The other day I received in the mail my membership card for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). I suppose it could be seen as kind of strange to decide to be a member of a museum whose admission, other than the occasional special exhibit, is free. Why pay to become a member of something when anybody can walk through the doors and receive an amazing amount of what the place has to offer at no cost? (Well, other than perhaps parking.)
True, there are a few perks to membership, things such as free parking and special passes to ticketed exhibits. But that’s not why I joined. I joined because I believe in the mission of the VMFA and wanted to show my support in a tangible way. And those perks don’t do me any good if I don’t take the time to use them. I believe by spending time in the museum, my life will be enhanced, my perspective broadened, my appreciation deepened. I became a member to not only prompt myself to take advantage of the museums offerings, but also to see them continue to make such experiences available to others free of charge.
It is worth noting that with few exceptions, non-profit organizations like the VMFA ask you each year if you wish to continue your membership. I had to make a conscious decision to continue to be a member in 2014, to find compelling the reasons they gave for why I would want to stay a member and support their vision. I find it interesting we do nothing of the sort when it comes to church membership.
You say you want to be a member once and we assume you continue to stay interested even if you haven’t darkened the doorway in years. Membership in the church has ceased to be life enhancing or life affirming for someone and yet those of us whose names are listed beside them seem not to notice. The point of church membership seems to be a way for denominational bodies to mark which churches are “growing” and then compare themselves with other denominational bodies as to who is bigger and therefore better.
The funny thing is, there are folks attending church who believe in the mission, who choose to support the church in tangible ways with their time and resources, yet who have never felt the need to actually join the church. And I think that is just fine. Jesus called a bunch of folks to become disciples, not church members. The two are not always synonymous. Yet even when they are, the church could always use a little membership renewal.