There isn’t an instruction in the Bible telling Christians to become formal members of a local church. There isn’t an instruction in the New Testament that says, ‘Thou shalt become a formal member of your local church!’ But that’s because Christians are already members. And there are images in the NT that make that clear…
For example, the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 describes the church as a body. The church is the body of Christ and Christians are members of the body, and each and every member of the body needs each and every member of the body. A foot can’t say to a hand, ‘You don’t need me!’ and a hand can’t say to a foot, ‘I don’t need you!’ The body needs its members and its members need the body. And in the same way Christians need the church and the church needs Christians. If a Christian decides that they’re not going to belong to a local church they’re a bit like a member without a body. They’re just an eye. Or they’re just an ear. Or they’re just an elbow. And their local church is a bit like a body without a member. They’re partially blind. Or their partially deaf. Or if they don’t have elbows they’re seriously stuck…! Christians are already members of the body of Christ, but having a formal membership is a way of living that out. It’s a way of Christians saying to the Village Church, “I need you, and you need me, and so I’m committed!”
The apostle Peter also uses imagery to describe the church. In 1 Peter 4 he calls the church God’s household, which is another way of saying God’s family. And a family is made up of members. And in God’s family he's our Father and we’re his children. And that makes Christians brothers and sisters. We belong together. We’re bound together, by blood (by the blood of Christ!) And that doesn’t mean that family is easy. It isn’t. Family is hard. But family is really hard when members are estranged. When a brother isn’t committed or when a sister isn’t caring. Or when the family meets, and one member is never, ever there. That’s really hard, and it effects everyone. A family needs commitment. Christians are already members of God’s household, but having a formal membership is a way of living that out. It’s a way of Christians saying to the Village Church, “You’re my brothers and sisters, and so I’m committed!”
There are a number of other reasons to have a formal membership at the Village Church. For example, for the sake of our children and young people. Our prayer is that our children and young people will come to know Jesus for themselves. Our priority, therefore, is to make Jesus known to them through age-appropriate, faithful, clear, relevant and engaging Bible teaching. The word of God works, and so we work with the word of God. But in order to help us make sure that happens we’re going to insist that those with the responsibility for teaching the Bible to our children and young people are formal members of the Village Church. We don’t want non-Christians teaching them and we don’t want non-committed Christians teaching them either. We only want committed Christians teaching our children and young people. Our children are like little lambs and a formal membership is our way of guarding the gate.
Another reason to have a formal membership at the Village Church is for the sake of the elders. The elders have responsibility for the spiritual life of the church. But how do the elders know who they’re spiritually responsible for if they don’t know who the church is? If the job of the elders, according to 1 Peter chapter 5, is to be shepherds of God’s flock that is under their care – to know them, to feed them, to lead them, and to protect them – they need to know who the sheep are. And that’s what a formal membership does. A member is saying to the elders, ‘I’m a sheep, will you shepherd me?’ And the elders are saying to the members, ‘We’re the shepherds, and we want to know you, feed you, lead you, and protect you – as best as we can.' The elders aren’t spiritually responsible for anyone who appears at a Village Church Sunday service. We’re spiritually responsible for Christians who have committed to us, and a formal membership makes that clear.