2016 Wesleyan Discipline: Chapter 2: Membership
A. Essence and Meaning of Membership
550. Membership in The Wesleyan Church is the doorway into the church following an experience of conversion whereby a person becomes a member of the body of Jesus Christ, followed by discipleship within a family of believers for spiritual life, growth, and service. Therefore it is of high importance that immediate steps be taken to shepherd, disciple, and train believers through the process of membership for mutual accountability and ministry to the church, community, and the world (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:566-570; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:725:11; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:782:8; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:880:11).
551. The overall mission of membership in The Wesleyan Church is: To acknowledge believers as belonging to the body of Christ; to disciple them into a meaningful relationship with The Wesleyan Church; and to equip them for meaningful ministry in the world.
- (1) The Vision of Membership. It is our belief and practice that The Wesleyan Church is not a collection of independent churches unrelated to each other nor just merely an association of churches, but rather we constitute a “family” of believers connected by our identity in Christ and our identity with one another. Membership serves as the common thread that unifies us within our diversity as a community with the passion for developing fully committed disciples of Christ. Membership is a ministry tool to use in the process of spiritual development, subsequent to conversion and leading to maturity in Christ. To enhance the discipleship process of maturing people toward Christlikeness, membership is the first step in the process of accountability. The accountability used within the community of faith is based on the primary authority of the Scriptures. We also acknowledge the role of tradition, experience, and reason to shape the collective conscience reflected in the membership and discipleship accountability process. Membership becomes the doorway into the process whereby people are discipled and equipped to do ministry in and through the church, as a witness to the world at large.
- (2) The Value of Membership. Membership in The Wesleyan Church is built on the premise that it is an initial step in one’s relationship with the church, and a doorway into the discipleship process within the life of the church. Each local fellowship adapts its ministry scope and sequence but a common path would involve the following process:
- Believing – When people come to Christ in saving faith, they become a member of the body of Christ. Membership is the door into the discipleship process in The Wesleyan Church which helps people identify the essential beliefs taught in the Bible, and how those beliefs impact our lifestyle, relationships, and our witness for Christ within the church and beyond. This faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, brings transformational growth to the believer.
- Belonging – Every person who is a part of our local church fellowship appreciates a sense of belonging, which in turn opens the door for the church to disciple each believer into a fully devoted follower of Christ. The Wesleyan Church intentionally places “belonging” at the front of the believer’s relationship with the local church, and assumes the responsibility to help the believer grow into a mature child of God.
- Becoming – It is the responsibility of the local church to assume the care of the persons committed to its fellowship, to develop and employ an effective process of discipleship to help its members mature in their faith and character, leading to the raising up of effective leaders. The Wesleyan Church intentionally calls people to move beyond a decision for Christ, into a life of devotion to Christ which leads to a life of service for Christ.
552. Membership Structure.
- (1) Membership in The Wesleyan Church is the entry-level, basic relationship with the church for believers who are willing to participate in the common life of the church and enter into the process of discipleship through the local church. The Wesleyan Church also makes provision for young believers to be a part of the church through student membership.
- (2) Leadership. Membership is the basic standard required for designated leadership positions in The Wesleyan Church at local, district, and General Church levels, as well as for all credentialed ministers (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:552:3). Leaders are expected to live exemplary lives and to serve as models for others to follow. Persons who are elected to serve the church in leadership positions are annually required to affirm and follow the Articles of Religion, the Membership Commitments and the Elementary Principles; be faithful in local church attendance; practice biblical stewardship; participate in active witness and service for Christ; maintain unity in the church; and agree to give proper accountability to those who are assigned spiritual authority over them by The Discipline.
- (3) Leadership positions in the local church that require a person to be a member who meets the qualifications (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:260-268; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:558) are:
- (a) any credentialed ministry (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:3250–3490)
- (b) local board of administration member (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:752)
- (c) trustee (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:850)
- (d) delegate to district or general conference (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:965, 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1524)
- (e) nominating committee member (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:820)
- (f) local church secretary (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:638, 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:830)
- (g) lay leader (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:833)
- (h) witness and membership committee member (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:835)
- (i) church treasurer (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:842)
- (j) Sunday school superintendent or spiritual formation director (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:889)
B. Categories of Membership
553. Persons to be admitted to membership in The Wesleyan Church shall be those who meet the conditions set forth in the Constitution (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:297:1-4).
- (1) Candidates for membership shall be examined by the local board of administration (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:782:8; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:835-837), to determine whether they meet the requirements of the Constitution concerning their experience of regeneration, Christian baptism, their willingness to be instructed in and acceptance of the Articles of Religion, Elementary Principles and the authority of The Discipline in matters of church government, and their willingness to enter into a membership and discipleship relationship with The Wesleyan Church through the local church.
- (2) Candidates for membership who have satisfactorily passed the examination by the local board of administration, shall be voted upon by the local church conference unless the local church conference has delegated this responsibility to the local board of administration (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:567; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:655:1). In either case, it shall require a majority vote of those present and voting to receive; and if objections are urged against the reception of a member, it shall require a two- thirds vote of those present and voting.
- (3) Members will be asked to reaffirm their commitment to their experience of regeneration, Christian baptism, their acceptance of the Articles of Religion, Elementary Principles and the authority of The Wesleyan Church in matters of church government, and their willingness to continue a membership and discipleship accountability relationship with The Wesleyan Church through the local church annually. The local board of administration shall carry out this annual reaffirmation process in a fair and responsible manner, taking care to preserve both the life and health of the church as well as the established rights of the member. If a member chooses not to participate in the annual reaffirmation process, that choice will be considered as a voluntary withdrawal from membership.
- (4) Persons who have been duly accepted for membership as explained in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:553:2, should be received into membership in a public service, in which they shall make their confession and vows public, (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:5565), and be given the right hand of fellowship by the pastor or the representative of the pastor.
555. The rights of membership are set forth in the Constitution (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:302). The judicial process for dealing with any member charged with failure to uphold the Articles of Religion are located in the Judiciary section of The Discipline (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:5000-5008) and in the General Board Policy on Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration. 557. Guides and Helps to Holy Living. The Membership Commitments (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:260-268) are the biblically-based convictions historically held by The Wesleyan Church, which all members are encouraged to prayerfully consider and embrace. 558. Leadership Commitments. All those serving in elected or credentialed office in The Wesleyan Church shall be required to follow carefully and conscientiously the Guides and Helps to Holy Living found in paragraphs 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:260-268.
2. Student Membership
564. Those children and youth who have testified to the experience of regeneration may be received as student members immediately after their conversion and baptism. The local board of administration, having provided for their examination concerning their relationship with Christ and their intention to develop toward spiritual maturity, may receive them by majority vote. Student members should be received formally in a public ceremony led by the pastor or staff pastor. The local church shall provide a program that will guide student members toward spiritual maturity and an understanding of the importance, privileges, and commitments of membership.
565. Student members shall have all the rights of adult level members except to vote and hold office. They may become adult level members at any time the local board of administration deems they are qualified, and should be received as given in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:553. If student members are not qualified for adult level membership by their sixteenth birthday, every effort shall be made by the pastor and local board of administration during the following year to prepare them for adult level membership. When they are twenty-one years of age, they must either become adult level members or be dropped from the student membership list (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:782:10). Student members who desire to become adult level members shall be received as given in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:553.
C. Reception of Members
566. Members in The Wesleyan Church may be received by confession of faith or by letter of transfer. Student members shall be received by confession of faith.
567. Members shall be received subject to the approving vote of the local church conference, unless the church by vote shall delegate this right to the local board of administration (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:655:1). In both cases, it shall be by majority vote, provided that when objections are urged against the reception of a member, it shall require a vote of two-thirds of those present and voting to receive.
568. The pastor and the local board of administration shall be responsible to provide membership classes for all members, training them in the biblical doctrines and standards of the Church, acquainting them with the history and organization of The Wesleyan Church, and explaining to them the vows of membership (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:297; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:5565–5570).
570. When a person from another denomination presents a letter of transfer or recommendation, the pastor and the local board of administration shall examine them concerning their relationship with Christ and their Christian baptism. If they give satisfactory testimony and are willing to be instructed in and accept the Articles of Religion, Elementary Principles and the authority of The Wesleyan Church in matters of church government, and are willing to enter into a membership and discipleship relationship with The Wesleyan Church through the local church, they may be received as members.
D. Transfer of Membership
575. When any member shall request a letter of transfer to another Wesleyan church, the pastor and local church secretary shall grant it on the proper form as given in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:6000–6020 providing the member is neither under discipline nor under charges. Both pastor and secretary shall sign the letter, and shall forward it to the pastor and local church secretary of the church to which the member is transferring. The letter shall be presented to the local board of administration of the receiving church at its next session, but not later than thirty days from the date of issuance, and acted upon in the manner indicated in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:578. When the member has been duly received, the second part of the form shall be completed by the receiving church and forwarded to the church granting the transfer. The date the returned letter is received shall mark the expiration of membership in the church granting the letter, and in the official membership record the local church secretary shall enter opposite the member’s name, the date and Withdrawn by letter of transfer.
578. The receiving church shall handle transfers as follows:
- (1) Members shall be received subject to the approving vote of the local church conference, unless the local church conference shall have delegated this responsibility to the local board of administration. The transfer of membership may be questioned by the receiving church if it is evident that the person involved is not in a state of grace or is living in open violation of the Articles of Religion.
- (2) The membership of a pastor, senior pastor, associate pastor, or assistant pastor and of such members of the pastor’s family as so desire and have the proper credentials, shall be automatically transferred to the church to which appointed, or if the pastoral charge consists of more than one church, to the church of choice. The secretary of the church from which the pastor is moving shall forward the proper forms for the pastor’s membership and that of family members who so desire to the secretary of the receiving church who shall record them without any further action by the local church conference or local board of administration.
580. A member of The Wesleyan Church transferring from one local church to another shall not be required to be involved in a public service of reception.
582. Student membership is not transferable.
E. Termination of Membership
585. Membership in The Wesleyan Church may be terminated only by one or more of the following (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:305):
- (1) Voluntary withdrawal (see also 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:553:3).
- (2) Joining another religious body or joining a secret order.
- (3) Expulsion after proper hearing and conviction (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:5023:5).
- (4) Persistent neglect of church relationship as defined in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:600-605.
- (5) Death.
590. When any member requests a letter of recommendation to some other denomination, the pastor and local church secretary shall grant it on the proper form provided in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:6030, if the member is neither under discipline nor under charges. Such a person’s membership in the local church granting the letter shall cease immediately, and the secretary shall enter opposite the member’s name, the date and Withdrawn by letter of recommendation.
592. When any member requests a letter of withdrawal, the pastor and local church secretary shall grant it on the proper form provided in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:6040. The secretary shall enter on the record book (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:610), opposite the member’s name, the date the letter was granted and Withdrawn by letter of withdrawal. If the member’s request occurs during the course of a judicial investigation, the secretary shall note on the membership record, Withdrawn under accusation, and if withdrawal occurs during the course of a hearing, Withdrawn under charges (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:5048).
595. When any member joins another denomination, or other religious body exercising the functions of a church, or a secret society, no hearing is necessary to remove such a member. The pastor, having investigated and ascertained the facts, shall report the same to the next session of the local board of administration, and upon the board’s order the local church secretary shall enter opposite the member’s name the date of the session, and Withdrawn having joined another body.
598. When any member moves away from the church in which membership is held, and it is evident that distance will not permit full and regular participation in the life of the church, the pastor shall encourage the member to transfer membership to the Wesleyan church nearest the new residence. To that end, the pastor shall notify the Executive Director of Communication and Administration of The Wesleyan Church of the name and address of the member.
600. When any member moves away from the church in which membership is held, and does not leave a forwarding address, or fails to report spiritual standing or to send financial support, or to transfer membership to the nearest Wesleyan church, after one year the member may be dropped from the roll provided that every reasonable effort has been made to contact the member and notify the member of such an intention. The member’s name shall be dropped upon the recommendation of the local board of administration and the majority vote of the local church conference, unless the local church conference shall have delegated full responsibility in such matters to the local board of administration. The secretary shall enter opposite the member’s name the date of the vote, and Discontinued by vote.
605. When any member fails to attend the services of the church where membership is held for one year without a reason deemed justifiable by the local board of administration, or to support the church financially, as able, the pastor and local board of administration shall seek to restore the member to active fellowship, but if unable to do so, the member’s name may be dropped upon recommendation of the local board of administration and the majority vote of the local church conference, unless the local church conference shall have delegated full responsibility in such matters to the local board of administration. The secretary shall enter opposite the member’s name the date of the vote, and Discontinued by vote for persistent neglect. If a member chooses not to participate in the annual reaffirmation of membership commitment, such action shall constitute neglect and shall be cause for removal.
F. Record of Membership
610. Each local church shall have a permanent record maintained by the local church secretary, in which shall be recorded all the names of the members, category of membership, the time when received and whether by confession of faith or by letter of transfer, the time and manner of termination of membership according to the list in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:605, or by death; and all dedications, baptisms, marriages, pastoral terms, and other information essential to a permanent written record of the life and ministry of the local church.