Membership Vs. Ownership (In The Church)

Recently a church in South Carolina abolished “membership” in their congregation.  Everyone started with a clean slate.  No one was a “member” anymore.

They replaced it with “ownership.”  Congregants could sign up to take ownership of the local congregation.  This includes signing a covenant to attend worship regularly, be a part of a small group, serve in the church or in the community, and give regularly.

Why?  Membership in our culture implies “getting something” from the body.  While ownership suggests “taking responsibility” for the health and well-being of the body.

I like that concept.  What do you think?  Am I missing something or is this something more local churches should be doing?


10 thoughts on “Membership Vs. Ownership (In The Church)

  1. This is an interesting idea. It seems a little extreme to me to do away with everyone’s membership, but I think we all agree that more people need to take ownership instead of “the faithful few.” However, ownership of the church belongs to Jesus, so I’m not sure I totally agree. Also, it was stated that member expect to get something. I think people should have that expectation and that it should be met. I personally get a lot from church–far more than I could ever pay back! But if this congregation can get more people up and working for God, then I say amen!

    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

    • Terry, Great comment. I didn’t write everything that I heard about their experience. One thing they made clear was that Jesus is the Head of the church so they weren’t trying to use ownership in that sense but in attempt to reclaim the original biblical meaning of membership. That concept comes from Paul’s explanation of the church as a body, and that we’re members to each other. Today, membership in organizations is about what we get out of it while ownership is about what give to it, which would be more in line with what Paul is describing.

  2. It sounds like ownership in this church looks like participating more in the ministries of the church–which yes–that means they have taken responsibility to make those ministries thrive but it still seems like they are participating still.
    I also do not think members vs. owners takes care of the underlying issue that our culture creates consumers. No matter if you are a member or an owner you often are still bent on participating in or creating a product that is focused on satisfying self. I am not sure that is the Jesus I find in Scripture but that is another question for another day.
    And lastly, I think one would really need to know one’s congregation. I have heard and lived through horror stories of churches who are controlling-not participating in the ministries just wanting the ministries to cater to them-and to give those types of congregations the title owner might be dangerous.
    But it is an interesting concept. And if more people are getting into the Word, Fellowship and Service–that is a great thing.

    • I certainly agree that this is full of potential mis-use. I don’t see myself pushing this but for the most part I can see why this church did it. They got a lot of flack internally but it was a megachurch that had a lot of people sitting around doing nothing. Those people can still do that but they won’t be on the “ownership” rolls. Most mainline churches do the opposite. We keep people listed as a “member” which is a biblical term but when they stop coming from 2 years (for non-medical reasons) we keep them on “the rolls” because we don’t want to hurt their feelings but how are they still being a “member to one another?”

  3. What is the requirement for giving in order to become an “owner”? Does it require that a person who becomes an owner give 10% of their income to that church? Wouldn’t this exclude people who are “poor” from becoming “owners” since they cannot give a full 10% of their income to the church? I seem to remember that a portion of the tithes collected in the OT were given to the poor instead of being required of the poor…

    • That’s a good question and comment Jack! In the church that I mentioned, I’m not sure the specific requirements for “ownership.” In reading their stuff, I didn’t see anything about giving but I could be wrong. In my congregation, there’s no link of giving to membership. I think there is a danger towards legalism if you start putting those requirements in place.

  4. The word member means to belong, however, membership in almost anything can become a passive experience-How many of us actually step foot into the gym which gets our dues each month. To be an owner means not only to belong but to fully invest in the ministry at hand.

    Now the only precaution I would give with ownership is to never allow owners to become territorial where they will not allow other owners to fulfill their part in the ministry.

  5. That’s a great concept. However it may open some legal parameters. The church will have to give up control – just like stick ownership (shares). Does the church have influx of capital hence money to do such a thing?

    • Victoria, I don’t think they are giving “ownership” of the church literally. Churches typically have “members” which is a biblical concept in line with Paul that we are all members of the One body. But the word “membership” today implies that it’s something we buy and we get some kind of tangible benefits, like joining a health club. So this new language of ownership is trying to correct the consumerist approach to churches by reminding people that they are to take ownership of what is happening in their community, not just be passive observers. So I don’t think this has to do with money in any literal sense.

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