I came to Christ through a parachurch organization as a teenager. Before that time, I had absolutely no church experience. I had attended Sunday school with a friend for a year when I was 9, but other than that, I knew nothing about how churches should operate.
However, when I became a Christian, attending a church became very important to me. I got involved in a low-key church that catered to college students. The idea was to draw in as many students as possible, so the commitment required of us was almost nonexistent. I bought into the idea that any formal church accoutrements were unnecessary and even detrimental. A popular thought bantered around in my church was that the body of Christ could exist without much of anything, even a building. After all, we could meet under a tree and do fine (which was rather odd, since we lived in a northern clime with pretty severe winters).
But as I matured in my faith, I began to notice some flaws in this approach. People didn't stay around one church but quickly flitted from one to another, trying to find something that would hit their fancy. I also noticed a lot of complaining about church, and it usually was phrased, "You should do this in your church" or "If you'd just do that at your church…"
That was in great contrast to those who were really committed to the church and wanted to see it grow and prosper. From them, I'd often hear, "What if we did this?" or "How should we make this better?" Those who were committed took ownership of the church and saw it as part of their responsibility to see it thrive and expand.
So years later when my husband and I planted a church, we felt strongly about membership. We wanted as many people as possible in our church to be in the "we" camp instead of the "you" camp. As a result, we emphasized church membership from the beginning. We offered membership classes that studied our church's doctrinal statements in depth over a six-week period. It also provided a place for new people to ask questions about how our church operated and what was our church's mission.
We also required membership for those who wanted to be involved in our church. If they aspired to teach or serve on a ministry team, they had to be members. This guarded our church against false teaching and made sure we were on the same page missionally.
At first we were a little nervous that this would keep our church small, but it was just the opposite. In our area, there were plenty of churches that required little or no commitment, and the idea that the teaching would be universal from age 2 to 102 was appealing to many. Parents felt good that their kids would be taught the same thing doctrinally that they would learn in their own classes and from the pulpit.