There’s no such thing as a “non-resident” church member. Despite the fact that this is an actual category recognized among churches (most notably Southern Baptist churches), the very concept is in direct contradiction to what the Word of God identifies as a legitimate member of Christ’s church.
When one is described as a non-resident church member they are typically classed as someone who has made a public profession of faith in Christ, received baptism, and has joined a local church – yet, for whatever reason, they are completely absent from the fellowship and service of the church they have joined. However, in spite of their disappearance, they are still considered members in “good standing” of that local church. In fact, their credibility as church members is especially seen when they just happen to reappear to vote the latest pastor out of the church!
But when we turn to God’s Word, the characteristics and conduct of a genuine member of Christ’s church is anything but the “non-resident” type. First of all, there is nothing superficial about the salvation they have received. They were chosen from eternity by God for salvation (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:4), given to Christ for redemption (John 6:37; Ephesians 1:7; Titus 3:14), and regenerated by the Holy Spirit unto a new life (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5). They have also been taken out of Adam and placed into Christ (Romans 5:19), being liberated from the power of sin (Romans 6:1-14). Further, their faith in Christ is a gift from God who authors and preserves their trust in Christ (Ephesians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2). And they have become a part of Christ’s living body, the church, and thus joined eternally to all of God’s redeemed people (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Revelation 7:9).
Second of all, there is an evident change in who and what they are. They are called “a new creation,” a “new self,” and “light in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24; 5:8). The fruit of this transformation is seen in the growth, process and progress called “sanctification” (Romans 6:19, 22). The manifestation of this inner divine work is a manner of life that is being conformed to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Hence, there will be humility, love, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, joy, forgiveness, and self-control – which are all Godward virtues exercised for the sole purpose of glorifying God (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 4:17-5:8; Colossians 3:12-17; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31). Moreover, there is seen in them a growing hatred for personal sin that is carried out in the daily work of killing sin by the Spirit (Romans 7:14-25; 8:13). And finally, this transformation is also evidenced by an intentional witness to bear to others the glory of Christ in the saving message of His gospel (Acts 5:42; Romans 10:15).
Lastly, they desire the fellowship of other believers and seek that fellowship in the formal gathered community of a local church (see Acts 2:41-47). This means that they place themselves under the teaching of the Scriptures (Acts 2:42) and thus under the discipleship of a faithful pastoral ministry (Ephesians 4:12-13). They also strive to build up other believers by bearing their burdens, exhorting them to holiness, praying for them, worshiping with them, and stirring them up to love and good works (Ephesians 4:16; 6:18; Galatians 6:1-2; Hebrews 3:12-14; 10:24-25; Colossians 3:16).
Are there really non-resident church members then, in light of what Scripture says? No. The truth is, if someone claims to be a Christian yet refuses to be committed in covenant with a local church – their entire claim is biblically called into question (1 John 2:19; 3:14). So, what should we look for in someone who joins a church? More than a mere decision, but a life transformed by grace.