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Beware of Ghost Members in Your Church

I hate clutter. I’m not a neat freak. In fact, I don’t care if there are 20 pounds of dust bunnies under the fridge so long as there are not stacks of useless paper on top of it. I like things neat and tidy. There is nothing that I like to be tidy more than the membership directory at the church where I am pastor. Here’s why:

1. Ghost members degrade the meaning of membership among the living. In other words, when our rolls are filled with specters of people who exist only in wispy form of name on a roll with no body to be found even warming a pew on Sunday morning, it reduces the value of membership. If ghosts can be members, why should the living care.

2. Ghost members haunt the living. I’ve known of more than a few names on a list who liked to use their membership in town to run down the integrity of the church where they are a member. “Trust me; you don’t want to go out there with those people. I don’t go there and I’m a member!” Instead of degrading the meaning of membership, downgrade Grace the Gossip’s venom by taking away her token membership.

3. Ghost members belong to the past. Keeping a pile of dust bunny members on the roll even though half of them live in another state and the other half live up the road but don’t bless the church with the benevolence of their presence, is a sign of a church living in the past; likely a dusty past at that.

4. Ghost membership is a source of pride. Often, churches don’t want to clean up the rolls because folks like to say how many members they have instead of how many regular attenders they have.

It is just plain prideful to boast of 500 members in a church that runs 50. And it’s silly to say a church has 5,000 people in involvement when the real number of the thousand tithing faithful members is an impressive gathering of Jesus followers.

5. Ghost membership in a church doesn’t make you a citizen of Heaven. Membership in the local church implies being a part of the kingdom of God. And you can’t sign a card to ensure that. Membership in the local church is largely an administrative matter. God isn’t impressed with an individual’s membership or the size of a roster in a church.

Your members-only jacket isn’t going to win you any points with the King of Heaven. Padding the rolls is a fool’s venture and refusing to clean them is always wrongheaded. A church member is someone who follows Jesus and does life together with a group of people in his community who do the same.

We don’t need more dust bunnies on the rolls and we don’t need more ghosts in church. We need committed followers of Jesus who stand together, affirming the truth of the Gospel and taking that Gospel into their communities together.  

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chris@chrissurber.com'
Chris Surber is the Pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk, VA. He is also a religion columnist for the Suffolk News Herald.