Christian Behavior: Membership

EPSON scanner imageOver on the right, you see a picture of a membership card of an individual who belongs to the National Rifle Association. That membership card means that the individual named has certain benefits belonging to the organization.

What about membership in the local congregation? When is it received? Are there any responsibilities that come with membership? Can membership ever be terminated? If so, under what conditions?

Personally, after examining the Holy Scriptures, I find the following areas where an individual has membership in the world or in the Church.

  • Birth (being born of the flesh) – All men are sons of Adam.
  • New Birth (being born from above) – The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
  • Marriage
  • Confirmation
  • Worship
  • The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
  • Death (final termination of membership in all cases)

When the individual was Baptized in the Name of the Father and + of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, the parents and sponsors, and maybe even the individual if they were old enough, made promises to God before His Bride, the Church. The vowed to confess the Holy Name of the Trinity even unto death. They vowed to come and worship their King. They vowed to receive the Lord’s Supper. They vowed to hear the Word of God. So, why are congregations closing?

Congregations are closing because Christians are not acting like members. People today have forgotten what it means to be a Christian. Christianity is a daily vocation, a daily tasking given by God to you, His child, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to people around you. Christianity also means nourishing the soul. The soul will starve to death with out the Word of God. I remember something one of my members told me. Membership is all about the BIG THREE: Baptism, Marriage, and Death.

Membership is more than coming into God’s House on Sunday morning to warm the pew and look good in front of your friends. Membership is more than “punching the clock” on Sunday morning in order to say you went to church and did your duty for the week. People will make all kinds of excuses for not going to church. I have to work. I don’t have a ride. I can’t stand up that long. The service is to long. I don’t like the sermons. I don’t like the pastor. Excuses. There are as many excuses in this world as Carter has pills.

Christians have one thing to do one Sunday: GO TO CHURCH! It’s what Christians do. Now, when Christians misbehave, they need to be disciplined just any other child. How else are they going to learn that what they’re doing is wrong? Take a look at the graphic below. I selected this congregation as an illustration of membership and also because I grew up in this congregation and attended Lutheran School for nine years.


As the pastor of the congregation, I would begin by inviting the 660 “members” to come and see me or ask if I could come and see them to discuss there worship life (Communicant Members – Average Attending = LOST)! So, 1549 – 889 = 660 souls starving to death. This is the beginning of a process that might take 2-3 years. It is a tasking that is done because the pastor loves the people.

In the end, if the people just won’t come to church, then they need to be excommunicated. Yes, that’s right. You heard me. Excommunicated. No more of this silly “self-exclusion” stuff either (although I am guilty of using this terminology myself). But, why doesn’t this happen in the congregations? Why are the roles of the church so disheveled?

The roles of the local congregations, districts, and Synod are a mess because no one wants to be accountable. No wants to stand up for God the Father nor His Son Jesus Christ. Are you a Christian if you reject hearing the Word of God and the reception of the Lord’s Supper for a year or more? I stand with Martin Luther and say NO! Membership means something. It means living under the cross of Christ. Is it always easy? No. Jesus didn’t ever say Christianity was going to be easy.

To read the complete paper I wrote on Membership, click here.

We’ll look more at accountability and some other subjects in the near future.


+ Pastor Wurst

Click here for a PDF of this article

Click here for the complete paper on Membership


Christian Behavior: Membership — 29 Comments

  1. Thanks, Pastor Wurst, for this article.

    I thought it important to spread around, so I prepared a PDF of it to make printing it out and sharing it with non-computer people easier. I’ve attached a link to the PDF at the end of the article, as well as a PDF of Pastor Wurst’s original article on Membership.


  2. Thanks to Pastor Wurst for a timely, much-needed article. I think that one of the reasons (at least in the state of Minnesota “nice”!) is that many who do not attend church are hoping to enter heaven through their “nice” lives. Talk to members (esply the elders) about what they see as to why 60% of Mo. Synod Lutherans are sure they will go to heaven and they will reveal a lot about those who refuse to attend the Divine Service. Sad, but true!

  3. This, for the most part, is a good article. However, I hope you cover some of my concerns, which I will list below, with this approach.

    1) Using the example above, it mentions the 889 attend each week, but there are 1549 confirmed members. Is it the same 889 people every week, or is it like a rotation attendance?
    2) How many members are either active-duty military personnel or reserve military personnel who has been called up to be deployed anywhere (whether it be military exercises, combat, or to a military base anywhere in the world)? If they are called up to a military base, do they have family who will be living in military housing?
    3) How many are federal/state/local law enforcement officers and/or prison/jail guards? If there are some, what do their assignments look like (e.g., are they required to work on Sundays)?
    4) How many work as diplomatic staff (e.g., ambassadors to other countries, etc.)? Does their job require them to live outside of the country or outside of the area that they normally live in?
    5) How many are emergency medical staff at hospitals/ambulances/etc?
    6) How many work in emergency services as firefighters?
    7) How many are full-time or part-time college students away from home? If so, on average, how many weekends do they go home?
    8) How many are seminary students/vicars in the M.Div. or A.R. residential programs? If there are any, have they moved to the seminary’s/vicarage assignment’s location? Also, how many are students/vicars in the SMP program for a specific ministry involving them being at either another church or starting a church?
    9) How many are living more than an half hour away from the church (under normal traffic conditions going the speed limit)? If so, do they try to come to church once or twice a month (depending on how far over the half hour that they come from)?
    10) How many are in nursing homes or hospitals as patients? If there are any, do family members regularly visit them at most or all hours of the day which would prevent them from being at service?

    Unfortunately, even going through this, it would probably only cover about 100-200 at best. However, this information should already be known (if you been the pastor for a while) or should be found out by meeting the people (if you are a new pastor of the congregation).

  4. One other noticeable thing about St. Matthew Lutheran Church is that 35% of the baptized members are not confirmed (i.e, most likely children under 12). The communicant membership of many LCMS churches exceeds 80 percent and some are above 95% of total membership.


  5. @Joshua #3


    Thank you for your thoughts. I am currently out of my study but I do wish to address your questions. Please standby…

  6. Very good article and is on a topic I care about. Recently I spoke with my pastor about having a series of Bible classes that hopefully refresh our interest and enthusiasm (maybe bad word :)) for talking more to one another about what we believe…. actually sharing Jesus with one another. It is my hope that this will then enable us to intentionally make house calls to visitors and more importantly – to our inactive members. At my previous congregation we first offered and study called Heart to Heart (can no longer find this workbook) and then on Dialog Evangelism II classes and after about a year we were able to form teams of two who would make visits on Sunday afternoons. The whole program was led by our lay minister. I did the program and then served as a call team member for many years. It is rather difficult and scary but so worth the effort. This is something I would like to encourage and work on at my current congregation. I have printed out this very excellent paper and will share it on Sunday. It is my belief that something as simple as a personal friendly visit might just put a few members back on track with attendance.
    Since Dialog Evangelism II is no longer published by CPH – I am not really sure what format to use to begin this idea. Anyone have suggestions – maybe something that has worked at your congregation? I think that a Bible class would be a good place to begin – then working into forming groups and practicing our calls on one another to gain confidence. Then we could move out to actual friendly visits to current members -and later to our inactives and visitors. Input and suggestions so very welcome!!

  7. @Pastor John Wurst #5
    I don’t necessarily need the answers posted on here. It is just something to think about before automatically excommunicating those who don’t appear on the weekly attendance roster. However, I suspect that those circumstances which I mentioned comprise of a small minority of that gap.

  8. Getting back to this article, I am not agreeing with the idea of excommunicating inactives, although I very much agree with the topic and what I think is the intent of the article. My suggestion above is my way of helping to close that gap and to prevent any drastic action from being taken – that part is up to the pastor. As a layperson, I am responding as such with ways that we can help to lessen those numbers. I have been inactive from time to time and a friendly visit may have been just the ticket to solve the things that made me stray temporarily.

  9. wow. what a GREAT idea!
    Excommunicate people who don’t come to church!

    Consider this:
    The Holy Spirit works conversion, enlightenment, sanctification,and preservation, ALONE through God’s Word which, alone is to be found in church.

    So lets decide to cut off anyone who slacks off in church attendance from that ONE place where, alone, they will find eternal life.

    What was it that the early Lutherans did in their towns where everyone was baptized and considered a member of the parish? Did they go door to door and excommunicate and so purify the church roster?

    Where in the heck in art VII and VIII of the augustana and apology do you find such satanic notions?

  10. sorry for the intensity of my post, but this is very very important. missionary work would be a lot better than excommunication maybe?

  11. As the pastor of the congregation, I would begin by inviting the 660 “members” to come and see me or ask if I could come and see them to discuss there worship life… [A Matthew 18 process would be included here, as specified in the LCMS church’s constitution]… In the end, if the people just won’t come to church, then they need to be excommunicated.


    5.4.2 Communicant members who conduct themselves in an un-Christian manner shall be admonished according to Matthew 18:15.20 and the congregation’s stated and adopted guidelines. [17] If they remain impenitent after proper admonition, they shall be excommunicated. Each case of excommunication or self-exclusion shall be presented to the voters assembly for a decision. A two-thirds majority vote of the voters assembly shall be required.

    Footnote 17. The matter of termination of membership is of great importance since it involves the larger subject of church discipline. It is therefore advisable that congregations prepare and adopt separate guidelines to address this topic, especially keeping in mind the following:

    1.) Be consistent in applying discipline.
    2.) Carefully follow disciplinary guidelines.
    3.) Do not allow unsubstantiated charges to be circulated by the church.
    4.) Base decisions on clearly stated biblical grounds.

    In the case of “just won’t come to church,” some specifics on items 1 – 4 could be fleshed out.

  12. @Joshua #3
    I would second Joshua’s first point. In my congregation, approximately 40% of the members are in church on a given Sunday; however, only about 15-20% are inactives. A very significant portion of our members – perhaps the majority – attend only every other week or once a month. Also, quite a few members go to the lake every weekend during summer, and some other members go south every winter, both of which negatively impact our numbers. I would imagine that this is the same for quite a few congregations.

  13. @Joshua #3


    I thank you for your patience. You present a masterful, thought out list of things for pastors to consider. I am going to answer your inquiry in three areas: 1) away from home, Weekend workers, and 3) Nursing homes.

    The easy one first. The members in nursing homes. These people are seen on a regular basis by the pastor. Scratch them from your list. They don’t count.

    Next, the first group are those away from home. You mentioned the military, diplomats, college students, seminary students, vicars, etc. All of these, although on the rolls, are accounted for as they should be attending church somewhere else. Actually, except for the military and seminary students, the others should be transferred to a congregation close to their home.

    Finally, the weekend workers. Unless the member is actually working the day shift on Sunday, they should be in church on Sunday mornings. For those who work the day shift on Sunday, maybe there is a midweek worship opportunity at the congregation or a sister congregation nearby. Either way, they should be attending church every week.

  14. @Carl Vehse #4

    Carl, thank you for your statistical insight. However, I do not want this post to be a bashing session against St. Matthew. I only selected them because I grew up in the congregation and was aware of the members numbers. I thought this would make a good example. Thanks for understanding.

  15. @Debbie Harris #6


    Thank you for your thoughts and ideas. I just want to let you know that resolution to finding the lost members does not require a special program. All you need is the Word of God. Just start by asking them a simple question, Why haven’t you been in church? See what they say. They will probably get defensive with you. Be cautious.

    I would suggest that the seeking begin with your pastor. Let him lay the groundwork through initial correspondence. Let the Elders, those spiritual assistants to the pastor, lend a hand. Maybe start out with a note card that invites them to church. Let them know they are being prayed for and thought about. Tell them they are missed.

    Go slow, real slow. Follow your pastor’s lead.

  16. @fws #9

    FWS – Thank you for your thoughts and concerns. I due regret that you missed the target of this article. The actual target is to get the people to return to church, to faithfully hear the Word of God, and to receive the Lord’s Supper regularly.

    However, if they remain unrepentant, lost, and hard hearted, then the Church must speak as Jesus directs us in Matthew 18.

    You can read more on this from Carl Vehse in post #11 above.

  17. @NB #12

    NB, thank you for your thoughts. I regret you present more problems. You stated, “A very significant portion of our members – perhaps the majority – attend only every other week or once a month. Also, quite a few members go to the lake every weekend during summer, and some other members go south every winter, both of which negatively impact our numbers.”

    This is sad. The majority of the members only attend 1-2 times a month? The pastor needs to speak with these members and find out why they are not hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of Christ.

    Going to the lake is only an excuse. There must be a congregation nearby. GO TO CHURCH!

    As for those who go south in the winter, the pastor should be handing them off to another pastor where they are vacationing. They should be going to church! Going south is not a valid reason for not going to church.

  18. @Pastor John Wurst #17

    Pr. Wurst,

    I certainly agree – it is sad that so many members do not attend weekly. My point is that they still do attend regularly, even if not as often as they should. I would therefore hesitate to declare that 60% of my congregation is “lost”.

    As for those who go to the lake during summer, many of these do attend church at a nearby congregation, but we don’t count them when figuring our own average attendance. It is partly as a result of this that our average attendance drops by approximately 70 members during the summer.

    I guess my overall point concerns your equation “Communicant Members – Average Attending = LOST!” It seems to me that this is rather inadequate. I would think that the equation “Baptized Members – Total number of those who attend x number of times = Lost” would be better.

    Also, to that point, you state that “In the end, if the people just won’t come to church, then they need to be excommunicated.” How many times per year would a person have to come to church in order to avoid such an excommunication? I’m thinking here not so much from the lax member’s point of view but from the pastor’s and elders’. Who would you excommunicate? Those who attend monthly? Quarterly? Just Christmas and Easter? Practically speaking, where do you draw the line?

  19. Rhetorical question: why is purposely disobeying the 3rd commandment seemingly less abhorrent to church leaders/elders than say, the 5th or 6th?

    If there were people in a congregation obviously unrepentant about breaking these other commandments, I doubt even the most patient of us would put up with such behavior very long. Since coming to the LCMS 5 years ago, I’ve been curious why despising the preaching of His Word by 1/3 or more of a congregation is considered par for the course. Should I assume its a numbers issue?

  20. @Joshua #7
    However, I suspect that those circumstances which I mentioned comprise of a small minority of that gap.

    In an urban environment, where everyone expects to be able to shop and eat out on Sunday, where hospitals, EMS, police & firemen have to be on duty, schools increasingly usurp Sunday mornings, (or if not schools, then “charity” marathons), more people than you think may be out of church on Sunday. Many jobs require work on alternate Sundays, sometimes two Sundays out of three.

    A pilot I know (who could be in church more often than he is, I’ll grant) is working out of town at least two Sundays a month.

    I’m not attempting to excuse “Sunday paper worshippers”. But that 660 has to be examined a little more thoroughly. If they really haven’t been in church in a year (and are not bedridden or in jail), questions should definitely be asked.

    The church could do more for the Sunday workers, though! Our neighborhood Roman Catholic church had Mass on Saturday and Monday evenings. A family could be out of town for the weekend and still attend church there. A Sunday evening service might also serve those who have the early shift.
    At least question whether you could serve the missing before you excommunicate.

  21. @Pastor John Wurst #13
    maybe there is a midweek worship opportunity at the congregation or a sister congregation nearby.

    Are you providing such a midweek opportunity?
    I know of one large church that did, for about three months one summer and then decided that 50-60 people “weren’t worth the trouble”!

    [I have several friends whose missions/small congregations’ total membership is less than that but big churches apparently have members to discard.]

  22. @Pastor John Wurst #17
    Going south is not a valid reason for not going to church.

    Actually, I think some of our “valley” congregations depend on the influx of “winter Texans” and their dollars so people are not necessarily away from church, just not counted at home.
    [Only one problem: it increases the pressure for “open” communion, as the people from the Mid West are not all LCMS. Florida-Georgia district has caved to that, as I understand it, and I wouldn’t vouch for the [Rio Grande] Valley.]

    ‘Nuff from me!

  23. Pastor Wurst,
    Excommunication seems extreme. There are some people that despite the best efforts of the Pastor, elders, and other congregational members cannot be reached. Can you be sure that those that cannot be reached or do not respond just did choose to worship elsewhere? Did they move away? Cleaning up the roles is one thing, but excommunication is something else entirely.

  24. @Pastor John Wurst #17

    Let me hopefully present even more problems. In this, I will not be covering those who do not go to church because of “going to the lake” or “going south”. That has already been covered. However, I will be addressing the issue of people who live far away from any confessional Lutheran church.

    As it has been stated time and time again, programs such as Issues, Etc., Worldview Everlasting, and etc. have brought people into confessional Lutheranism who were evangelicals. This would present no problems if there was a confessional Lutheran church near where some people live. However, in some cases, this does not always happen.

    Therefore, the former evangelical is faced with three options: 1) hope to move eventually, 2) travel sometimes an hour and sometimes 3-4 hours to join a confessional Lutheran church, or 3) a combination of 1&2. In these cases, I feel for those stuck in this situation, partially because I was in a similar situation (although since I didn’t have reliable transportation, I couldn’t join or even go to a Lutheran church until I moved).

    What should we do about this situation? The idea situation would be to send pastors to these areas to start confessional Lutheran churches in such areas, but that is not happening in most cases.

    Note: Although this problem is becoming significant, it only probably only counts for a minority of the issue.

  25. @Pastor John Wurst #17

    Was a snowbird a few years ago, and there were no confessional LCMS churches in the area except one with a occasional polka service and commingling of Law and Gospel (I’m looking at you, Apache Junction!). There was an ELS church in Scottsdale, tho’. Came back home missing the Liturgy. I was “lost” all right!

  26. @NB #18
    Who would you excommunicate? Those who attend monthly? Quarterly? Just Christmas and Easter? Practically speaking, where do you draw the line?

    A ULC church we attended (many years ago, obviously) had a rule that “anyone who had not attended or contributed in three years” would be dropped from the rolls [not excommunicated.]
    Coming from the rural Midwest, at a time when going to church was what you did on Sunday morning, it seemed a little lax.

    [This was before lights on tractors, 24/7 field work and other excuses for not being in church.] 🙁

  27. I am being completely honest in this question, and not looking for trouble. where are we getting confirmation from the scriptures? I care about confirmation dearly, but am also very curious how it all came about.

  28. @curiousstudent #27

    Hello Curiousstudent, thank you for your question. There are so many sources within the Scriptures that talk about and define the behavior of Christians. On this particular issue of membership, I would encourage you to read the paper I wrote (clink the link at the bottom of the article).

    In this paper, I detailed the various points of membership from the beginning of ones life until death. I think you will find it interesting. Let me know.

  29. Excellent article. Very Encouraging.

    I am in Dallas Texas. I am new the the Lutheran denomination. I have been incredibly hurt and disappointed in the last two years by our new congregation. So much so that my wife and I were beginning to feel we made a huge mistake in coming to our Lutheran Church and School.

    I came to ‘Steadfast’ trying to understand what Lutheranism means and why the Church is what it is. I am encouraged to find articles like this one. I am encouraged to find articles about political action in the name of Christ our risen Lord. I am encouraged enough to go back to our school board and say, “You cannot teach Christianity on top of Secular Humanism. You cannot change the Declaration of Independence to suit your viewpoint. You cannot hold up a homosexual as a role model to a room full of second graders.”

    I am encouraged by your article as well as the remnant I have found here at John the Steadfast.

    Keep up the good work. Thank You.

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