In considering the welcome of new church members, 3 John invites reflection. The object of concern for John was Diotrephes, who liked to put himself first, not acknowledging Apostolic authority (v. 9) and speaking “wicked nonsense” (v. 10). Moreover, John writes that he “refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (v. 10). Diotrephes not only pulled up the welcome mat for these newcomers, but he actually sought to disrupt and excommunicate anyone who did welcome them. This lack of respect is a heinous sin and worthy of John’s warning to the church at large.
Lest we think this an ancient problem, we need only think of titles of Christian books such as Outgrowing the Ingrown Church and others that address similar topics. Like the ingrown toenail that turns on its own body and inflicts pain and suffering, the ingrown church attacks its very life and soul. Attitudes of apathy and comfort seek “maintenance mode” and despise being open to the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing new lifeblood into the body of Christ.
The key to welcoming new members isn’t found in online church growth advice columns promoting surface-level Band-Aids, such as refusing to preach on sin and hell and implementing man-centric worship services. Rather, we must return to the Scriptures and see the underlying emphasis that God places on being the family of God and on the hospitality that accompanies healthy family living. In Paul’s words, we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but . . . fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). We are mystically united to one another as we are united in Christ Jesus, being “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2). That love needs tangible expression.
Current church members should be continually in prayer for God to bring new members of His choosing into the fellowship. When visitors begin to attend regularly, it is good to invite them to become members, as it is good for their souls to be counted in a local expression of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:21–26; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17). Then, there should be an informed and purposeful discussion of the church’s history, doctrines, discipline, polity, mission, and culture. Included with that should be a cautionary note about the sober reality that the church may disappoint and fail at times, and how this doesn’t mean that a new member should run away without an attempt to communicate with the leadership called by God to shepherd the sheep (1 Peter 5:2). At the same time, new members should be reminded that because Jesus Christ loves the church as His bride (Eph. 5:25), we should love the church as the Spirit does His perfecting work.