5 Reasons “Inactive Church Member” is an Oxymoron

sunset woman church attendance inactive church member oxymoron

In his best-selling book I Am a Church Member, Thom Rainer bluntly states, “The concept of an inactive church member is an oxymoron. Biblically, no such church member really exists.”

Like “living death” or “cruel kindness,” an inactive church member is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be a biblical church member and be inactive.

As my pastor said in a recent sermon, “We’ve littered the Christian landscape with people we’ve evangelized, but failed to disciple.” Unfortunately, many church rolls are filled with such individuals.

But what is it that places the idea of inactivity in such opposition to church membership? There are at least five benefits to believers that can only come from being an active member of a local body of believers.

1. Need for community — In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Note, this is prior to the fall. We were created, in the image of our Triune God, to dwell in community.

Romans 12 reminds us that we are many individuals, but have been united together as one body. That’s how God designed us as both humans in general and Christians specifically.

2. Encourages personal growth — We all have areas in our Christian walk in which we are weak. We have those blind spots. How are we supposed to be able to see them without loving help from fellow believers?

Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” I am sharpened, I grow by being around other Christians and serving with them in a local body. Every aspect of the local church gathering helps me grow.

3. Protection from heresy — One benefit that many people fail to recognize is that a local church helps keep us from drifting into heretical beliefs.

Recently, several individuals and groups who taught that church life was no longer necessary fell into heresy. Take for instance Harold Camping, who infamously predicted the return of Jesus in 2011. He claimed we were past the “church age” and only needed his radio sermons.

4. Use of spiritual gifts — Every believer has been given a spiritual gift. But it was not something to use in isolation. It was given to be used for the good of the body of Christ as a whole and other believers.

After Paul lists some spiritual gifts for the church in Ephesus, he gives them the reason behind those gifts: “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

5. Call to disciple others — The church was given the Great Commission (Matthew 28:6-20). We were told to make disciples of others. How exactly do you accomplish that outside of a local church?

There are the biblical commands and New Testament examples of how the church functions to disciple new believers, but even practically speaking, it is impossible to disciple others if you aren’t around them within a church community.

These five things only take place among faithful and active members of a local church. God has intentionally designed it this way.

None of this means that you have to go to church to be a Christian, but all of this makes it clear you have to go (and be involved in) a local church to be an obedient and faithful Christian. Being an active church member is not required for salvation, but it is the result.

It is impossible to be a faithful follower of Christ and remain divorced from His bride.

Oxymorons are figures of speech often used as literary devices to draw attention to the absurdity of the statement. For too long, churches have accepted the absurdity of an inactive church member as something normal.

It’s not normal. It’s not biblical. It’s not even beneficial. It’s a contradiction and one that deserves to be thought of in the same vein as a “true lie” or a “peaceful war”—something that not only doesn’t exist, but can’t possibly exist.


  1. Linda Belger

    Hmmmm.I don’t know that “church member”is a Biblical term at all..I think it is a man made term.All beleivers are the Body Of Christ. You can not be an inactive believer. Either you believe or you don’t. You can be a member of a church & be an active member or an inactive member.

    • The word “church member” does not appear in the Bible, no. Neither does the word “Trinity.” But both are biblical terms because they condense a biblical concept. Both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 speak of individuals being members of the local body of believers. Other translations call them “parts.” Either way, the idea is of a integral piece of the whole.

      An “inactive member” would not be fulfilling the function for which they were made a “member,” so in that sense they would be an oxymoron, a conflict in terms.

      • Matt

        This is all fantastic. Thanks for taking the time to write.

      • Dick wamsley

        Linda may have been referring to your term “church rolls” identifying those who are members. Yes, the concept of being members of the body of Christ is biblical. “Church roll” is not, neither as a biblical term nor a biblical concept.

        • Dick, the concept of church roll is biblical. In 1 Corinthians 5:13 when it says to “purge the evil person among you,” how do you do that if there is no concept of “church rolls.” Do you call the police and have them removed from the church service? File a restraining order against them?

          Church membership rolls allow a church to deal with church discipline and accountability in a healthy way. You have to have a list of those who are “in” to know the difference in how they are to relate to one another.

  2. You’ve hit on something that I think we, as western Christians, have a hard time understanding. We are such independent individualists that most Christians don’t know what true biblical membership looks like. But, a church that does all that you’ve talked about will be a solid healthy church.

About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.