your local body of believers despite being fed by that church for years, I’d consider that a possible indicator of some issues. 

  • Elly

    I really don’t think it matters if they’re a member. As long as they are involved, and walking with the Lord, that’s all that matters. Personally, I don’t join churches because they make me take a class and I just don’t have time for that.

    • Simon

      Then where is the commitment to the church if you can’t give a few hours to learn about what membership means for that church? Membership is about vocalizing being committed to the local church. It is telling the church leadership that you support them and their vision for the forward movement of the church. It is about taking ownership of the church. 

      If you were joining a local rotary club, chamber of commerce, Toastmaster club or any other organization, it would be required of you to become a member. And yes, you would have to commit the time to be orientated about the organization.

      • Millicent

        Just as Christ took out the time to teach us before he gave his life on the cross, one should take out the time to learn of him and his Fathers love for us. Ever took the time to wonder why He even created us and for what purpose?

    • T Burden2010

      It’s interesting my brother in Christ that you say that you don’t have time for class study of God’s word or ‘just that much time’ in your comment. Wonder my brother if you are a college graduate or attended school?? To know the one who died for you is to have a desire to learn about him by having a willing spirit to be taught. My prayer for you is that God will give you that willing spirit to learn of him. What a marvelous and wonderful journey to walk with the Savior of your life. Love in Christ my brother.

  • 4 Growth pains

    Come from The Cold…have You asked?

    His passion Of fervour Of Word Succoured, thank Him, and encourage By answer Of His reply… You may need their steelness missions Of fAith?

    Is it time You have left church too…I hear they build Men for The Community Of The King

    • Serious Observer


  • Guest

    2nd Corinthians 6…do not fellowship with sinners…and sin is transgression of the law..therefore failure to follow the ten commandments as instructed by Jesus, would constitute sin..the sunday churches therefore are pursuing a course of sin every week by not observing the seventh day sabbath as per the fourth commandment…so why would anyone who desires to be a true Christian and follower of Jesus go to these establishments?   Answer they should not, as the same false preaching and counterfeit christianity is preached week after week, which leads the followers on the path to destruction..time for all the sunday churches to start doing a reality check on their teachings, and get back to the New Covenant, which Jesus gave His life to accomplish and seal…

    • Rcook252underground

      Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man. You are speaking as a pharisee.

      • Josh

        And you are speaking like someone who does not know what they are talking about..God gave humankind the Sabbath day as a gift on the seventh day of creation week..he blessed and made Holy this day so we could spend this day each week in worship of Him, and resting, and as a memorial to His great works of Creation..if you chose not to take advantage of it that is your choice..but word of caution..if God gives you a Holy gift, it is probably wise to accept it without blaming others because you do not like the truth!

        • Ryan

          I specically recall the 4th commandment speaking only of rest. Nothing about worship. If someone wishes to stay home and rest on Saturday or Sunday depending on which one believes is actually the sabbath, there is nothing wrong with that.

          • Lighthouse

            This kind of banter on a Christian post?  Really?  Truth be told, this is one the top reasons people don’t join a church.

          • Elvis

            Yes because of the false, counterfeit teachings in sunday churches!

          • Josh

            Then you better do a good reading of your Bible…it is a day to cease from worldly work and endeavours and devote to God, together with family and friends..put all the world out of your mind and being and concentrate on the Creator.   Jesus taught and attended the synogogue on the Sabbath, the Apostles taught the word of God, and rested on the Sabbath…and even our Creator God who created the universe and us rested on the seventh day, and blessed and made it Holy for usto observe..that should be enough reason to follow it!

    • outofthebox

      I don’t remember there being a calendar in the Garden of Eden. And, the history of different calendar systems do not agree. Who knows which day is which? Certainly not us. Kind of silly to pursue such thinking.

      • Josh

        God gave us the seven day week, at Creation, which is still in use today..the seventh day is the seventh day..the last day of Creation week..God rested and blessed and made Holy this day as a gift to His creation, Mankind…if you don’t like it tough turkey…take it up with the Creator and see how far you get~!

  • Ottofam84

    Why does it seem that more people are less likely to become members in churches comes along at about the same time when people are more likely to live together than get married?   When things get tough we leave a relationship and a church. 

    On top of that, now the law says if a person is not a member of your church and you properly discipline them by the standards of the Bible they can sue you.  I know of several cases like this.  One was a Christian radio station host having an affair.  After trying to work with him for an extended time, he would not repent. He was disciplined, he sued the church and radio station, and he won! I know of one church that was about to discipline a person and was told by the denominational leadership they could do nothing because the person was not a member.  So without membership you can not be held to biblical standards when their is clear continual unrepented sin.

    In most cases I find people do not want to become members because they want they benefits of being in a church without the responsibilities.  They want to be “fed” and “nourished” without “exercising” their faith.  Now we have spiritually obese Christians.

  • Ryan

    This article was a good reminder as to one of many reasons why I just don’t go to church any more. It’s so nice I don’t have to hastle with all this… this… ‘stuff’ (to put it nicely). 

  • Gbnt73

    Being in the military, I float from church to church every 2-3 years.  My pattern is to search and search for months (unless I have a reference from a trusted agent in the losing church concerning a great church at my new location), and eventually settle for a less-than-ideal congregation, then fade away for lack of connection and inspiration. I normally hence eschewed regular curch attendance for a home-based Bible study as it is usually warm, welcoming (good coffee) and meaningful.  Only three times in 12+ reassignments have I found a satisfactory church body.  There are an amazing number of shallow-water churches filled with superficiallities or regional eccentrcities that complicate what is real from what is the local cultural norms.  In all cases, I find the right church about 4-6 months from moving on again, and my time in the area tends to be filled with deployments and inter-deployment vacation time to see family and training for the next deployment.  That is why I am 38 and never formally “joined” a church body.  I have been an active participant and provided thoughtful input where appropriate in order to stake my claim in the growth and management of whatever body I’m in — “church” or in-home Bible study.

  • BodyOfChrist

    I thought the church is the body of Jesus Christ, How could you be part of Christ and not won’t to be part of the body?

  • Jryule

    Father forgive me for sticking my finger down my throat and vomiting my communion. Of course, it probably wasn’t valid since I prayed over it without my pastors blessing or a church logo cup purchased at the gift shop. This is why the connotation of christian has digressed from an association with christ to a an association to pharasitic jackasses.

  • MyoungSr

    A lot of good points on both sides of this matter.But, just as sure as circumcision was a bad idea in order to become ‘qualified’ as a true Christian, isn’t the same so with membreship in a church?
    1Co 7:19 circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of god.
    Likewise, official membership may be useful for many things when running a 501 C 3 organization or institution such as a church, but is it a good or biblical method for reaching the lost and making disciples?
    NO is the right answer here.

  • women4integrity

    What a gross misrepresentation of the Father’s heart this article is.  The church is not a building….it is a person.  WE…the believer…ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST.  Do I disagree with Hebrews 10:25…of course not.  However, I strongly disagree with this author that he had any legitimate right to encourage anyone from receiving & taking of communion simply because he would not “commit” to his church’s membership.  Is it any wonder why there are so many spiritual vagabonds looking for something more…and why the world wants nothing to do with “organized religion”.  We have grossly misrepresented Him for the sake of what??!!  Congregation numbers?  Money to run the “business”?  My heart hurts to even read such stuff on a Christian website…for Pastors!  May the true gospel…the gospel of Grace overtake us as a nation and may we begin to seek His mind on the matter before we step out on our own and injure His Beloved Bride even more.

  • Rcook252underground

    I disagree with the idea that a person needs to be a member to have his faith affirmed you want people to join so you can take your numbers to the bank for money. Yes I’m a pastor and shame on you.

  • Josh

    If the different denominations started teaching the true word of God from the Bible, instead of teaching their own version of events, and a counterfeit of the word of God, then it would not matter to which congregation one belongs, as they would all be unified in the word of Goid..but now the vast majority are teaching false teachings, such as the Holy seventh day Sabbath is somehow abolished, and it is okay to keep the day pagan Rome set aside seventeen hundred years ago…what they fail to see if this was originally in honour of the sun gods and carried over into the Roman congregations and all the protestant daughters of the Roman church..and people blindly follow the false teachings of Rome..it is no wonder all the confusion exits in mainstreem wannabe chrisitianity..it has become a self serving money making racket to a great extent, with nothing to do with the worship of God, or helping people.  So all you whining sunday wannabe christians quit your whining about declining attedance..it will get worse until you all wake up and actually study the words of Jesus in the Gospels for yourself, then you can truly become part of the New Covenant..until then you worship in vain, and are eligible to hear the words of Jesus which say “depart from me I never knew you, you who practise lawlessness”!

  • Ahwe429

    It is interesting that so many are opposed to church membership.  Is there history of churches losing focus and abusing “members”?  Guess so.  However, I think that there are very real and important reasons for church membership.  Several have brought up the issue of money, tithing and such.  Where would your tithe go if you were not part of a local body?  Where do you find your part of the Body without a local body?  I find myself surprised with the anti-church attitude on a church leaders website.  I guess that if you are that opposed to it, don’t join.  You would probably be a thorn in some Pastor’s side if you did.

  • Mar Komus

    Local “churches” track attendance and offerings for the sake of their accountability to local government, as many of them are organized as non-profit corporations. The way the early Christians were doing things, based on reading Acts and other scripture, is that there were churches called by the city name, but then there were also churches that met in certain people’s homes. Not as cut and dried. None of these churches were non-profit organizations, nor were they buildings.

  • Roger

    If Joe doesn’t want to join a local church in the conventional sense, there is nothing biblically binding to make him do so. The entire structure of church today is a relatively modern invention. Therefore, it is unfair for a pastor (or anyone else) to reference scripture to strong-arm somebody into the mold of a 501c3 church structure when the verses that are being referenced speak of church in a very spiritual form and pertain to the universal, invisible church. The way most pastors, elders, and churches function today does not even remotely resemble the way they existed back in the early Church. in fact, they’re not even close. The only thing that is truly binding is Joe’s relationship with Jesus and his involvement with the invisible, universal church in whatever venue that presents itself. The rest of it is just a fickle man-made system that may be helpful for some, but is in no way a requirement for all Christians to participate in. After all, Protestants have been making and remaking, shaping, and reshaping tens of thousands denominations worldwide to suit whatever is their whim of the day. There is nothing biblically binding upon anybody to submit to man’s transient musings about what church attendance should look like, because it is in a constant state of flux.


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