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Church Membership Is Down (You Should Bring It Up)

church membership is down

Church membership is down … and you should bring it up. Here’s why.

Are you a member of a church?

Most would answer, “no.”

Well, half would answer that way.

Church membership is down. Membership among adults has gone into a freefall, from 70% in 1999 to 50% in 2019.

This, after holding steady at approximately 70%, as charted by Gallup, for more than eight decades.

Church membership is down and let me put this out there: If you are a follower of Christ, you should be a member of a church. Period.

Here’s why.

Once you come to Christ and go public with that decision through baptism, the Bible says the third step is to get connected with the community of a local church. If for some reason that’s not possible, do it digitally. (Yes, I believe I can make a missional case for that, but let’s keep going.)

If you take a walk through the New Testament, and specifically the four biographical accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus, you’ll notice a distinct pattern. Jesus asked people to follow Him. And when Jesus asked someone to follow Him and they said “yes,” the next relational step was always to join with the community He was building in order to do life with others who had also made the decision to follow Him.

This was so ingrained in those who chose to follow Jesus, that you find a beautiful description of the early church that Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write. It is found in the second chapter of the book of Acts, after Peter stood up and called people to faith in Christ and some 3,000 responded. It reads this way:

“They devoted themselves to… the fellowship… All the believers were together and had everything in common… Every day they continued to meet together… They broke bread in their homes and ate together….” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

I like how Eugene Petersen paraphrases this section in The Message:

“That day about three thousand… were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, [and] the life together….” (Acts 2:42, Msg)

But this wasn’t just some generic kind of community. It wasn’t just a loose network of relationships.

It had a name.

It was called church.

The word church is a translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which means “the called out ones”—the new community established between human beings in and through Christ.

But this community isn’t just some turned-inward “lovefest” that’s all about hanging out together, doing life together, supporting each other and growing tight. Yes, the Bible talks about church being a fellowship or, as it refers to it in the Greek, a koinonia. But if that’s all you have, you don’t have koinonia, you have “koinoitis.” We’re supposed to be a community on mission.

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.