One of the things that Church Councils (Sessions) need to do from time to time is look at their membership. It often occurs when there is a “Change of the guard” or when a new telephone directory needs to be reproduced. When discussing these things, it is surprising how people decide their Church membership. Over the years, I have heard many reasons why some have joined or are moving on to a different fellowship. Let me share a few with you.
One elderly widow informed me once that she left the fellowship and joined the Jehovah Witnesses, for they had a lovely craft group that met on a weekly basis. Obviously her loneliness and isolation as a widow had impacted her decision.
Some parents determine their Church membership on whether their teenage children have friends and feel involved and connected to the fellowship. Some families have determined their church membership purely on whether there are programs tailored towards felt needs.
A determining factor of Church membership for the elderly is sometimes based on a personal preference for more contemporary singing (or less), or even which Bible versions are being used. And then there are still others who determine their Church membership by whether the church is involved in missions or church planting. And sometimes, disciplinary matters determine Church membership.
Many of the reasons given are legitimate concerns. Our young people and not so young do need to feel part of the fellowship and connected. Youth programs, Bible studies, fellowship groups, teaching classes, mission focus, and being winsome to visitors worshipping with us for the first time are all important. All these things can be considered in determining one’s membership to a local fellowship and Church Councils have a responsibility to make sure these concerns are addressed.
However, I am not convinced that these things alone should ever be the ultimate determining factor of Church membership. One of the primary things we should ask when considering Church membership is, “What creates faith in our hearts, including the hearts of our children?” Surely the answer to that fundamental question is the pure preaching of the gospel as Scripture also affirms (Romans 10:10-14 Cf. Belgic Confession Art 29). Again, we shouldn’t be dismissive of all those others things previously mentioned as important, but with respect, it is the faithful preaching of the gospel that is most important thing when considering Church membership.
Thankfully, the pure gospel can be proclaimed in many ways today and not just by faithful preachers. We have some wonderful, God centered, gospel focused hymns, psalms and spiritual songs that can be sung to proclaim the gospel message. We can use modern technology to bring God’s word to the masses, whether it is by audio or video. We can use radio waves and TV to bring the gospel message.
Yet, it is my prayer that when the need arises to consider Church membership, the faithful proclamation of the gospel message may be central in our considerations and may that be complimented with great ‘Word’ programs and winsome Christian fellowship. JZ.