History of Membership in CRC?


I'm looking for the history on how membership in the CRC became so important. Anyone able to help or point me in the right direction?

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Hi Cindy,

My sense is that membership in the CRC (and in most denominations) used to be much more important than it currently is. I'm speaking very broadly, but my observation is that in recent years membership in a particular church or denomination in North America has become less of an emphasis and there is more of an emphasis on one's personal relationship with Jesus Christ, active engagement in the church, and living out faith.

Within that there is a move again to reclaim and restate the value of membership - to invite people to commit to being part of a particular community of faith. I recently led a new members class at our church and it was a beautiful experience to be able to connect with people who were newer to our congregation, share about our church's story, hear their own faith stories, and invite them more deeply into the life of the church. 

I don't know if that helps answer your question? Would love to hear more of the context behind your question and chat more if it would be helpful. 

In the past, when Churches started splitting from the Catholic Church every new church wanted to know who their members were.  A membership list is handy to report to Head Office and know the commitment.  What Christ wanted was one church. Now church membership seems very fluid. When you see them - or not! rather than all the paper.


Consult Calvin University and review all of the CRCNA year books they have in their Library. If you start in 1980 and review all of them till 2020 it might show a trend in  what year how many people considered membership in the CRCNA important (at least if Councils who reported the data, ideally included only "real" members).



That is a very interesting and relevant question.  It seems many faith traditions have been lessening the emphasis on membership in recent years.  I'm not sure I can speak for the CRC specifically, and I'm certainly no expert on the topic, but I would would point to Q&A 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism which states "of this community I am and always will be a living member" as a starting point.

Perhaps the membership of the local congregation is less important than recognizing the membership of the Church universal and citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  John Locke argued that churches were "voluntary associations" whose members were free to come and go as they saw fit.  Locke and many thinkers of the enlightenment believed in empowering the individual (which at the time was desperately needed), but this thinking often gets carried to the point where any sort of collective group should not hold power over individual rights.  As Locke put it"everyone is orthodox to himself."

I would think that Christians would see our membership within the Church universal as not voluntary, but compulsory, based on our understanding of the commands of scriptures (e.g. Hebrews 10:24, I Peter 1:9). The local ecclesia (congregation) is given divinely-ordained authority (albeit below the authority of Christ), to whose authority its members submit.  It seems necessary to keep an account of those members to account for who is and isn't within the benefits and discipline of the community.

I hope we don't move away from recognizing the importance of membership, which might also reduce the position of the church as a body of authority in our lives.  Anyway, those are my thoughts on the topic.  Giving credit, they are largely based on David Koyzis, who has a very interesting blog I follow:
Article: Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 2: The Church as Voluntary Association
The church: Locke and the Heidelberg Catechism
Note: he uses the term "liberal" in the academic sense and not in the modern political alignment sense.


I do not intend to be irreverent, but I believe there is no census taking in heaven. It is a big deal here on earth in every part of our lives.