Regenerate Church Membership Reflections

Now that you have had a few days to digest the Regenerate Church Membership Resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention, let me express some personal reflections.

We must remember that resolutions are non-binding decrees.  Resolutions of the Southern Baptist Convention are just that, resolutions.  A resolution in our convention is nothing more than a declaration.  Southern Baptist Churches are not required to adhere legally or to abide uniformly to the resolution.  Thus, a resolution does not have mandatory impact within the convention.

So if this resolution carries no authoritative effect, then why is it so important?

I believe the resolution is important because it raises AWARENESS across the convention.  The Regenerate Church Membership Resolution has been three years in the making.  It was tabled two years ago, and again last year.  This year, however, the resolution made it to the convention floor for discussion.  I believe the discussion alone raises the awareness of true church membership in our churches.

Speaking of awareness of church membership, I believe the resolution is meaningful because it requires churches to hold to a higher standard of INTEGRITY.  Note the fourth and fifth WHEREAS in the resolution:

WHEREAS, the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

WHEREAS, Those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week;

Southern Baptists claim to be the largest evangelical denomination in the world, yet on a given Sunday we cannot account for 10,000,000 of our members.  Note the statistic again—on a given Sunday we have no idea as to the whereabouts or the spiritual condition of 10 million members!

I believe the resolution challenges the validity of our membership records.  Additionally, I believe it demands a higher level of integrity in our reporting to the convention.  As a result, I forsee a church like CrossPoint working toward a more realistic number for membership in the coming months.  I will comment more on that in a future blog.

I also see the resolution raising the standard of DISCIPLESHIP.  Note the first RESLOVED:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge churches to maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members; and be it further

This RESOLVED strikes at the root of the problem.  Most churches are filled with decision-makers rather than disciples.  As a good friend of mine says, “Being a Christian is not a matter of professing faith in Christ; it is a matter of possessing faith in Christ.”  This same friend adds, “We have people in our churches making decisions rather than being made disciples.”

I believe the reason church rolls are so distorted is that we have generations of Southern Baptist who have no concept of what it means to be a member of the church for which Jesus died.  More emphatically, I believe the problem is that we have few in our churches who actually know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I believe the resolution also raises awareness within our churhces regarding ACCOUNTABILITY.

I sincerely appreciate the language of the final four RESOLVED statements:

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge our churches to maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and their pastors to implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20).

Some suggest this sounds legalistic.  I disagree.  The spirit of discussion, the wording the resolution and the final vote of the convention tell me that Southern Baptists are working toward becoming more biblical in their understanding of church membership and discipleship.  The last RESOLVED says it best.  Read it one more time:

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and their pastors to implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20).

Can a church approach church membership legalistically?  Indeed.  Should it?  No, and again I say, no.
The answer for a higher level of accountability is for churches and their leaders (that would include me and many of you who read this daily blog) to approach each member in humility.  It is a matter of teaching our members what it means to be a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, and what is required of them to participate in His church as His disciple.  The only way that can be done effectively is in a spirit of lowliness, all the while keeping in mind the great sacrifice Christ made for His people.

I look forward to hearing your comments.  Yes, I will be writing more in the coming days as I pray over how the Lord will use this awareness within our congregation.  Be sure you know this: our staff began wrestling with the parameters of regenerate church membership long before it was discussed and agreed upon within the Southern Baptist Convention.  My thoughts as to how this applies to CrossPoint will be forthcoming.  Until then, I am curious to hear from you.


10 Responses to “Regenerate Church Membership Reflections”

  1. 1 Lee
    June 18, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Can you elaborate on “humility” and “lowly?” The truth, even when spoken in love to the exclusion of self, is still offensive to one who prefers reality as they want to see it. In a society that places opinion on the same level of credibiilty as truth, even stating truth exists apart from opinion is offensive. Should humility lack passion, an emotion I have not seen contextualized alongside meekness, and lowliness? Do you perceive the goal of humility is to avoid offense?

    After reading the definition of pride in “Mere Christianity,” C. S. Lewis defines humility as removal of self. Adding pride to truth is most certainly offensive and motives should be worked out on our knees before God before opening our mouths. My concern is the truth is not being spoken or taught for fear of being rude or hurting feelings. Even more, I am concerned the truth is not being taught because of ignorance or apathy. The truth hurts for a reason. Truth answers “the anti-God of attitudes.” We need a Savior. I know personally the pain of living a lie is far more painful than the growing pains produced by being remade in the image of God.

  2. 2 Lee
    June 18, 2008 at 10:05 am

    “One important lesson is that those of us who take the biblical account seriously should be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretations of it. The biblical text just might be more sophisticated than we first imagined, and we might therefore be in danger of using it to support ideas that it never intended to teach.” (Beyond Opinion, Ravi Zacharias, ‘Challenges from Science,’ John Lennox, pg. 111)

  3. 3 Bill Walker
    June 18, 2008 at 10:35 am

    My experience in previous churches is that on average, 1/3 – 1/2 of the membership will be in church on a given Sunday. Because of our busy lives, it isn’t always the same 1/3 – 1/2 that is there, so we may have 3/4 of the membership being active. This gives us three groups of members:

    1. The core, dedicated members who are there “every time the doors are open”,
    2. The members who are there when it is convenient,
    3. The members who do not ever show up. This could be because they are not dedicated, have moved, have changed their church home and not notified us, etc . . .

    We need to plan how to move group #2 to group #1 and purge our rolls of group #3. The best church I have been a member of for doing this (not the best church, but best at managing their membership)required attendance to an 8 week Christianity class (what does it mean to be a Christian?) and 4 week membership class (what does it mean to be a member here?). This was successful at purging the group #3’s who are not dedicated before they joined. They also would send a post card to anyone who missed four Sundays in a row asking if they would like to be removed from the membership roll. If someone had not attended in one year, they were automatically purged from the membership roll.

    This church was actively growing in weekly attendance and participation, but growing more slowly in membership. Average attendance was 2700 – 3000 and membership was around 1100 (exactly opposite what the SBC is seeing in their statstics)

    At first, I was appalled at having to take a class before I joined the church. How dare they put a hurdle on joining God’s family! After I became a member, I grew to appreciate the importance they placed on the committment to being a member of God’s family. Many times, the requirements for joining a country club are more stringent than what is required to join the local church.

    We should encourage anyone and everyone to attend our church. We should move them along the path of becoming involved in Bible study. We should push them to become involved in ministry. And we should cause them to stop and think long and hard about what it means to be a Christian and member of CrossPoint. Without this self evaluation, too many people will join the local church because it is “expected” or “the thing to do” or “because my mother wants me to”. These are not the people we can count on to grow in their relationship to Jesus Christ and to minister to others.

    Who do you want to be a member of CrossPoint?

  4. 4 Lee
    June 18, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I think I need to specify I am concerned about teaching, not preaching.

    I like what Bill Walker proposed. That would be a great qualifier for leading a small group Bible Study.
    James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

  5. 5 Searching
    June 18, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Brother Ryan- one cannot argue with the resolution as YOU see it and believe its intent and purpose. I do very much like your interpretation of the issue of discipleship. I have been a member of church once upon a time that took discipleship, which is Christian maturity, and church membership very seriously. There were corporate and personal covenants which new members signed and recited with the congregation. Being a member of this church was important and not merely automatic. I was reading your friend Ron’s blog yesterday and he brought forth the idea that this can be interpreted as an issue of missing family members. If that is how it is taken by the local churches and the SBC then it is a matter of love and concern and it will thrill my soul. For me the inaccuracy of the record keeping is far less important than caring for family members and actually assisting those family members in maturing in their concept and understanding of God. It is my position that the center of who are as people is our spirit. The spirit of man is where we meet, fellowship and communicate with God and when our spirit is in alignment with God, the rest of who we are and how we do life is in alignment as well. Getting the spirit in alignment requires discipleship. Discipleship is a vehicle through which Holy Spirit teaches us. I also feel that we as Christians may need to do a little better job of care giving as it relates to visitors and members and their attendance. Is there not a way to better keep up with people who either fall through the cracks or stop coming to church? I am realistic enough to know that a church cannot attend to every hurt feeling and every whim that blows through the minds and hearts of people, but if there was a pastoral deacon program that had someone making contact with every person in the church every month of every year, it seems that we could have a better idea of why people quit coming and when healing was needed either physical, emotional or spiritual. Doesn’t that fall under the issue of accountability? I did pastoral care deaconing at one time in my pilgrimage and had a number of families in my care and had to report on every one of them at a monthly deacon’s meeting. It seemed to me that everyone in that church knew that they could not miss a Sunday without someone knowing why and that someone cared about them and would miss them. It also provided an avenue to the pastor for feedback from and to the congregation in a less formal and more intimate way. Being a church needs to involve more than a place for people to gather and fellowship, more than a place to hear great preaching, more than a place to play, it needs to be a place where people actually connect and engage and even feel cared for. Would that not reflect the love of God?
    Ryan, I have seen a lot of legalism and a lot of Pharisaic behavior among the leadership in the SBC over the past thirty years, but if you see this resolution as a step towards reaching out to the lost, the passed over and the disenfranchised, then I am with you all the way!

  6. June 18, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Bill, I always like the way you cut to the chase and nail your thoughts with clarity. We have identified a fourth group at CrossPoint. This group includes those who are members, who attend worship, but have yet to connect with a Bible study group. So, in our efforts at CrossPoint, I see us targeting all four groups, with the goal of moving them closer in their discipleship with the Lord.

    I like the postcard idea and the one year purging of the rolls. That is as straightforward as it gets.

    Recently I heard from a CrossPointer that the price of gas was precluding them from attending worship. I sincerely believe they were telling me the truth. While listening to their story I wondered how many other CrossPointers had legitimate reasons from not participating in their church.

    Also, Bill, this is one of the reasons why we have a membership class and ask our new members to sign a covenant. Our desire at CP is not to make church membership more difficult in our family of faith, as much as it is to raise the bar of commitment.

    I recall a family telling me they were not about to join a church where you had to attend a membership class. I responded politely by saying, “Then perhaps CP is not your kind of church.” I have had to learn that CP is not for everybody. However, I do expect everybody who does join CP to take their membership more seriously.

    Lee, as for humility and lowliness: church discipline is never easy. I have had to confront more than a few parishoners in my ministry. Most of the time the individual becomes angry with me and leaves the church or quits attending. Rarely, one will repent and be restored to the faith. I have found I have to humble myself before the Lord before I ever approached a member about something in their own life.

    Humility and truth must accompany one another. That is why I have found humbling myself before the Lord is a daily–sometimes hourly–discipline.

    While reading both of your responses I am reminded of James 5:19, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his souls from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

    Thank you for your comments.

  7. 7 Ron
    June 18, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Church (little “c”) membership is a social club. Church (big “C”) membership is eternal relationship. You can belong to 100’s of little “c’s” during your life time and never be a member of the big “C”.
    Southern Baptist politics have perpetuated this “lie” about total membership for years. (About 50 that I can attest to personally). I have been told by long-time members of Southern Baptist churches that you can remove someone from the SS roll but never from the church roll without specific permission from that member. In those churches we the members voted them in, seems to me we could have voted them out. I strongly suspect that Baptist churches that have closed their doors in Birmingham/Jefferson County had 100’s and maybe even thousands of members on their roll when the padlocks were placed on the doors. How could this be?
    JUST ONE MORE is not about adding members to the roll at CrossPoint. The rest of the statement tells the rest of the story.
    CONNECT with God is spiritual growth, CONNECT with God’s people is growing the church thru association and CONNECT with God’s mission is about growing the Church. CrossPoint is a conduit for that process. CrossPoint is a church, not the Church and therefore being a member of CrossPoint is for likeminded people to learn more about Him, share life’s journey with a family of faith and draw others to the big “C” roll.
    It’s about time Southern Baptist told the truth about memberhips rolls. But more importantly that a plan is to be executed to RE-CONNECT with the membership to invite them to participate in the role of the big “C”.

  8. 8 Anne
    June 19, 2008 at 8:36 am

    Roll purging has been a “hot button” subject with me for many years. As I worked in children’s SS for many years, I watched family names promoted through the grades year after year and never saw ANY mamber of that family in SS or church. They were contacted–you can be sure of that. They just never showed up. Yet we were not allowed to purge them from the rolls. I am pleased that the Convention is finally coming to a different way of thinking. One I hope will change the dynamics of local churches.

  9. 9 Mitch Engle
    June 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    The resolution on Regenerate Church Membership is one of the most beautifully crafted and desperately needed documents that the church (or the SBC specifically) has recently produced. Commitment to the types of principles laid out in this resolution were key factors in my family’s selection of CP as our home. We thank God every day for CP and its commitment to scriptural Christianity.

    The resolution raises two incredibly important and often forgotten issues: church membership and church discipline. The issue of church membership is frequent root causes of several problems that blight the American church. Scripture is utterly devoid of Christians purposely living outside the Christian church because they understood the need for the corporate body in their sanctification. If we as the church are to truly live to the glory of God, then we must become radical in our rejection of Western individualism and self-sufficiency in our fellowships, i.e. we must get serious about a regenerate church membership.

    What I truly love about the document is that it reopens the idea of loving church discipline for this generation. In addition, they seek to clarify biblical discipline by using such descriptive terms as lovingly correct, counsel, and restore. Church discipline is an concept that will be difficult or impossible to palate save our Biblical moorings. I for one am good, strike that, I mean exceptional at self-deception and self-justification. Apart from wise godly counsel, I will continue to participate in godless thoughts and behaviors. I know from experience that this will not change unless a God centered intervention is made. Sometimes this comes from scripture reading and prayer, but other times it comes from brothers who love me enough to tell me that I am being sinful.

    Could this emphasis on church discipline be construed as a power play by leaders in the SBC? Sure. But then you would also have to be willing to levy the same charge against Jesus himself (see Matt. 18:15). Brothers are not lovingly confronted because we want authority over them. They are confronted because we want to prevent sin from destroying their fellowship with us. Church discipline does not control a person, it seeks to release a person from a particular bondage to sin so that they will have the freedom to more fully glorify God with their personal and corporate life.

    I do however have one concern with the document which is based not on what was said but rather on what was NOT said. The resolution accurately lays out how wayward members should be lovingly brought back to the corporate body. However, it fails to state why this is important specifically for the pastors and church leaders. Hebrews 13:17 states “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” By listing people as members, the leadership of any church take responsibility for encouraging and guiding their sanctification. God saw this as such an important task that one day he will demand an account for how this was done. How could a leader “give account” for somebody they have not seen in years. Ultimately, purging our membership rolls of people who do not or will not participate in the life of the church is an act of mercy towards our leaders. It thereby relieves them of having to give account for these people in the future.

  10. 10 MYoung
    July 1, 2008 at 10:21 am

    I heard the term used recently describing church as “Six Flags over Jesus”. Are we more about the number of members or the number of Christians? Those two “titles” don’t go hand-in-hand.

    I’ve always thought the focusing on how many people you have each week or the number you have on roll is not what is important. The church should be focused on developing Christians NOT members! So I’m a “member” of CrossPoint, but do I produce the fruit of the Christian?

    I’ve been involved with the music/worship ministry since Center Point, while our style has changed, I still am bothered by the lack of enthusiasm and participation. This is for congregation and worship leaders/praise teams/bands, alike. This past Sunday was a good example. Watching the response as the choir sang for an hour was somewhat sad. For every one person that would sing along or raise their hand, there were 20 people with crossed arms, blank expressions or even yawning.

    I’d rather worship with a group of 20 “fired up” Christians, truly worshiping, than 200 members.

    I do find it an interesting idea that we want to purge people because they haven’t been to church (little “c”) in a certain amount of time. Sort of gives one the feeling that if you don’t attend a certain amount, do a certain amount, give a certain amount, then you aren’t worth the trouble or the grand title of “member”. Thankfully God doesn’t turn His back on us if we go astray for 1 year. Obviously God expects Christians to hold each other accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. However, the ONLY judgment we should be focused on will come when God opens the Book of Life, and either sees your name or doesn’t. No name, no salvation, no Heaven, membership of whatever church will not substitute.

    What is so important about member numbers? What is so important about the title of “member” of (fill in the blank church) anyway? According to the SBC’s stats, there are 10 million missing members? What about the fact that those may be 10 million people destined for Hell?

    A one minute prayer and a dunking does not make a Christian. There needs to be evidence of an actual change, Spiritual Fruit if you will. Taking a few classes and signing your name so you can be added to a roll is not required for eternal life with The Almighty, so why are we so focused on numbers?

    How about ditching the whole idea of membership? Well, because it would be hard to give the number of Christians in attendance each week in the worship guide.

    Good luck with your decisions. Let’s hope that if CrossPoint does some kind of mass membership purging, we don’t ax a prodigal son who’s yet to return.

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