How long should you attend a church before pursuing membership?

This has been a question I have been asked not just through the blog, but even more recently in my church by those visiting.  It is a common scenario.  You move to a new area.  You get settled at your new residence and job.  You get the kids settled in school.  Where you settle in a local church often times becomes a longer, more drawn out task.  After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are some questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.

Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word?  This is the first question that needs to be asked.  Not just are they faithful to the Word of God, but is this a church where the preaching and teaching is such that my soul and the souls of my family will be nourished because of the way the Word of God is taught and preached?  In other words, are they preaching expositionally through books of the Bible as the regular, steady diet of the congregation.  This does not automatically answer this question, but is a great place to start and evaluate, in my opinion.

Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority?  Does this church have real pastors/elders who see their primary task to be the spiritual care and oversight of the souls of the members?  In other words, just because they have powerful, biblical preaching, does not mean your individual soul will be tended to on a regular basis.  Ask the pastors.  Ask other church members.  It will not take much investigation on whether this is a priority of the leadership of the church.

Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability?  To know this, it will require a bit of a commitment to one church for a time to build relationships, attend some church fellowship events, and get to know some of the pastors and leadership.  Yet, you must have a realistic expectation as you are not yet a member, so do not expect to be treated as one.

Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit?  It will help to know where you are gifted and what some of the needs of the church are, but often times there are many needs that you can fill by simply your presence and commitment.  Also, do not assume you know what those areas of need are by your limited observations.  Look to see what ministries exist and where you see yourself and your family fitting.

It will be different for everyone depending on the choice of churches and the efforts you make, but you should be able to know the answers to these questions within a few months of attending one church if you give yourself to the process.  If you can answer in the affirmative to all 4 of these questions, it is a good possibility you have found your next church.  If you find yourself in that place I would encourage you not to delay, but to pursue membership.

Finally, there is one essential element that must exist in this process.  It is the key to possessing the zeal required in this search.  That is, a constant feeling of uneasiness that should exist in you knowing you and your family are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls.  The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency.  In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.

Posted in Discipleship, Home and Family, Oversight of Souls, Preaching
7 comments on “How long should you attend a church before pursuing membership?
  1. Corey says:

    Great points. How about if we’re struggling with more practical elements of the church? Such as, the structure of the church, or the form of church government?

    For example, I am convinced by Scripture that a church should be led by a plurality of elders, and I am generally against the mulit-site approach. However there aren’t churches in our area that function these ways. So, we drive 25 min away to church, which has limited our involvement (especially in the community).

    So, is it wise to compromise and sacrifice my convictions in order to be in a more local congregation, and/or to sit under a preaching style that is more edifying? And then simply try to live in unity and peace under a form of church structure or government I’m not in agreement with?

    Thanks.

    • briancroft says:

      Great question. I think these 4 questions are the basic ones that we should be asking while searching for a church. Whether a church has elders or are multi-site could help answer the question of whether the individual care of your soul is possible. In other words, make sure your other questions or concerns are not answered through these 4 basic questions. Polity is important, but many of those things are changing as the church moves to a greater place of health, which you may need to be a part of that transition. I am grateful for those who came to our church while our polity was a mess, but hoping to bring change slowly. They didn’t come because of polity, but did stay because they felt fed by God’s Word. In contrast, a church trying to move to faithful preaching is a more risky gamble in my opinion. I hope that helps.

      • Corey says:

        Thanks for responding. That definitely helps. I see more clearly now how the central themes from your 4 questions, specifically the primary importance of being fed by God’s Word, will work itself out into all the others areas of the church. Good word.

  2. Chris Poteet says:

    Thanks Pastor Croft. This is wise guidance. Lord willing, I hope to call you my pastor soon.

  3. Paul says:

    How about if the idea of having to join a corporation that is registered with the government for the purposes of tax avoidance, with one professional man getting paid to pontificate his views every Sunday and being paid for it, to be considered a “member” rather than just your confession of faith in Jesus and your regularly assembling with other believers, strikes you as repugnant?

    • briancroft says:

      The spirit of your question gives me the sense you really don’t want an answer. Nevertheless, here goes…
      How are you able to discipline “those you are gathering with who believe in Jesus” if someone commits adultery and is unrepentant about it? How do your pastors know whose souls they will answer for and give an account (Heb. 13:17) and those who they do not?

  4. Charles Q. Simmons says:

    Is there any biblical reason why a woman can have authority over men in the congregation? In this time in human history, is speaking in tongues still a biblical means of communicating (praying) with our God?

4 Pings/Trackbacks for "How long should you attend a church before pursuing membership?"
  1. [...] The Lord has given me the opportunity to serve with Brian Croft, who’s blog Practical Shepherding frequently offers very good pastoral advice. We minister together in Louisville KY and have a number of visitors, especially seminary families, who come in for a while then leave to check out another church. Some return and join; some don’t. All of this hopping around leaves the pastors with a question we have to answer for many couples who visit not only our church but several other gospel-centered churches in town. “How long should you attend church before pursuing membership?” [...]

  2. [...] light of all the church-hopping happening (haha), I thought this article by Brian Croft on how long to check out a church was [...]

  3. [...] What we are looking for in the church we join – is of great importance. What is our expectation in what we want to like about our church? What must take place in the church we join and what is of secondary importance. Brian Croft, who is always helpful about these issues wrote an article entitled, “How long should you attend a church before pursuing membership?” It is a thoughtful article for every church member, not just for those contemplating membership. It is doubly worth reading by those believers who have no true commitment to any church.  Read here [...]

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