Jump directly to the content
Eight Legal Considerations for Church Membership
Eight Legal Considerations for Church Membership
From voting rights to discipline, a closer look at why membership matters.

Many churches have abandoned membership as an outdated relic incompatible with effective governance in a modern world. Perhaps your church is considering doing so. If so, there are several advantages of church membership that should be considered in making an informed decision. Eight advantages are described in this article.

Key point.Church members have such legal authority as is vested in them by their church's governing documents, and in some cases by state nonprofit corporation law.
Background
Any discussion of church membership must begin with a definition of membership.For the first several centuries of church history, membership was an ecclesial rather than a legal status. The few isolated references in the New Testament to membership fail to define the term, and seem to refer to baptized individuals of a common confession or faith. Church membership became more formalized in the wake of the Protestant Reformation by the various emergent sects, but again, typically involved baptism and assent to a specific creedal confession.
The concept of church membership changed dramatically in the 19th century with the advent of nonprofit corporation laws that applied to any nonprofit organization, including churches. These laws emerged at about the same time that French political historian Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America in the mid-19th century. Upon returning to his native France, de Tocqueville published his observations in his classic work, Democracy in America (1835). Perhaps above all, he was struck by the propensity of Americans to join "associations." He famously noted:

Article Preview

This article is currently available to ChurchLawAndTax.com subscribers only. To continue reading:

View All
from our store
Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws

Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws

Did you know pastors and other church staff may be required by law to report child abuse and that laws on this vary state by state?
Church Issues: Same-Sex Marriage and Gender Identity

Church Issues: Same-Sex Marriage and Gender Identity

Richard Hammar combines research and analysis to take you through a step-by-step process regarding public accommodations laws.
Board Basics for Churches

Board Basics for Churches

From church records to legal risks and liabilities—what your church board should know.

ChurchSalary

ChurchSalary

Experience a whole new way to set compensation. Eliminate the guesswork – get access to detailed compensation reports in just minutes.