Church: From Members to Attenders…

Posted by on Sep 12, 2017 in Blog | 2 comments

Language reflects the way we think about things, and with that in mind I was struck when someone recently claimed that it has only been in the last 50 years or so that Christians have spoken about “going to this church” or “attending this church”. For the many hundreds of years before that, they would have said “I belong to this church”or “I am a member of this church”. If the claim is true (and I suspect it is) it’s an interesting change – from members to attenders. Think through the implications…

  • Attenders are primarily consumers. They attend because of what they can get from the event.
  • Attenders are primarily spectators. They attend because they want to be in the vicinity of something that is happening, but don’t want the responsibility of making it happen.
  • Attenders are selective in their attendance. If an event is not to their liking, they have the discretion to not attend – and often use it. They might well switch their attendance pattern in much the same way as many of us switch between shopping at Woolworths, Coles and Aldi.
  • When lots of attenders gather, there is a real buzz – a sense of something happening. When not, we tend to put the event into the “also ran” category.
  • Attenders gather because some of their needs (whatever they may be) are being met. That need might be for inspiration, challenge, entertainment, meeting like minded people, sound biblical teaching, uplifting worship, an escape from the everday… the list can go on and on. Let’s be clear, you don’t get many attenders unless in some way you are meeting needs.
  • By and large, church in attendance mode is focused on having needs met with minimal responsibility flowing back.

By contrast, church in membership mode

  • Reflects a commitment to a particular place and ministry.
  • Is willing to assume responsibility.
  • Is usually committed for the long haul.
  • Often leads to active engagement is certain ministries in the church.
  • Is usually willing to be present for the slightly dull and routine aspects of ensuring church can function.
  • Is more likely to see me helping to make something happen, rather than just watching something happen.

I tried to balance the lists at 6 each, but both could be added to at length (and why not in the comments – it could see you move from being an attender of this blog to being a member of it!)

Here’s the thing… Biblically speaking, we neither attend church, nor do we select to become a member of a church. We are the church. That’s the daring image of 1 Peter 2:4-5 “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Savour the image… as we come to Jesus, there is no way we can avoid being built together with others on the same journey – and together we are being built into a spiritual house that serves as a holy priesthood…

This is much more than attendance – but it is also much more than membership. It is about joyfully watching our lives, and the lives of other followers of Jesus, moulded together in such a way that a genuine holy priesthood is birthed. A stone built into a house cannot decide to get up and leave the moment the going gets tough or things aren’t to its liking. It is there for better or worse. But if we each take seriously  our responsibilty to be living stones building a temple for God, the chances of it being for better, are hugely increased.

As always, nice chatting…


  1. Interestingly membership now has a new dimension … as one who is entitled to vote in whatever structure the church has.
    Often now an incorporated body.

  2. Very interesting and pertinent comments on “Church Membership” I have been a Church Member all my adult life, but even in my own family I was at variance over keeping my name “on the role” of a Church; i.e.: transferring my membership from one Church to another when I moved, etc. I still believe it is important to be part of the local Church and contribute where possible – that’s what BEING the Church is all about, so that we see the Gospel preached and God’s love spread abroad. Paul Briscoe

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