Kimberly N. Alleyne
The Harvest Magazine
Is it acceptable for churches to set parameters on what individuals can join their congregations?
I have applied for jobs, loans, credit cards, scholarships but never have I applied to be a member of a church congregation. And I have never worshipped at a church where it was required to “apply” for membership. Think about it: it’s a church–the Bride of Christ. How can it be required for an individual to apply to be a part of something that belongs to God, His Son and the Kingdom at large? How does that work exactly?
I am writing this after hearing about a show on which a congregant boasted how a gentleman had applied to be a member of the congregant’s church. The congregant, a male who spoke with his face hidden, boasted how the gentleman had “applied” to join the church, but that it was decided that the “applicant” would not be a good fit for their church, and subsequently his application to join was “denied.”
And do note that the congregant spoke with his face hidden. I don’t know, but that kinds smells like shame to me. Why not show us who you are if you really feel the process is ethical?
Anyway, in parallel to learning about that incident, I learned of someone who was thinking of a joining a church where she’s enjoyed fellowshipping for several months only to learn the church, too, has an application process. She is now rethinking her decision.
Listen to our two-part podcast with Pastor Steven R. Woods, Living Word Faith Center in New Albany, Mississippi. Part 1
I won’t publish the name or denomination of either church, because doing so will not add substance to the context of this article, which is about why and how a church can justify rejecting someone from being part of God’s church.
Who decides whether a person can join, and what criteria do they use to make their decision? (I think I even take issue with the word “member” and how it can, at times, segregate folks, theoretically speaking). So if I am not accepted to be a member of New Glory to God Bethlehem on the Rock Church what does that imply, intentionally or unintentionally, about my worthiness in the Kingdom?
I certainly understand, am familiar with and have no problem with churches keeping member profiles. That’s far different than having an application process where one might be turned away. How different is that from applying to join a fraternity or sorority where the decision is based on popularity, conformity, or simply whether an individual is liked?
Is not the Church supposed to be the place where goers heal from rejection and not be subjected to it? Aren’t there enough existing occurrences of rejection in our churches? Maybe I’m missing something but the principle seems hurtful, discriminatory, rooted in judgment and just plain wrong. I can’t see how it can ever be justified to tell an individual she or he cannot join a church.
The Harvest is a forum for analysis, essays commentary and features about spirituality, religion, culture and the Church. Despite, what views are espoused here, we are fair foremost. So in the spirit of fairness, and in obligation to thorough journalism, I solicited the opinions of others.
“I do not think this [membership applications] is a practice fitting for God’s church because it is the opposite of what Christ has done for more than 2,000 years. When we start taking applications for screening purposes, we send a message that we will accept you based on past criminal history, education, employment, and/or previous church history. We are NOT saying we love unconditionally like CHRIST says; we are saying we love conditionally.” — Tosha Robinson, Poughkeepsie, New York
Part 2 of our podcast with Pastor Steven R. Woods, Living Word Faith Center, New Albany, New York
- Have you heard of churches that use an application process to screen for new members? I have heard of these churches– mainly these churches have lots of members.
- Is this a practice you think is fitting for God’s church? Why or why not? Absolutely not! Church should be the one place you don’t have to fit into a certain criteria, you aren’t interviewed for or expected to meet some kind of standard. So, this practice is like applying for a job where they look at you and see if you have enough experience or they like you enough. If you can impress enough on paper then you go to the next round… That is called judging. This is wrong according to Matthew 7:1.
- Under what circumstances would it be acceptable or understandable for a church to use an application screening process? It is understandable– not necessarily biblical if the church has full time or part time paid employees. These are church positions not membership. Of course when hiring staff for things like children’s ministry or finance ministry. I feel that experience is needed. Also, when there are multiple people wanting the same position. The only way to fairly chose the person to assess the person’s background.
- What does the Word say about this? I have not seen the word talk about an application for membership. Actually the Bible says the Lord added to the church daily such as was saved…Acts 2:47. if we look throughout the New Testament and in particular the book of Acts when the church was formed, the people were meeting house to house. Was there a screening process????