What is church membership?

It seems no one knows.

A new study from Grey Matter Research indicates that 33 percent of worshipers surveyed believe their church does not offer any sort of membership, while 19 percent said they were not sure. This means that less than half of respondents know about membership offerings in their church. More here.

Given our focus on membership and attendance statistics in tracking congregational vitality and growth, this statistic is worrisome. But then again, in the Episcopal Church, we’re not quite clear on membership–is it baptism, confirmation, communicant in good standing?

My guess is that most members of health and fitness clubs are certain both of their membership and of what benefits they get from membership. Is it a clear message or is it because they have to pay in order to become a member?

In any case, here’s what we say at Grace about membership:

How do I become a member of Grace Church? Grace is a parish of the Diocese of Milwaukee, of the Episcopal Church. Becoming a member is both very easy and relatively difficult. Easy, in that your baptism, regular attendance at worship, and financial contributions will make you a member in our eyes, at least for the official records. You may become a member simply by letting the office know that you would like to join; if you know the date and place of your baptism we will record it. If you have been a member of another Episcopal congregation, it is helpful both for them and us to request a letter of transfer. Just let us know the name and location of the church, and we will do the paperwork.

That’s the technical side of membership but membership is much more than a certificate, a letter, or a line in a church register. It is a commitment to be a part of the body of Christ in this place, to share with one another in worship, prayer, study, and service to others, to seek to incarnate Christ’s love here and in the world. It also involves a commitment to support the work of Grace with your prayers and your financial gifts. There are no litmus tests or doctrinal tests to be a member of Grace. We welcome everyone, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, to walk with us for a few months, a few years, or the rest of your lives.

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Oh, and if you’re interested in membership, or learning more about Grace and the Episcopal Church, we’ll be having classes in October.

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