Most cities in America have social clubs: an official location where a group of homogenous people can gather together. Sometimes these people share the same economic class or recreational activity (country club). Other times it is a shared life experience (VFW) or a desire to spend time with friends (Elks Lodge).
Millions of men and women find value in these social clubs. Sometimes it is the friendships they value, meeting people that share their perspective. For others it is the business or political connections; with apologies to Michael Scott, the golf course is where business happens. However, some of these same people view the church in the same light; it has become nothing more than a church social club.
Attributes of a Social Club
Most social clubs share the same three attributes:
- It is designed for insiders
- Members pay dues
- Membership receives benefits
Sound like some people in the church?
For some, the church will be nothing more than a social club. They will give their offerings (dues), expect ministries catering to their every (insider) need, and look to hold power by serving in leadership positions (benefits). These views give the church a false identity, harmful to the body of Christ.
Alternative to the Church Social Club
Here are three alternative attributes of a church that challenge the social club mentality:
1. Designed for Outsiders
The church cannot be a sealed-off club, only allowing members through the doors. It cannot be exclusivist, because Jesus Christ was not exclusivist! He dined with and died for sinners. God’s grace does not work differently for members in a church and the stranger outside; his love covers all.
In fact, the church exists to reach out to the outsiders! If we take Jesus’ commands seriously, then believers are charged to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are not optional; Christians in the church are to seek, love, and disciple those far away from Christ.
2. Free-will Offerings
God is our everything; He created us, continues to sustain us, and has poured out His grace and mercy upon us. He alone controls and owns all, including the contents of our bank account. As believers, our response to all God has lavished upon us is not dues paid to an organization; it is a natural overflow of our worship to Him.
In the early church, people were selling possessions and bringing what they had to the apostles. They weren’t giving with strings attached, nor expecting a tax-deductible receipt or a plaque on the wall; they gave willingly for the betterment of the body of believers.
3. Covenant Membership
The term membership carries too much baggage in our consumer-centric society. Membership implies something is due to the member, benefits flowing one way from the organization to the member.
Instead, I love using the term covenant to describe membership in a church. Drawing from the rich covenantal images in the Bible, this concept signifies that both parties make promises to the other. To the covenant member, the church promises to protect, equip, and disciple. To the church, the covenant member promises to submit, serve, and be a functioning part of the body.
This view of church membership looks less consumer-centric and more like a marriage commitment. The member is less likely to ask “What is the church doing for me?” and more likely to ask “What can I do for the church?” It also moves the focus away from the preferences of the individual and toward the needs of the community.
The way we view a church’s identity affects our expectations, desired outcomes, and even our theology. The view that the church is a social club promotes the idolatry of self, as seen in the culture of consumerism. This view is wrong and is harmful to the unity of the body of Christ. We need to purge this and other false identities from our congregations. The only way to do that is to preach, teach, and model the biblical roles and purposes of the local church.
Series on False Church Self-Identity:
- Church is Not a Social Club
- Church is Not a Labor Union
- Church is Not a Gas Station
- Church is Not a Volunteer Organization
- Church is Not a Walled Fortress
- Church is Not a Self-Help Group