Within each church structure comes definitions (and perceptions) on what it is to be a member of a church. What are the entrance requirements, and what are the benefits?

One pastor told me the benefit was that a non-member couldn’t work in the nursery, or go on a mission trip, or serve on a committee. To my mind, that seemed good reasons for NOT becoming a member. If I simply attend on a regular basis, but never join, I get all the benefits of the church without the responsibilities.

What are the benefits to the member? In one sense, it’s an insurance policy. I would expect the pastoral staff or deacon to visit me in the hospital. If my house burns down, the church would help me find a place to stay for a night or two until I figure out what to do next, and would provide food and perhaps some personal effects (clothing, toiletries, etc.). I would expect the church to host my funeral, or marry my child. If I have to pay extra, what then is the benefit of membership?

More important, if the church does this for non-members, especially those outside the congregation, then where is the motivation for membership? It’s pretty clear that the person who has no association with our church deserves our sympathy, and perhaps limited charity, but not the outpouring of concern due a member. Unfortunately, we must consider two more common scenarios.

Suppose a person attended regularly, paid the tithe, and participated in the outreach and fellowship activities of the church, but never formalized the relationship by membership? Does that person have the same privileges? I would say this is more akin to a boyfriend / girlfriend that live together, perhaps sleep together, even have children together, but do not marry. She may quit her job to care for his house, his kids, even his parents. He may sacrifice his personal freedom to care for her, give up the bulk of his income to maintain their life together, but not formalize the relationship. At his sudden and untimely death, his heirs are his children. She may retain guardianship over their care, but as minors, unless there is a will designating her as heir, she has no access to their money. If there are no children, the money could go to a distant uncle, or even to the state treasury, as befits assets forfeited at death. She would be forced out of her own home, perhaps unable to purchase it back from the state. She looked like a spouse, but was not, and had no rights as a spouse.

Suppose on the other hand a person was on the membership rolls, but never attended. This is not the infirm person who is physically unable to attend, or the criminal serving a sentence away from the routines of life. This is the person who chooses to retain their insurance policy at the church that will bury them for free while they worship at the lake or the mountains or the racetrack each week. I have bank accounts like this: $1,000 death benefit to all who maintain credit union membership, so I keep alive three different accounts with barely $100 in each, costing me nothing but providing at my death $3,300 to my heirs.

Church membership tells all who ask that you value.