Why is church membership important? One reason is that it protects Christians from drifting away from Christ. (See the other reasons here.)
God warns us: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). How can we guard against this? “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).
When we conform to the image of this world, giving up fellowship for individualism, we leave our brothers and sisters unguarded. Spiritual collapse is certain without daily exhortation from fellow Christians.
Of course, we could exhort each other without practicing church membership. However, we’d likely only exhort the easy people and forsake the hard people. Yet it’s the hard people who need it the most. Christians must “carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). We must interweave ourselves until we “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor. 12:26). Each Christian must “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others” (Phil. 2:4). We need church membership to discipline us to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14). Otherwise we will fail them and they will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
It is naïve to think that American Christians can withstand the cultural currents without one another. Christian fellowship is radically counter-cultural. Like our non-Christian neighbors, we like individualism, customization and convenience. But being the church requires trading those worldly values in for the values of God’s kingdom: relationships, selflessness and community.
Church membership is the spiritual discipline that helps us trade our independence for interdependence, our autonomy for mutual submission.