How We Turn Churches Into Clubs

034C0905LLIn the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI sits a huge steam locomotive known as an “Allegheny Locomotive.”  It was an H-8 class built by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, OH specifically designed with big horsepower to haul heavy loads of coal through the Allegheny Mountains.  It weighed 771,000 pounds and was 125 feet long.  Only 60 of these locomotives were ever made (from 1941-1948) and just two exist today.  Shortly after production of the Allegheny Locomotive began, they were replaced by diesel engines.

I recently read an article about this locomotive that explained 96% of the energy it produced from the steam was used just to move the locomotive itself.  Only 4% was used to pull the load of freight.  As I read that, it occurred to me this locomotive is an illustration of many churches.  Often a church will have many more members who drain and absorb the resources of the church than it has members who give back through service, giving, and investment of time and giftedness.  If the number of members who help the church carry the load of its mission are greatly outnumbered by the members who do not, then that church is unhealthy and ineffective.

Thom Rainer, in his book I Am a Church Member, illustrates this idea of the “96% and 4%” by showing that many people view their membership in church as they would a membership to a country club.  People join a club because of the perks it brings.  They pay their dues, and this gives them the rights to demand certain services and privileges.  That’s how clubs operate, but it should’t be true of churches.  If church members throw some money in the offering plate and then expect to do nothing but receive services and ministries from the church, they have a skewed and unbiblical view of church membership.  Rainer notes that for people with this mindset “membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices.”

The Allegheny Locomotive

The Allegheny Locomotive

In 1 Cor. 12:12, Paul told the Corinthians that the church is one body made up of many members.  Each member/part of the body has certain functions/responsibilities.  Every church member needs to fulfill his or her responsibility in service to the church.  Thus, in the same chapter, Paul reminded the Corinthians that every follower of Christ has been given at least one gift by the Holy Spirit that is to be employed, not for selfish gain, but for the benefit of others (1 Cor. 12:11; 1 Pet. 4:10). Rainer writes, “With a country club membership you pay others to do the work for you. With church membership, everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet, ears, or eyes. We are all different, but we are necessary parts of the whole.”

If you are a member of a church, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I helping carry the load at my church through pursuing holiness in my personal life, my love toward others, and my service to the church?
  • Am I a part of the group that just drains the church or helps the church fulfill its mission?
  • What is your attitude toward church membership?  Is it a country club mentality?

Each of us who are part of a local body of believers need to examine our attitude and perspective in the role we play in the church and the importance of our membership in it.

 

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One Response to “How We Turn Churches Into Clubs”

  1. The 96% could even be broken down further into tithers/nontithers as only about 3-5% of church attendees give a full 10% of their income.