Church: a place to belong, not (just) attend

By Andy O'Connell


The idea of belonging to a church - or any other organisation for that matter - is increasingly alien in the world today. Tim Keller tweets: "Everyone says they want community and friendship. But mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way." Krish Kandiah discerns a movement "towards a more eclectic individualistic spirituality.”

Why then does OCC hold to a habit of 'formal church membership'?

Six reasons society doesn't like the idea of membership

1. Our society holds tolerance up as a high value: "Creating a community which expects me to live in line with certain ideals is unpalatable!"

2. Church membership seems a bit exclusive: "Didn't Jesus simply love and welcome everyone?"

3. Society today asks why we can't be committed in practice without needing to make a big deal about it. In relationship society asks: "Why marry when you can simply cohabitate?"

4. Millennial culture is well-known for its aversion to commitment to organisations: "I want to make a difference in the world, so why join a church, when I can just play my part in God's world in other ways?"

5. The Protestant Reformers rightly saw that we each needed a personal relationship with God, not just a cultural or family membership of church, but too often Western Protestants have had a focus on "me and Jesus" instead of community, and so we ask: "Why do I need local church?"

6. In OCC, we are pleased to welcome people from many different previous churches and denominations, as they move into the city. However, we all bring with us differing experiences and expectations of church: "Why do I need to become a member - we didn't do that in my previous church?"

Seven reasons we promote the idea of membership 

1. When we look at the big story of the Bible we see that covenant is the backbone of biblical story. In other words, covenant is how God wants to do relationship with his people. Covenant is about relationship, commitment and loyalty. Contrast that with modern ideas about contract: obligation, outcomes and litigation. Church membership is an expression of covenant.

2. If that's a bit abstract, then think about the word pictures the Bible uses to describe the church, all of which has a sense of mutual commitment: A household built together (Eph 2); a body jointed together (1Co 12); a temple comprising living stones fitted together (1Pe 2, Eph 2). God intended church to be a committed, 'built together' community.

3. In Philippians 2:2 we see this stated explicitly: "Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose." God wants his church be a place of unity and agreement.

4. Pursuing that sort of love and unity in church community is not always easy, and through it God changes us all, nurturing the attitudes and actions of Jesus. This song hits the nail on the head: "You love me as You find me" and "Your love’s too good to leave me here". God has our good in mind, and wants to change us, including through Christian community. 

5. And then, as we become more like Jesus as individuals, and more like his family together, we get to become community of people showing Jesus to the world! Together, as changed people and a unified community, we demonstrate God's plan to the world.

6. Church is a community to be part of and contribute to, not an event to attend. Working together to shape and lead that community requires a level of unity and agreement. As Proverbs famously asks, "Can two walk together unless they are agreed?" Church members take responsibility together for church life, get to lead together and prayerfully shape decisions together.

7. Lastly, the New Testament speaks in several places about church discipline. Today, we don't like to talk about that much, and exploring it fully is a topic for another day, but here let's just note that church discipline doesn't make sense unless you know who is part of your church. 

Let's close with a quote from American Pastor and theologian, Sam Storms: "Why covenant membership? So that when your life starts to fall apart you can rest assured that others who have pledged and promised themselves to you will be there, to love and support you, to pray for you, to instruct you, to walk with you through the worst of times. Why covenant membership? So that in the face of rampant relativism and postmodern mush that says truth is whatever each individual wants it to be you can stand arm-in-arm with brothers and sisters in Christ and say: 'This, the Word of God, is truth. We are united by covenant in our commitment to what it says. And we’re willing to go to the ends of the earth together to make it known, and if necessary to die for it.'"


What does this mean for you? Is God nudging you to get more connected with OCC by joining our next exploring membership opportunity? If you want to find out more, or have questions about what we do, email @email 


Part of a blog series exploring our convictions on church