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On Membership: Club or Covenant? (Part 1)

Part 1 //
Club or Covenant? Why We’ve Been Approaching Membership Wrong

I was introduced to the idea of “club” sports when I first got to the large public university I attended in Georgia. In case you’re not familiar, club sports were filled with athletes that could not quite make the college team, but the athletes were still a little too good (or dedicated) to give up competing at a high level. Club teams are different than intramural teams. Intramural’s have varying levels of competitiveness and a really, really low level of dedication; like, if you have literally ANYTHING else to do it’s fine to not come. Club teams have regular practice schedules, travel to play against other schools, invest in legit uniforms, have tryouts where some make the team while some do not, and require daily or weekly dedication.

I think most people understand that the local church is more than an intramural. Any Christian with a modicum of knowledge about the Bible knows that being a Christian is to be part of the local church. The question to ask is whether or not we are on the right track by thinking of the local church as being a part of a club team. I would propose that for all the good aspects of “club” teams, it doesn’t come close to what it means to be a part of the church.

In the end, club teams are:

    • only for a season; both in terms of having seasons, and they are only played for a season of life (i.e. college, when you’re young with good knees)
    • easy in, easy out; a person can quit whenever once something more important comes up.
    • really only there for people that have the personal desire to continue playing a sport; meaning, they’re more about the individual than anything


The local church is the exact opposite in that:

Christians are a part of the church for life (dare I say, for eternity!). The word “church” just means “the gathered ones.” A church doesn’t exist apart from the people gathering. And, not just any people, but it’s the gathering of people who have decided to enter into an intentional, missional, covenantal relationship. I’ll talk more about covenant below.

Churches are not something you should just quit. To be honest, yeah, it actually is really easy to just leave one local church and begin attending another. That’s a very modern, Western notion of “church-ing,” and one I would warn you that is dangerous.

In short, I would encourage Christians to not view membership at a church the same way you view a soccer club or charity organization—or any form of voluntary membership, for that matter. It’s not just a friendly group of people that share an interest in religious things. It’s not just a service provider. It’s not okay to attend a church indefinitely without joining.

Here’s why: the church is not a club, it’s a covenant. Think about this with me: how does Jesus refer to the church? As his bride (Ephesians 5:22-32)! Jesus doesn’t view participation in interceding for, caring for, loving, and sustaining the church as something he “feels” up to one day but not other days. Jesus views the church as a covenant he is, meaning his love for the members that make up the church transcends their actions on a week-to-week basis. He is every day, every moment interceding on behalf of the church (i.e., the Christians that have covenanted together in local bodies to be Christ’s representatives to the world) to God the Father. Church membership is how we participate as humans in the global rescue plan of God through Jesus.

Christian, if you have never thought about the deep, rich theological realities of church membership I invite you to do so. While it’s deeply theological, it’s also immensely practical. God has given you a gift; that gift is having other Christians to have a covenantal relationship with that holds you accountable and that you, in turn, hold accountable. Holiness is not an exercise in self-management. It takes a village to pursue holiness, and that village is made visible by being a member of a local church.