It is no secret that our church prioritizes membership.
Acts 2:41 reads, “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” (italics added) While you do not find the word membership in the New Testament, this passage, along with others, establishes a clear pattern of adding more believers to a current local gathering of believers. Or what we commonly call membership. Here at Forest Baptist Church, we believe that this is a deeply spiritual issue. Mark Dever has said, “A person…joins a local church because it’s the expression of what Christ has made him—a member of the body of Christ.”
Recently, our church has undertaken a new process for presenting prospective new members to the congregation. In the past our elders have interviewed each prospective new member, paying careful attention to their testimony of faith and baptism. They were then presented, in name only, to the church for approval. Upon further reflection, the elders now realize that we should have individuals share their testimony with the entire congregation. Far from being an aesthetic change, this shift has far-reaching practical implications. Here are a few:
- It provides an opportunity for the congregation to hear and celebrate the work of Christ in a person’s life. Each Christian has a testimony of God’s grace working in their lives. Even more than simply listening to a person share their testimony, we should celebrate the reminder that “Jesus saves!”
- It glorifies God. Ultimately the testimony time, in addition to receiving an individual into our membership, brings glory to God. When we celebrate the work that Christ has done in a person’s life by affirming them and bringing them into the fold of our congregation, we are accomplishing God’s will.
- It is a witness to visitors who may not know Christ. We all agree that membership is for baptized believers only. But, we know that each week there may be unbelievers in our midst. For God’s people, a testimony serves as an exhortation and a reminder; but for unbelievers, a testimony is a powerful tool in helping them understand the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- It is an encouragement to members who may have shared similar life experiences. Each person has a different testimony. Some come to faith as a child; others as an adult. Some come to faith with a simple realization that they were a sinner in need of a Savior; others come to faith “kicking and screaming!” It is easy to feel as though no one can relate to your testimony, which, at times, can be discouraging. When you hear a testimony that you can relate to, it provides encouragement. Rather than feeling alone, it is comforting to know that others have been through similar circumstances.
- It allows for new members to be connected to areas of service in the church. As our church grows, the ministry needs will also grow. As prospective new members share about their gifts and desires in service, it makes it much easier to connect them to areas of service. For example, if there is a need in the nursery (wink, wink; nudge, nudge!) and a new member shares that they are gifted with young children, those ministry leaders can be easily made aware. We want to, as much as we can, utilize the gifts of every member in serving the body.
We realize that, for some, the idea of coming up in front of 400 people and sharing a testimony is downright scary. Ideally, each individual would share their testimony with the congregation; however, we do not want this to be an obstacle in becoming a church member.
As elders, we are sensitive to this concern and are willing to provide other, less intimidating ways, for new member candidates to be introduced. One of our elders can read the person’s testimony on their behalf. We can record a video version to show. Or, we can simply print their testimony in the bulletin so that the congregation can read it. (If you have questions about this aspect, or any aspect, of our membership process – please contact Pastor Will Soto.)
More than anything, we want the congregation to be fully aware and participatory in the receiving of new members. These new members are not only sharing their testimony of Christ’s work in their lives; they are also committing to our covenant and the congregation should be confident in receiving them towards that end.
It has been said that voting on new members is more important than voting for the next president. While it may seem like an overstatement, consider this: the mission of the church, in part, is to make disciples of all the nations. The new members who sit next to you are committing to advancing God’s eternal kingdom. We want God’s people representing God’s kingdom.