Members and Attendees

Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27

Are you a member of this church? Would you like to be?

Our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a website where you can find different types of reports by our Research Services arm. If you’ve ever wondered how many Presbyterians there are, or the number of congregations they belong to, you can go there to find the answers.

Periodically, the folks at Research Services issue a report, and, frankly, most of those are pretty depressing. The number of people worshiping in PC(USA) churches on Sunday, for example, is down by almost 20% from what it was in 1999.

Sometimes, though, the stats aren’t depressing as much as they are interesting. For example, one of those studies showed that smaller churches like ours have a higher ratio of members to worshipers than larger churches do.

Churches our size (50-100) average 64% in attendance each week. So if we had 89 members, then we would expect to have about 57 people attending our worship services. A church 10 times our size, however, would expect a lower percentage (43%) to attend, or about 382 people.

Where are the others? They might be ill or traveling. Then again, they might have overslept. Or they could simply be playing hookey.

As it happens, our church does better than average. We have about 72 people in church on an average Sunday, which is more like 80% of our membership.

That doesn’t mean everyone who attends on Sunday is a member. A small percentage of congregations, about 6% of all PC(USA) churches, have more people in attendance than they have members.

There are several reasons why that can happen, not least of which is the financial incentive. We pay a “per-capita apportionment” (PCA) of $33 to our middle- and higher-level governing bodies. It’s sort of like a head tax, because if you reduce the number of heads, you pay less.

We pay about $3,000 in PCA every year. But we only pay it for members.

If you’ve been attending the church faithfully for 10 years and never become a member, you’re helping the church meet its budget. But I wish you wouldn’t. You joining the church may cost us more, but that’s only fair, because it will cost you too. It’s supposed to.

Jesus said that anyone who was thinking about being his disciple needed to count the cost first. And he wasn’t talking about money. He said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27-28).

Membership will cost you more than just money. Membership means you are throwing in your lot with us. Membership is saying, “That’s my church.” When we do things right, you can bask in reflected glory, but when we mess up, you can be embarrassed with the rest of us. When there’s a need, you get to pull out your wallet too, or roll up your sleeves, or both.

Membership is never cheap. It’s just that you can’t be part of the body of Christ any other way.

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