Implementing Membership in a Church Plant

by The Ecclesiologist

After my previous post on church membership, I was happy to be directed to some reflections on church membership over at the 9 Marks blog.  Michael McKinley is a paster of a Baptist church in Virginia.  He also authored a book on church planting, and in this recent blog post he discusses when to implement membership in a church plant.

The article can be found here.

The article had some good thoughts.  McKinley encourages membership as soon as possible.  He writes,

“At their inception, most church plants are not able to act as fully functioning congregations. In the absence of formal church membership, the church cannot exercise church discipline or administer the Lord’s Supper or baptism in a biblical way. So planters should feel a burden to establish membership as soon as it’s doable.”

McKinley’s article provides good thought, however, his baptist ecclesiology gets in his way.  If the church plant has no membership, they cannot baptize people into the church.  If they cannot baptize, then they also are not a church.  However, I think the Scriptures would lead us to believe that church planters baptize, exercise discipline over saints, and plant churches (though they may be immature churches).

The baptist ecclesiology creates a vicious circle because they have no outside tangible authority structure (like a presbytery).  In the Scriptures, I believe a church planter like Titus would baptize converts.  I also believe he would expect those converts to be under his and any other elders authority (especially Paul’s).  Though this church is immature, it can still easily have membership.

In my opinion, if an church plant is in a city that does not have a many capable men to become elders, that church ought to make strong ties with their planting denomination so that members do not feel as though they are only under the authority of only one man (their particular pastor).  Another idea which I have not seen done would be for the church to hire or bring in an elder from the outside.  This could speed up the process of establishing elders.

What church planters should avoid is not just wearing Hawaiian Shirts behind the pulpit but also giving Christians the slightest hint that it is possible to be a Christian and to not be a member of a church or under the authority of an elder.

Church plants, in my opinion, have a great opportunity to fix many of the ecclesiological woes that exist in North American Christianity today.  Albeit baptist, I was glad to see some thoughts about church planting and ecclesiology.