What’s the Deal with Church Membership?

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Ephesians 2:18–19

Should you become a member of a local church? To be as clear as possible: yes.

Jesus lived and died for the church (Eph. 5:25). In Christ, you are a member of the invisible church. In Christ, you are called to become a member of a local church.

The following is direct and indirect evidence from the New Testament on why I believe you should become a member of a local church. After laying this out, I’ll share how we handle church membership at Mars Hill Church.

Direct Evidence from the Early Church

Unless you have an agenda to disprove otherwise, observing that the early church had some level of membership is not hard to do. The following are seven evidences that the early church had a notion of membership.

  1. They kept numerical records (Acts 2:37–47).
  2. They kept records of widows (1 Tim. 5:3–16).
  3. They held elections to appoint deacons (Acts 6:1–6).
  4. They exercised church discipline (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1).
  5. Their leaders were responsible for giving an account of their leadership and the church was asked to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17).
  6. They had an awareness of who was a church member (Rom. 16:1–16).
  7. Most of the epistles were written “to the church” in given places (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 2:1; Gal. 1:2; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1 2 Thess. 1:1; Rev. 1:4).

To be capable of fulfilling any of these functions, the church had to be organized with some sort of membership.

Not only do we observe these direct evidences, but we can also glean indirect evidence from the letters of the New Testament.

Indirect Evidence from the New Testament

Salvation is an individual experience that leads to involvement with a new community, the church. The church in the New Testament is likened to a human body and a family.

When you are saved, the Holy Spirit integrates you into the Body of Christ. This means that you are now a part of Jesus’ body on earth, which is the church (1 Cor. 12:12–17).

Your work within the church is also compared to working together as a family (1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1–2). In Christ, you are adopted into God’s family. You are now his son or daughter and have a multitude of new brothers and sisters in Christ. In Christ, you are a member of a new family (Rom. 12:4–5; Eph. 2:18–19).

For the New Testament authors to use such metaphors to describe the church indicates that we should know who are the members of the body and family. 

Expectations of Members at Mars Hill Church

We don’t peddle church membership like it’s a casual membership to a YMCA, grocery store, or country club. At Mars Hill Church, we take church membership seriously and want our members to take it seriously as well. There are several things that we expect from our members at Mars Hill Church.

First, and most importantly, to become a member at our church, one must be a Christian who has met the requirements of membership established by our elders. Those include being baptized at some point as a demonstration that Jesus died and rose to wash you from sin.

Members must also complete the Doctrine series, which explains the essential beliefs of Christianity and our church, as well as our philosophy of ministry and organizational structure.

Afterwards people are required to sign a written covenant with the elders to serve in the church, pray for the church, give to the church, read their Bible regularly, love their brothers and sisters in Christ, respect the authority of church leaders, submit to church discipline if necessary, attend worship services, and share the gospel with others in word and deed.

These are our expectations of our members. Here is what our members should expect from us.

A Couple of Benefits of Membership at Mars Hill Church

Our members are extended privileges that we do not extend to other people in general. For instance, only members are allowed to oversee certain areas of ministry as primary leaders.

We also provide an online network called The City. Through this network, new people move toward church membership, and church members are given greater access to share goods and prayer requests, ask questions, organize events, and build community online.

Become a Member of a Local Church

If you are a Christian and you are not a member of a local church, then I encourage you to get connected with a church as soon as possible. Don’t take this lightly. Your membership with a church is needed and necessary (1 Cor. 12:4–31).

If you have been participating in the life of Mars Hill Church but have failed to make the commitment to become a member, then I encourage you to take that step. We’ve created a simple five-step process in becoming a member to help you move in that direction. For more information on becoming a member at Mars Hill Church, please see the Membership FAQ.

This post is adapted from Vintage Church by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Crossway Books , a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.