REASONS TO JOIN THE CHURCH
These more deliberate conversations veer back and forth between the biblical and the practical. Typically, I generally encourage a person to join the church
# 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).
# 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).
# For the sake of other believers. Joining makes you responsible for one local congregation, and they for you. You now own or have a share in their discipleship to Christ. That is, you are now responsible for their growth and professions of faith, insofar as you are responsible for the church’s faithful gospel preaching (Gal. 1) and that individual’s discipline (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5).
# For one’s own spiritual good and safety. Suppose YOU ever become that lamb who wanders away from the fold (Matt. 18:12-14). It’s your church that Jesus will send after you (Matt. 18:15-20).
# For the sake of non-Christian neighbors. Membership helps to protect and promote the reputation of Christ on earth by guarding the church’s witness (see Matt. 5:13-16; 28:18-20; John 13:34-35). Membership is how the world knows who represents Jesus!
DIFFERENT REASONS FOR NOT JOINING
The more specific counsel that I offer depends on why the person is not joining:
# “I’m a member elsewhere.” Sometimes people say they don’t want to join because they are a member of a church elsewhere. If that’s the case, I try to explain that church membership is not a sentimental attachment. It’s a living, breathing relationship. If you’re in a place for more than a few months, you should join the church you attend.
# “I had a bad experience with a church.” Maybe a person had bad, even abusive experience with a previous church. When that’s the case, patience and understanding should certainly be shown. Their challenge is like the challenge of someone coming out of an abusive marriage. It’s hard to trust again, and one cannot force trust. But you also know that recovering relational health means learning to trust again, which always involves taking a risk. Bottom line: you should still encourage the person to join, even if your manner and pace might adjust.
# “I don’t trust the leadership.” If a person refuses to join because they don’t trust the leadership, then they should be encouraged to find a church where they can trust the leadership and join it. After all, do you really think you’ll grow in Christian maturity when you don’t trust the ones leading you toward it?
# “I don’t agree with everything in the statement of faith.” See last answer (find a church where you do and join it).
# “It’s not in the Bible.” For the person who is not convinced a matter is biblical, I’ll usually ask them to consider Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. I’ll also explain that, no, “club membership” is not in the Bible, but that church membership is more like citizenship, which is why Jesus gave the apostolic local church the keys of the kingdom.