Many churches have abandoned membership as an outdated relic incompatible with effective governance in a modern world.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.
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: