Lead Pastor Search Updates Thank you for praying during this time! Click Here

The Bible & Church Membership: A Study

Church membership is less like joining a club & more like being adopted into a family.

Does the New Testament (NT) explicitly mention formal church membership?

No, it doesn't.

However, various truths and responsibilities in the NT suggest the existence of a definable local church membership. While membership isn't explicitly stated, it's implied by the assumed membership. Therefore, if we believe that membership aligns with the Bible's commands for the church, we are morally obligated to pursue it in our churches today. If we believe otherwise, we can see local church membership as a matter of prudence that we may disregard if we find it unhelpful in fulfilling our calling as the body of Christ.

As we explore the NT, several truths and responsibilities indicate the presence of a definable membership in the local church:

What does the Bible say?

Desire for Genuine Fellowship:


Local church membership is not merely a formality; it's a desire for genuine connection, care, and mutual support among Christians (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).


Avoiding Misconceptions


Membership is not a religious card granting privileges without responsibilities; it's not about power or privilege, but about authentic relationships (1 Corinthians 12:14-20).

Accountability to Church Leaders


The NT emphasizes submission to church leaders (elders). Without membership, defining this group becomes ambiguous. The Bible assumes a committed membership to whom leaders provide spiritual direction (Heb. 13:17, 1 Thess. 5:12-13, 1 Tim. 5:17).


Shepherding Responsibilities


Elders are instructed to care for a specific flock, implying a group of members (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2-3). The concept of a defined flock suggests the presence of membership.


Church Discipline


The process of church discipline in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 presupposes a clear membership, where accountability and exclusion are based on membership criteria.


List of Widows


The criteria for enrolling widows in 1 Timothy 5:9-12 implies a recognized group, possibly a list of members. This reinforces the idea of a formalized  membership.


Congregational Decision-Making


Acts 15:22 highlights a decision involving the apostles, elders, and the whole church. The inclusion criteria for the "whole church" suggests the presence of defined membership.


Responsibility within the Family of Faith


The reference to the "household of faith" (Gal 6:10) implies a recognized group within the local church, indicating the notion of  membership.


The Gathering of the Whole Church


In 1 Corinthians 14:23, the idea of the "whole church" coming together presupposes a defined group, indicating the existence of a formal membership structure.


Biblical Metaphors


Metaphors like the "body," "flock," and "building" imply an organic relationship between individuals and the congregation. This relationship is best reflected through formal ties, supporting the concept of  membership.


--"Body" Metaphor: The metaphor of the "body" is found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, where believers are likened to different members of a body, emphasizing their interdependence (1 Cor 12:12).


--"Flock" Metaphor: The concept of the church as a "flock" is presented in Acts 20:28, where elders are instructed to care for the church of God, emphasizing a specific group of believers (Acts 20:28).


--"Building" Metaphor: In 1 Peter 2:5, the church is likened to a "spiritual house," reinforcing the idea of interconnectedness and mutual dependence (1 Pet 2:5).



While explicit language on formal church membership is absent in the NT, the presence of numerous exhortations, practices, and responsibilities implies its existence.  Membership is a reasonable assumption to make sense of these aspects of the Christian life in the local church.

In summary, even though explicit language on formal membership is absent in the New Testament, its presence is necessary to make sense of the various exhortations, practices, and responsibilities within the Christian community.


Common Objections to Church Membership

Potential Departure Concerns


  - Myth:  Membership forces people to leave.

  - Reality: TVBC welcomes all, regardless of membership status.


Past Negative Experiences

  - Myth: Bad experiences in other churches taint the idea of membership.

  - Reality: TVBC is committed to implementing membership without the past abuses.

  - Reference: Romans 12:5, Ephesians 4:16


Exclusive Feelings

  - Myth: Membership creates exclusivity within the church.

  - Reality:  membership is open to all believers; exclusivity is self-imposed.

  - Reference: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Service Restrictions

  - Myth: Membership hinders non-members from serving.

  - Reality: TVBC encourages service; certain leadership roles require commitment.

  - Reference: 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, Ephesians 4:11-13


Formality and Structure Concerns

  - Myth: Membership feels too formal and structured.

  - Reality: Some structure is necessary for a church to function cohesively.

  - Reference: 1 Corinthians 14:40, Colossians 2:5


Authoritarian Perception

  - Myth: Membership implies authority and hierarchy.

  - Reality: TVBC emphasizes spiritual equality; leaders are servants, not authoritarians.

  - Reference: Matthew 20:25-28, 1 Peter 5:2-3


Past Hurts

  - Possibility: Membership has hurt someone close.

  - Reality: Commitment to prevent harm and create a safe environment is a priority.

  - Reference: Psalm 34:18, Galatians 6:2


Fear of Control

  - Myth: Membership leads to control.

  - Reality: TVBC aims for believers to feel known, loved, and protected, not controlled.

  - Reference: Galatians 5:1, James 5:16


Universal Church vs. Local Membership

  - Myth: Universal church membership is sufficient.

  - Reality: Biblical guidance supports local church membership.

  - Reference: Hebrews 10:25, Acts 2:47


Divisiveness Concerns

  - Myth: Membership divides the body.

  - Reality: Properly implemented, membership unifies the church.

  - Reference: 1 Corinthians 1:10, Ephesians 4:3


Resistance to Change

  - Myth: Past success without membership suggests no need for change.

  - Reality: Embracing membership aligns with biblical principles, not criticism of the past.

  - Reference: Ecclesiastes 3:1, Isaiah 43:19


Safety Concerns

  - Myth: Membership makes broken people feel unwelcome.

  - Reality: Compassionate and biblical implementation fosters a safe and caring environment.

  - Reference: Psalm 147:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:11


Freedom Restriction

  - Myth: Membership limits freedom to come and go.

  - Reality: Autonomy is balanced with the value of community in membership.

  - Reference: Galatians 5:13, Hebrews 10:25


Dislike for Boundaries

  - Myth: Membership opposes all boundaries.

  - Reality: TVBC values biblical boundaries, not artificial barriers.

  - Reference: Proverbs 4:23, Galatians 5:22-23

What unites these objections to membership is their lack of biblical foundation. While negative experiences may arise from poorly implemented practices, none of the stated reasons can be found in Scriptures as valid grounds for a church to reject some form of formal membership. It is crucial to distinguish between the misuse of membership and the scriptural principles supporting it. Negative personal experiences, however significant, do not provide sufficient grounds to dismiss a concept that seems consistently present in the New Testament.

"I've been hurt by church people more than by anybody else. And yet, solo discipleship is not a biblical option. I'll give up on the local church when Jesus does and not a second sooner." - Jared C. Wilson, MBTS