Skip to main content

We often talk about the difficulty of transferring membership records to churches that don't have formalized membership. Where do we send the record, who takes care of it, do we just hold it, etc.

What about when someone just flat out leaves the church and requests that their membership simply be cancelled? They don't believe in God, and don't ever anticipate being a Christian again.  Aside from the pastoral work involved, and the hope that God will still work in their lives that they might come to know him again, what do we do on an administrative end?  

Other than excommunication, the closest thing that I can find is Church Order Article 68:

Each church shall keep a complete record of all births, deaths, baptisms, professions of faith, receptions and dismissals of members, and excommunications and other terminations of membership.
It's this "termination of membership" clause that I'm not sure of.  There seems to be a precedent for terminating membership other than death, dismissal, and excommunication.  Would this count?  If so, then the real question is just what the best and most appropriate format is to do this.
My gut reaction is, after discussing the matter with them, send them the membership papers so that they can do with them what they would like. It seems to provide maximum respect to them as an individual, while still taking seriously the membership commitment they had one time made.  In fact, at this point (the question is, afterall, not hypothetical), the last thing that I want to do is make them feel trapped in a bureaucratic process akin to that of cancelling a cell-phone contract. Who wants that hassle, and if it is such a process to get out, then maybe I'd (or they'd) think twice before entering a place of worship again. Cleanly say good-bye, and hopefully we can say hello again.

Is there any wisdom out there, or others who have dealt with this sort of thing in a good way?


I'm curious about what paper you would actually send. We've had two such situations and in both cases simply wrote "Terminated" across their membership page in the black record book. I keep these, as well as our lapsed membership forms in a separate binder, so I have an active and an "inactive" binder.

"membership papers' are actually only a communication between churches, not between a church and its members.

It is likely not appropriate to send such a "communication" to a member who can then show the paper to a new church.

I sometimes write a church whether they would like to have a membership record if we know a member goes to that church.

It is then up to that church whether they need such a paper from us.

For people who leave our church and actually tells us about it(!) it is easy to mark up our records (after the council contacts them about to be sure the person is welcome to come back).

Church Order 2010, articles 66-68 especially the supplement to article 67 concerning lapsing memberships is very helpful.  You can see that online at the CRC website, follow "Resources" to "Synod" and then second one in the list is Church order, click on English or Korean :)  You need page 90 of the church order.

Historically, (as I understand it) the core of membership is a willingness to submit to the spiritual oversight of the elders in a particular congregation.  When you change churches, your old church asks your new church if they are willing to take over that oversight.  However, we have put that request into the hands of the individual member and end up waiting on them sometimes for a decade.  Thankfully we may also lapse in some specific situations.

Here is what lapsing is in a nut shell: if person has moved away, does nothing about their membership then after 2 years, you can lapse their names off your membership list.

if the person is still local to your congregation, claims to be Christian and claims to be worshipping elsewhere, and is not doing anything worthy of discipline,  but they do nothing about their membership, you may after 2 years also lapse their membership off you membership list. 

Elder and pastor contacts should be made etc. but in some cases it just goes nowhere.  Lapsing makes no judgment about their relationship to the Church universal nor about their salvation status, but simply recognizing they no longer are a part of your congregation in  any meaningful way.

this does not apply to shut-in ins, or students or military personel temprorily away from your congregation .

If a person resigns their membeship in the process of you trying to minister to them, then Council may choose to acquiesce to their resignation and remove them from your membership.  We have normally informed persons of their membership being lapsed but on occasion people move away and then move again and we have no idea where they have gone. 

We also do not wait for the 2 year period for people who move away permenantly but let them know before they leave to find a church home in a few months to which we might send their membership and offer anyhelp we can in that search.  If they are into a church that doesn't accept such things we offer to send them a statement of membership documenting their history with our congregation as a member and then lapse their membership  here.


All this is not intended to replace admonition and discipline of willful waywardness but keeping up with people movements and comings and goings is begging the question here about what we mean by membership and why we have such a protracted system of dealing with it. 

Perhaps it is time to re-visit a parish model of a church community, who we are responsible for, churched or not,  rather than our club model with membership fees and insiders and outsiders. 

Perhaps we have to stop viewing people as being here for the church, so that we look for people to join us, as if people in the community are a resource for our church and instead view the Body as a resource for the community, we are here to serve them.  What would that do to "membership"  ideas?  Just a thought.



Thanks for your comments. From your comments and my research, it does look like there aren't really membership papers as there are just church records. 

Perhaps, then, what would be best would be to simply supply the person with a letter that tells them that their membership has been taken off the church records. Hopefully a letter like that does not come as a surprise, but instead as a response to someone's request that their membership be terminated.

By the way, I do think that membership is an important thing for the church today, but I wouldn't call it a "club" model. It's for the same reason that I think actually getting legally married is important today, rather than just two "committed" people living together. It's not about being a club. It is about being committed. Perhaps membership is more important now than it was before. If for no other reason than it pushes actual committment in a non-committal age.

I see that this last point has shown up elsewhere on the network. Perhaps it would be good to have a further discussion about it.

All of the above comments have been very good and very practical.   I only wish to comment that the parish model does not impress me much.   Particularly since there are many churches covering a particular geographic area.   To be a member without participating and without committing is not what a church is about.   A church can minister to non-members as well as members.  

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post