Placing Membership
by John Telgren

What does it mean to place membership? This term is nearly universal among American churches of Christ.

Many people who want to become a member of a particular denomination "join" that church. Of course, we have criticized this action because the Bible speaks nowhere of "joining" a church. Acts 2:41 says that the Lord is the one who adds believers to his church. The membership roles are contained in the Lord's book of life, regardless of whether their names are in an earthly membership book of a church (Revelation 20:12). The church was bought with the blood of Christ, and belongs to him Acts 20:28. Becoming a part of the church is not our doing, it is the Lord's doing. We merely accept his terms of membership.

So, what about our practice of "placing membership?" In my experience, placing membership involves going forward during the invitation song (not always) and having it announced that a person wishes to place membership with a congregation. Of course this is usually preceded by some sort of interview with church leaders. Upon approval those applying for membership can have it announced during the next meeting of the church. Those who have formally placed membership (which usually means coming forward during the invitation, but not always) are counted as members and included in the directory, news, activities, groups, etc.

Like "joining" a church, you would be hard pressed to find this practice in the New Testament. Maybe we ought to take a closer look at this practice. Is placing membership really any different than "joining a church"? Or is it the same thing with a different name?

Does the Bible give any indication as to when or how a person is to be counted as a part of a congregation? If God is the one who places a Christian into the church when they are converted and baptized, then they are already a part of the body. This is understood when a person is baptized. So what if the Christian moves to another town? What then? I personally don't have a problem with a Christian letting it be known that he or she wishes to be counted as a part of a congregation. In fact, I believe it is the most convenient way to make your presence known in a congregation.

What if a person never "formally" places membership in a congregation? What if a person attends Church functions regularly? Should the members of that congregation and the leaders ascertain the situation? Would it seem odd for a baptized Christian to attend a church regularly for a lengthy amount of time and never place membership? Does this mean that Christian is NOT a member of that congregation? The first century church did not practice this, and there is no teaching concerning this. To enforce "placing of membership" is to bind our traditions.

Some have never even heard of "placing membership". I have seen people who, ignorant of this tradition, were Christians that were made to feel unwanted because they were excluded from pastoral care, fellowship and other things due to not having "placed membership".

Really, the only Biblical way of "placing membership" in the Lord's church is to put one's faith into Christ, Repent, and be Baptized into Christ, into his body, the church. The Bible speaks of no other way to get into the church of Christ.

So, the next time a person comes and begins to attend one of our congregations on a regular basis, and we have ascertained that they have obeyed the Gospel, nothing else is required Biblically for them to be considered a member of the Lord's church. We should communicate to them and the church at large that we see them as part of the body. They would fall under the responsibility and authority of the local elders. We should welcome them, include them, and be accountable for them as we would anyone else in the church.

It is foreign to the Bible for a "Christian" to attend a congregation regularly and not be a "member" of that congregation.