One of the megatrends in churches has been to rethink the concept of Membership.
Some of the largest churches in the country no longer offer memberships and instead encourage their regular attenders to consider a partnership with the church. These partnerships are similar to membership in many respects however it does allow the church to identify some unique differences:
- Partnerships are commitments made by regular attenders to voluntarily align with the mission of the local church. They are an agreement to become active participants rather than passive attenders. However, unlike membership, they don’t usually come with ‘voting’ or any other rights.
- In this age of non-denominationalism, becoming a partner in a local church is akin to partnering in a nonprofit organization or ministry. It’s an opportunity for involvement, it’s a financial decision to provide support.
- Partnerships are also easier 'hurdles' As membership comes with voting rights including the right to hire or even fire a pastor, the membership steps involved a 'vetting process' making sure that members were true Christians or even 'sanctified' for lack of a better term. Partnerships in contrast, simply means they want to belong and become involved in the work of the church.
Church membership still has many advantages. In Tom Rainer’s book “I Am a Church Member”he gives seven reasons why church membership is not only relevant, it is also biblical. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12: 27, it says: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.” People also understand being invited to a "Church Membership Class." Partnership still doesn't have the same familiarity.
While I prefer the term “Partnership” or even better “Covenant Partners,” I’m a fan of any membership program or name that encourages active participation in the life of the church. The Church after all is not a building nor organization but the Body of Christ.