Study shows widespread confusion and ignorance on the subject of membership in a parish

A new study from Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, Arizona) shows widespread confusion and ignorance regarding official membership in churches and other local places of worship.

The research was conducted among 441 American adults who attend a local church or place of worship once a month or more. The study asked people whether their place of worship offers “any kind of official membership in the organization, or not.” Among all worship-goers, 48% say such official membership is offered, 33% believe it is not, and 19% are not sure.

While some denominations and individual congregations have no official form of membership, most of the largest religious bodies do. All of the ten largest denominations in the U.S. (as measured by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies) measure some form of official membership: Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Lutheran Church ”“ Missouri Synod, Episcopal Church, and National Baptist Convention USA.

Even so, among people who attend one of these top ten denominations, just 44% say their church offers official membership, while 39% believe it does not, and 17% are unsure.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ecclesiology, Ministry of the Laity, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

6 comments on “Study shows widespread confusion and ignorance on the subject of membership in a parish

  1. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    Well that’s a loaded question if ever I heard one. I mean, what do you mean by membership? Paying dues with dues cards like a Lodge? If not, then no. That’s just deceptive.

  2. MichaelA says:

    Membership? Is that like principles? As an ex-Anglican professional comedian has cruelly but aptly put it:
    [blockquote] The Anglican faith doesn’t have that. You’ll never go,
    “Vicar, I have done many bad things.”
    “Well, so have I.”
    “What shall I do?”
    “Well, drink five Bloody Marys and you won’t remember.”
    Because the Anglican faith had a lack of principles for a long time. You can’t get really headstrong about it. …
    I just don’t think that’s happening. But you can’t do that in Church of England, you can’t say, “You must have tea and cake with the Vicar, or you die!” You can’t have extreme points of view, you know. The Spanish Inquisition wouldn’t have worked with Church of England.

    “Talk! Will you talk!”
    “But it hurts!”
    “Well, loosen it up a bit, will you? Fine…”

    ‘Cause that’s what it would be. “Tea and cake or death? Tea and cake or death? Tea and cake or death!” Students with beards, ( mimes demonstrating with picket signs ) “Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cookbook! Little Red Cookbook!” ‘Cause, “Cake or death?” That’s a pretty easy question. Anyone could answer that.

    “Cake or death?”
    “Eh, cake please.”
    “Very well! Give him cake!”
    “Oh, thanks very much. It’s very nice.”
    “You! Cake or death?”
    “Uh, cake for me, too, please.”
    “Very well! Give him cake, too! We’re gonna run out of cake at this rate. You! Cake or death?” [/blockquote]
    – Eddie Izzard, “Church of England Fundamentals”

  3. Cennydd13 says:

    1. I’m with you on this, Archer.

  4. TomRightmyer says:

    I have some acquaintance with 12 Step programs and I have found that church membership is like choosing a “home group.” Newcomers don’t decide which group to claim until they begin to do service work. As I understand it Episcopalians are members of the parish where they are baptized until they ask for a Letter of Transfer to a new parish. I served county seat parishes and when newcomers came I usually asked them, “Would you like me to ask for a letter of transfer?” The canons allow clergy to add people based on evidence satisfactory to the minister and I usually added people based on their statement that they were baptized and were members of whatever church they used to belong to. That is harder in a community where there is more than one Episcopal church and people move around. When folks came to the Episcopal Church from another Christian body I usually sent a letter to the former church, “Name is now attending the Episcopal Church of whatever. Thank you for your ministry to them.” I rarely got such letters from other clergy. Sloppy pastoral care about membership is a sign of sloppy pastoral care about other matters.

  5. Utah Benjamin says:

    In too many churches and parishes, being a “member” often simply means the right to vote at church business meetings. I know of some churches (including ours) that have started to express membership in terms of “membership/ownership” or even just “ownership.” Not that a member “owns” a stake in the church, but that being a member means that you belong to a local church body, that you take “ownership” of what happens in that local body by giving of your financial resources, by serving and giving of your time, and by using your spiritual gifts to build up the Church. To a generation of believers (such as myself) who did not grow up in an era where church membership was important or emphasized, church membership can be confusing if it is never talked about. At our church, we try to make it important by making expectations of members clear, and by making membership a requirement of certain leadership positions within our church, such as teachers, small group leaders, etc.

    Here’s a great post from 2009 by Kevin DeYoung on “Why Membership Matters” – [url=][/url]

  6. Catholic Mom says:

    Well, it depends on what you mean by “membership.” I suspect the percentage of Catholics who don’t know that there is such a thing as official membership in the Catholic Church is zero. “Show us your papers” (where “your papers” = your certificate of Baptism and/or First Eucharist/Reconciliation and/or Confirmation and/or Reception into the Church) is the first thing they are going to say when you show up for *anything* — from wanting to get your kid baptized, to enrolling him/her in CDC, to wanting to get married or buried.

    On the other hand, you certainly could go to church (and receive communion) pretty much forever without anybody asking you if you were a member of the parish or even a Catholic for that matter. Technically, however, when you settle into a parish you are supposed to “register” whereupon you will be asked “show us your papers” as well as signed up to get those wonderful little collection envelopes in the mail. You also need to tell your ex-parish that you are no longer a member or you will get *their* little envelopes (and occasional mailings asking for more) as well.

    BTW, there is a wonderful redundancy built into this process that makes it possible to reconstruct historical records even when churches burn down and records are lost. In your kids baptismal records, it will record who the parents are as well as when and where THEY were baptized. In the kids First Eucharist records, they will record when and where the kid was baptized. In the kids Confirmation records, they will record when and where the kid was baptized and when and where they made their First Eucharist. In the marriage records they will record all this yet again. So if you can find ANY document whatsoever, you can generally reconstruct all the rest. You will *never* be lost by the Catholic Church!