I love local churches. I just love them.
I know they are filled with imperfect members. I know all the members are sinners and occasional hypocrites just like me. That reality has not changed since the first century.
But I just love local churches.
And I love being a member of a local church. First Corinthians 12, in essence, gives three qualities of healthy church members: they are committed; they are serving; and they are accountable.
And lest you missed it, the word “member,” referring to church members, is in 1 Corinthians 12 five times. Church membership is biblical and church member is a biblical term.
But what do we do with the concept of dual membership? As a rule, most of us believers should belong to one and only one local congregation. We need to be accountable to one body and ministering where we live. But I can see some exceptions. For discussion, then, let me throw out six perspectives on belonging to two different churches.
Keep in mind, there are doctrinal and polity issues that could preclude dual membership. I certainly want to respect the integrity of each local church. Let’s consider, then, these six perspectives on dual church membership:.
- Yes: If the member truly lives in two different locations throughout the year. Obvious examples include “snowbirds” who migrate south in the colder months, and businesspersons required to live in two locations because of their unique jobs.
- Yes: If the member has a high probability of returning to the original church in the near future. A college student moves out of state but plans on taking a job in her hometown when she graduates. She might do well to minister and serve in both her college church and then her hometown church. A soldier is stationed in another state or country but will be coming home. Both might do well with dual membership.
- Yes: If both churches embrace dual membership. In some contexts, churches do not allow dual membership, but they will allow you to become affiliated with their congregation “under watch care,” whatever that means.
- No: If the church member knows he is not returning, but he has a sentimental attachment to one church. Moving is difficult. Leaving a church we love is tough as well. But that is no reason to stay tied to a congregation where you will never serve in the near future.
- No: If the member wants to escape accountability. I actually heard a church member say he has dual membership, and he has become accountable to neither church. There must be an understanding of accountability in each church.
- No: If the member must compromise doctrinally with either church to join. There are some good churches where I disagree with their doctrines on secondary and tertiary issues. I could not and would not join them. I don’t doubt their faith, but I can’t compromise my beliefs either.
For the past few years, I have been advocating the concept of “I am a church member.” In a few cases, it might be okay to say, “I am a member of two churches.”
I hope you will engage with me on this issue. There is so much to discuss, affirm, and, possibly, disagree.
Posted on August 1, 2016
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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