A “watchcare” or “watch care” ministry is a program in some churches allowing believers from other congregations to connect with their ministry without requiring full membership. Watchcare programs allow others to identify with a church, participating in worship, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, and service, without transferring membership from their home church. Watchcare membership is designed to provide temporary, conditional, or unofficial association with a local church.
Watchcare membership is very suitable for college students, military personnel, and people working a job requiring temporary placement. An out-of-state college student, for example, may want to stay involved in a local congregation while away from home. If he receives watchcare membership in a church, he would be allowed to be in a worship team, perhaps, or teach a Sunday school class. The student’s “official” membership would remain with his church back home, but, in the meantime, the student could fill a valued position in his interim church.
Other churches offer a different kind of watchcare ministry for believers who may have doctrinal differences but who still wish to be associated with the church. For example, a believer who was baptized (sprinkled) as a baby might want to serve in a church that teaches believer’s baptism. Rather than being re-baptized, the believer may apply for limited membership under a watchcare program. The believer would then fellowship with that church and serve in certain roles while retaining his view on baptism.
Usually, those who hold watchcare membership cannot vote in congregational meetings and cannot hold positions of leadership in the church. They are invited to get involved in other ministries within the church, however. The benefit of a watchcare ministry is that it allows Christians who are away from their home church to have a “home away from home” among fellow believers. And it allows Christians who may disagree on non-essential points of doctrine or practice to join in a unified church fellowship.
Watchcare ministries that provide connections, welcome visitors, and unify the Body of Christ are biblical. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, ESV).