Is church membership an outdated concept?

At Theolog, the blog of the Christian Century, Amy Frykholm asks whether we need a more rigorous concept to church membership, or a more flexible one:

A pastor of a large and dynamic congregation recently told me that church membership was for his congregation a “largely outdated concept.” The church, he suggested, had become a more fluid place, where lifelong commitment to a specific body of believers was not central. He was convinced that the church could be a loving, vibrant, whole community without an emphasis on membership.

I wasn’t shocked to hear this. It took me more than eight years in my small Episcopal church, during which I became a lay leader and my son was baptized, to become an official member. It was the first time I had formally joined any religious body, so I am familiar with a degree of discomfort around the question of membership.

Edwin Chr. Van Driel, writing in Theology Today, advocates for a more rigorous understanding of church membership, something more on the order of divine covenant than free choice (article not available online; but the current Century Marks includes a short summary). Disgruntled members who want to transfer their membership, for example, might be told, “We cannot do this… We are fully committed to working on this, however difficult and painful it might be for all of us.” How likely is that to take place in your church?

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