I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer


Why do some people make a big deal about church membership—is it all that important? Does it really make a difference whether I sign a piece of paper or not? Do I get some sort of added perk?

These are the kinds of questions I’ve heard (and sometimes asked) whenever the subject of church membership has come up. Why do we ask them? I suspect it’s because most of us don’t understand the purpose and value of membership.

Then I read I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom Rainer. As president of LifeWay Christian Resources and having served as a pastor, Rainer understands that a healthy church equals healthy church members. This new book offers and explains six commitments of church membership:

  1. I Will Be a Functioning Church Member
  2. I Will Be a Unifying Church Member
  3. I Will Not Let the Church Be About My Preferences and Desires
  4. I Will Pray for My Church Leaders
  5. I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members
  6. I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift

The strength of this book will be immediately clear to its readers: Rainer is direct, confrontational of wrong attitudes, but extremely pastoral in his approach. He doesn’t take any of his points and shame the reader into some form of begrudging submission. Instead, he challenges us to examine ourselves as we read and commit to being true members of our local churches.

Take, for example, his approach to service. Often we have to cajole people into serving. We have multiple announcements about a particular gap—usually in kid’s ministry—where the need is clearly laid out.

Then, the next week, it’s laid out again. And again.

And again.

You get the idea.

Why does this kind of culture exist, where we have to repeatedly ask—and sometimes come close to beg—people to serve in what they consider their church home?

It’s because we don’t understand that a healthy church member is a functional one. “We who are church members are all supposed to function in the church,” he writes. “The concept of an inactive church member is an oxymoron. Biblically, no such church member really exists” (16).

One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: “How can I best serve my church?” You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church.

In every chapter, even the most active member will likely find something that stirs us to question how we view our roles in the church—are we building up or tearing down? Are we making church about “me” or are we striving to count others above ourselves, putting their needs and preferences ahead of our own? Do we see membership as a gift—and are we teaching our families to value it?

These are important questions and Rainer handles each one exceptionally well.

One thing you won’t find in I Am a Church Member? An appeal to any particular form of church governance. This is important because the relationship of membership to organizational structure (congregational vs elder-led) always needs to put a back seat to the essentials of what membership means. One can easily get so caught up in debates over what form of governance is “better” that we miss the point that structure is help to members’ growth in Christlikeness, not a hindrance.

Although extremely valuable for individual reading, I Am a Church Member is best read in the context of a small group discussion. The questions at the end of each chapter are thoughtful and open-ended enough that you can actually engage in some meaningful dialogue in a group context. Regardless of your role in the church, this is a book you want to read and engage with. If read carefully, it will stretch you in how you view church membership, and you’ll come out the other side better for it.

Title: I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
Author: Thom S. Rainer
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group

Buy it at: Amazon

Courtesy of B&H and Shelton Interactive, today I’m giving away two copies of I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer. To enter, leave a comment and tell me why church membership matters to you and how this book might contribute to the culture of your church.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

Reader interactions

24 Replies to “I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer”

  1. […] I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer (May 2013) […]

  2. I am a church member so I may be a committed, connected and contributing part of the local body of Christ.

  3. Peter Stevens May 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    I think church membership as Rainer describes it relates really well to the younger generations. It means something and leads to a real change. It doesn’t mean that your more privileged someone who isn’t a member. I’d love to have a copy as I start working in young adult ministry.

  4. I am interested in reading this book because it seems to be a good tool to use in order to teach and explain to my church what church membership truly is all about.

  5. Church membership is vital for protection of doctrine and church discipline. I love ecclesiology and this would be a fine addition to my library.

  6. Church membership matters because while all Christians are (at one level) part of the Body of Christ, there are many commands and charges made throughout Scripture that hard if not impossible to apply if one is not joined to and identified with a local body of believers. Having just recently transitioned to a full-time position at my church, this book would contribute greatly as we continue to express the importance of such membership to our small church largely composed of people with little or no past church experience.

  7. A person could give all sorts of reasons why membership is important, some of which have already been listed in the comments. One reason is so that you can distinguish who you are accountable to and who you are accountable for.

  8. Church membership matters to me as a member, father, Teacher and leader in my church, and as a trainer of new church leaders. It’s become so under – valued, more like joining a fan club than entering a covenant, and yet we wonder why we have pews full of consumers.

  9. Having a healthy view of church membership can help people remove some of the consumer behaviors from the church. Instead of asking “what can this church provide for me?” they hopefully would start saying “What can I provide to the church?”

    Interestingly enough, our leadership team is in the middle of a discussion on membership and how to best communicate the value. This book would be a welcome resource to aid that discussion!

  10. Andrew Wencl May 2, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Church membership is important because there aren’t any members of the body of Christ who are unimportant to the work and life of the church. I think this book could help a lot in setting the expectation for our newer members who have no prior church experience.

  11. As someone who wants to be a pastor, this book would help me better understand how to build a culture that embraces membership and lay a better theological foundation for it.

  12. This looks like it would be a useful resource to help address the lack of understanding about church membership that exists in the Christian world today, where many people seem to approach church with a consumer “I’ll pick what’s best for me” mentality rather than with a humble “How does God want me to serve Him and my fellow Christians and my neighbours in my local community and beyond” mentality. But even when people grasp something of the value of the local church and being a member of that body, there is still much we can learn and challenge each other about, so I would be interested in reading this and assessing how we might be able to use this resource within our own church.

  13. In the modern world of “just attending church” is rampant, and any church that is, this would be a good book and topic to share about. The repeated appeal for volunteers is also something that many members can relate. Indeed, “One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer
    is: “How can I best serve my church?” You should never ask yourself if
    you should be serving your church.”

  14. I believe the covenant relationship with have with ur fellow church members is so vital . I would love to use this book to help equip others on the necessity & function of healthy church membership.

  15. I currently am at a new Church and discussing Church membership. One of the conditions to serve is that I become a member. That is not a problem. A few of the points discussed in this book that you brought up were discussed with my pastor concerning Church membership. I thought that was interesting and relevant.

  16. As a pastor I often have a hard time answering pragmatically answering why membership matters. Maybe this will help.

  17. Honestly, I would like to read up on the issue. I haven’t thought much on its importance. Don’t know if this qualifies for the book, but I am being honest. I have only thought about saving people and not much else in the aspect of church membership.

  18. Church membership matters because you are submitting yourself to a local body of believers which is a necessary part of your Christian growth.

  19. Being a member of a church is a commitment, a covenant. It is about serving one another and loving one another more than we love ourselves, our time, or our wants. Just as a husband commits and forms a covenant with his bride, so we are to take care of the Bride the Groom has committed to. Hopefully this book could bring a renewed interest in serving God through committing to our local church and community through membership and service.

  20. Dan Brubacher May 1, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    I have heard a lot about this book and would love a copy for my own benefit, let alone that of our congregation. We live in a “membership has its privileges” world, and while on one level this is true even in the church, for the most part church membership is about giving more than getting, adding more than subtracting. It sounds like this book would help to uphold the New Testament perspective on church membership that is totally counter cultural.

  21. I agree with Jon. While your walk with Christ is YOUR walk with Christ, it’s extremely helpful to have some accountability from some in the church’s congregation. Plus fellowship. That’s a tad bit crucial…

  22. Apart from the Lord’s command that we participate in the body of believers, being part of the congregation provides accountability for me, provides me a way to consistently serve God in a very practical way, enjoy the fellowship of other believers, listen to solid expository preaching, and keep that fire burning for the gospel.

  23. I think church membership matters, not only because it’s implied in the new testament, but because when one is united to Christ one is also united to the body of Christ. I think this book would help my church by dispelling the myth that because the church is this flavor or that, its alright to miss out on the full blessing of the church in order to make sure the flavor you like is being presented.

  24. This book would help me to explain to our congregation how membership flies in the face of our culture which resists commitment and stresses independence rather than the interconnectedness we need in the church.

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