It is not at all uncommon for churches to wonder why people in regular attendance do not want to become members. All too often folk are happy to exist on the fringes of the church and see no real reason to join. The reason for this is simple enough: the church does not have a meaningful membership structure. One can exist on the fringes without any real discernible difference between their standing and that of the church membership.
If this is a concern to you, here are a few suggestions that might help you to rectify the situation:
Talk about membership
All too often, people see no reason to join the church in membership because nobody has bothered to say anything about membership. Many people enter the church and know nothing about membership and, if we don’t tell them about it, they never will. If you want people to think about becoming members, it is important to teach about membership, what it is and why it is important.
Define membership properly
We may speak about membership here and there but if we don’t define membership properly we are likely to have people with us who believe they are members simply by turning up. This is a common misunderstanding in churches where new believers are coming into the church frequently. There is an assumption that the church, specifically the members of the church, are simply those who turn up on a Sunday morning.
If you only ever talk about membership in abstract terms, or you encourage people into membership without properly defining what it is, you are likely to find plenty of people who think they’re members when they aren’t. Be clear what membership is and who the members actually are (and, importantly, aren’t).
Create tangible differences between members and non-members
If membership in your church entails nothing more than turning up on a Sunday morning, you can’t be that surprised if nobody sees any need to join in membership when they are already doing that. If non-members in your church can do everything that a member can do, why would anybody bother joining when they can receive all the privileges as well as pick and choose the responsibilities that they fancy doing? If there is no tangible, notable difference between members and non-members, it is unlikely anybody not in membership will bother to join.
If you want to encourage people into membership you will need to make clear that there are privileges and benefits of membership that you simply won’t be able to access as a non-member. It doesn’t necessarily matter where you draw the lines (I have my own views on that but, for the purposes of this post, my personal view don’t really matter), what matters is that there are tangible lines drawn. Make it clear that one needs to be in membership to have full access to all aspects of the church.
Make the local church significant
If nobody views your local church as their primary context for fellowship and ministry, why would anybody bother joining? If I can get my fellowship somewhere else, and happily do all my real ministry through some parachurch organisation, why would I bother joining a local church? If, however, we can help people see the centrality of the local church in God’s redemptive and sanctifying purposes folks may just see the need to join.
This means that your existing members ought to help communicate this truth. They do so by attending regularly, making their service in the local church their priority and taking their membership responsibilities seriously. As others see your members taking the local church seriously, and hear you making much of the local church, they may just see joining the local church as important.