Lack of commitment. It seems to be a trend among Christian young adults, and I’m not even talking about dating or marriage. It is a lack of commitment to church. Call it church-hopping, church-shopping, or do-it-yourself Christianity. But the fact is that many believers, and even many who “go to” a church, choose not to “belong to” a church.
So is this a problem? The Bible doesn’t say that “Thou shalt be officially a member of thine local holy church.” And if you really wanted, you could probably make an argument that church membership has occasionally been a bad thing for at least a few people—if they believe that having your name on a church roll is what makes you a Christian, and somehow then miss what it means to believe and live out the gospel. Half of the New Testament is letters to people identified by the body they were associated with. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, the church at Ephesus, the church at Galatia, and others to rebuke, correct, train, praise, and encourage them.
The Bible is very clear about the need for us to live in community. We are pack animals, and are not much good alone. (Why else would “solitary confinement” be considered the harshest punishment short of death?) And just because you have people physically around you does not mean that you are not alone. You are alone unless you belong to something, and are engaged in some sort of interpersonal relationship. You can belong to groups other than a church, but they probably won’t fulfill the functions of a church.
Ah, so what are the functions of a church?
To encourage and challenge each other to be more like Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25). Basically, believers sharpen other believers and help each other grow (Proverbs 27:17).
To help us more effectively use our gifts for God (1 Corinthians 12). We each have different gifts, and cannot do everything on our own. Just like an accountant is pretty worthless without some organization to account for, and a CEO cannot be a leader without people to lead, the people of Christ are designed to function as part of a group.
To correct us in our mistakes (Matthew 18:15-20). Correction or accountability might not sound like an attractive reason to join a church; however, it is biblical. Hebrews 13:17 says that we are to submit to our church authority. Otherwise, it can be tempting to find an authority that I agree with in the moment, rather than to trust the Holy Spirit’s work through the authority over me and commit to them.
To care for us and allow us to care for others (John 13:34-35). It is through this kind of love that we can be a light for others.
Can you be a member of a church and not get these benefits? If that is your experience, then you need to make a change: either change your level of involvement within the church, or, if you are already involved, change your church. Not change churches, but literally change your church. Be an agent of change within that body, because your church is not being a church. It is not fulfilling its function.
Can you get these benefits without being a member of a church? If you are a part of a group that is fully doing these things, then you could possibly say that group is a church. The first churches, after all, were groups of believers who lived in close community and met regularly in their own homes or in public spaces (Acts 2:42-47). But the real question is not whether that can happen, but whether it is happening. If it is not, then you need to find that somewhere. And you can find it by becoming a member of an active, Bible-based church.
Membership is not the end-all, be-all for the believer. It is actually more like the beginning for the growing Christian. If you are a follower of Christ, join a local body—serve there, contribute there, be under authority there, be known there, and follow Christ there. A heart rebellious against this is a rebellious heart.