Membership - Again

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More and more we find people attending our church who for one reason or another don't become members of our church. Some are students who keep their records in their home church, some are members in another denomination and find it too painful to take their membership out of that denomination. For some — like the Chinese community in our church — membership means something totally different from what it means to us and they simply cannot say yes to membership. However, some of them have attended our church for a long time, and we are struggling with how to include them in voting and other matters of congregational life. 

The church order gives descriptions of Baptized members, Professing members and Inactive members and Adherents. It is the last group that I am talking about — yes, they are in our church directory; yes, they participate in worship; yes, they participate in many other functions of the church. But when it comes to voting or leadership they cannot participate. Would it be possible to create something like a "covenant membership" with those who for one reason or another cannot become full member of our churches so that they can vote and be in leadership?

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We have had an individual who attends our church for more than two years, who when asked if he wanted to become a member, said that he thought he was already a member.   In his case, just asking him seemed to diminish him somewhat, taking the wind out of his sails.     So I didn't push the official membership too much.   I may bring it up again later sometime....

In another case, we have the wife of a baptized member and the baptized member himself who participate in many ways, including leading song services and teaching sunday school.   While they should be ineligible for official office, does that mean that consistory does not have the right to let them vote when they feel it is appropriate? 

We're looking at this too.  What about people who marry into the church, but for whatever reason are unable to attend pastor's classes and so fail to meet the criteria for doing a profession of faith?  Is there a mechanism whereby we as council can see that they're committed Christians, participating in Bible studies, and growing in their faith, so that we can encourage them to make profession of faith without having to first jump through some of the hoops?  Sometimes it seems there's some ambiguous level of knowledge that somehow has to be attained before membership can happen.  Was the early church in Acts more accepting?  Was it a special and unique period in the church whereby the Ethiopian eunuch could receive the sacrament of baptism at the conclusion of one pastoral visit?  Was the church somehow more trusting?

You raise some good questions.   First maybe we shouldn't assume that anyone marries "into the church", but rather that they marry a Christian who is a member of the church.   They may already be a member of another church, and marriage by itself does not indicate their level of committment.   Baptism into the body of Christ should maybe be separated from membership in an institution?   Maybe that goes for formal "profession of faith" too?   Or is that not possible?

I serve in a church that is located in an area where the major industry is the US Navy and various support organizations.  That means that our population changes rather frequently as people move from one Naval Posting to another, often on the other coast.  We have many regular attenders who are not formally members of our church.  Many of our people view themselves as just passing through on their current set or orders, or the current support contract.  They have no interest in moving their membership away from their home.  This applies to at least a third of the congregation.  Many of this third are devout christians and provide service and support to our congregation in great abundance.  We are thankful to God for the active provision of help, and don't check too close to see if their formal membership papers are in the file cabinent where we keep such documents when they attend a congregational meeting.  Works for us, although we have never contemplated asking a non-member to serve on council.

Interesting