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Church membership is the commitment of an individual believer to serve God through a local church. Becoming a church member neither provides nor elevates a personal salvation. It is because we are saved that we should desire to become a member and enjoy the fellowship of other Christians.
Historically, membership was held in high importance along with baptism and other religious acts. In some more contemporary interpretations, membership is seen with less spiritual and more personal meaning. In either context it must be understood that church membership is a commitment to serve God by working in cooperation with other believers.
A devoted church member will agree to support the local body through attendance, personal and spiritual service and financial support.
Any person desiring to be a member of a local Churches of God congregation must be a born again believer and follower of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they are expected to make public acknowledgement of their willingness to serve God through the particular congregation of their choice. Such acknowledgment will be done in a public worship setting as well as the person’s life testimony. Water baptism is not a stated requirement of membership. However, unless some extenuating circumstance exists that makes baptism physically unlikely, each church member should be encouraged to be baptized as the completion of their testimony of the saving grace of God.
Each new member should be expected to make a formal testimony of his/her commitment during a regular worship service (see section on New Members under special services). The formal testimony should reflect the new member’s willingness to support the local church and regional and general conference and through his/her prayers, presence and tithes. A new member may be received by one of two processes. The first is by confession of faith. The other is by transferring their membership from another Church of God or another church of compatible doctrines and theology.
Confession of Faith: This process may vary slightly from one congregation to another, but certain components should be in place. First, an interested candidate should make his wishes known by a formal request or application process. That would be immediately followed by a personal interview by the pastor. Persons requesting membership should take part in a membership class.
This class should include components of the doctrines and beliefs of the Churches of God General Conference, including an overview of our polity and history. The class should also include instruction on local church practices, and operating procedures. A membership class should be conducted by the pastor and/or elders, or by someone prepared to teach this important instruction. An open forum of questions, answers and personal exploration will be advantageous as the participant seeks to discover the joy of serving Christ through Church membership.
If at any time during the process of application and training, a person decides not to join the local church, the teacher should respect the decision knowing that God works a greater work in the life of people than we can.
Letter of Transfer: When someone is a member in good standing of one church and wishes to become a member of a different church, that person should begin this process with a formal request or application process followed by a personal interview by the pastor. If the request for transfer is from another Churches of God Church, and there is no indication of problems in the previous church, a letter may be issued and sent to the previous church asking for a letter of transfer.
Participation in a membership class will help as a refresher to Churches of God beliefs and also instruct as to local church practices that could vary from the previous church. Upon receipt of a letter of transfer from a previous church, this person may be accepted as a member in good standing.
If the request for transfer is from a different denomination, care should be taken to assure the person is in agreement with the doctrines and practices of the Churches of God, General Conference. The advisable process is involvement in a membership instructional class.
Note: A letter of transfer is most often used when a member has relocated to a new geographical area. However, there are instances when a member may desire to transfer to a neighboring church. The pastor should verify that this request for transfer is in agreement by the person’s previous church. If there are unresolved relational issues at the previous church, these should be addressed. The member would be instructed and encouraged to address these issues and seek personal reconciliation before formal transfer is approved.
Churches should have a stated level of authority upon which the final word to approve membership is granted. This may be by a vote of the administrating church board upon recommendation of the pastor and elders or it may be entrusted to the elders and pastor alone. While the formal approval is appropriately entrusted to a smaller group of leaders, the congregation should similarly endorse the affirmation of that approval during the service of membership. This affirmation may be demonstrated by a show of hands, applause or even a hearty amen. This affirmation given by the body is not so much the legal aspect as it is a show of support from the body for the reception of a new member.
Traditionally, a new member should be received into fellowship during a regular worship service (see special services) and planned as corporate celebration for the growing body of Christ’s Church. A sample of this service is found in the CGGC ministers handbook and may include a number of factors, including the following:
Periodically a church member may request that their membership be withdrawn. The local pastor and/or elders should respond to the request. A member’s request should be respected, particularly if it is a request from another church to which they have requested membership (see transfer above). In such situations, it is appropriate to approve and send such letter to the receiving church. It is advantageous, and required in most churches, that letters of transfer be sent directly to the new church and not to the member. There is no policy for a member to be granted an open letter of withdrawal to be carried to any church they might choose.
When a member desires to withdraw due to an injurious relationship, every effort should be made to seek reconciliation. While the loss of that person as a church member may not occur, the greater need of spiritual harmony is the goal. If full reconciliation cannot be achieved and the member arduously seeks to have their name removed, the local church must respect that request and remove their name from the membership role.
After a period of time, a membership role may reveal names of persons who no longer attend the local church. This is a common occurrence if the list is not kept current to reflect deaths, relocation or other causes of natural attrition. Sometimes this could also reflect those who have gradually faded away from a commitment to the local church. In order to keep membership lists current, every church should have a policy by which the membership role is periodically reviewed. The practice of list purging must be taken very seriously. A person’s membership status is very personal and important, even though they may no longer attend. Therefore, any contact to inquire as to status of an inactive member must be in the spirit of the best interests of that member.
Deceased Members: In the event of a deceased member, it is normal to remove that name at an appropriate and respectable time.
Non-attendance: If someone has not attended nor contacted your church for a period of several months, usually 6 months to a year, they may be in jeopardy of losing their membership. However, efforts must be made to contact them to inquire as to their wish whether or not they want to remain a member. If lack of attendance is due to other extenuating circumstances, use this as an opportunity to extend ministry to the particular need.
The church should also be prepared to address issues of non-attendance resulting in church discipline due to repetitive unchristian conduct in a proper and respectable manner. While restoration is always a priority, particularly in spiritual ministry, it is also paramount to safe guard the spiritual testimony of the church.
Dual church Membership: Occasionally a person will want to remain a member for personal reasons, i.e. this is their home church where they grew up. If they have joined another body, a friendly reminder to them that church membership is not perpetual is in order. The practice of multiple memberships is not an acceptable standard. It is important to communicate, in a positive way, that the purpose of church membership is a commitment to attend and support a particular local church. Allow the person the opportunity to request either a transfer or removal of their name by their fruition.
Attitude of Purging: There are two sides to the purging issue. It is important for the church to model the attitude of Christ during this important but sensitive action. The act of purging and the role of a holy and pure church are certainly related, but the one should not be the platform of reform for the other. It is a delicate balance between right action and grace understanding. We must understand that the member in question may not understand the dynamics involved. The local church on the other hand, must determine the correct intent and purpose for updating or purging a membership role.
It may seem appropriate to remove a non-active member, however, this must be done in the attitude of grace. Another consideration is the reality that actions involving one member, though no longer active, may affect other members in the church. While this ought not to prohibit right and proper action, it is a consideration worthy of respect.
Final words on the attitude of purging—prior to the removal of any person make every attempt to exercise the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21) when appropriate. When a person is removed, attempt to do so in an attitude of fellowship and hope of a future day when the person may again rejoin the church.
The apostle Paul declares that “everything should be done in fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Though the context refers specifically to worship the principle applies more broadly to all that the church does including its organization.
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