The messengers to the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding Regenerate Church Membership (CLICK HERE and read the resolution closely. Click here for the Baptist Press article about the resolution.).
This became a point of interest for me when I was writing my Doctor of Ministry project in 1995. My topic was the evangelistic invitation and it’s relationship to church membership/attendance. My research found that in the Southern Baptist Convention only 26% of a church’s membership attended worship or Sunday School (According to information from the SBC and several state conventions) . To put a number to it… a church with 1,000 resident members averaged only 260 in attendance.
The church I was serving at the time had a 42% attendance to membership ratio. I felt pretty good until I read what Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 18:12, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”
In today’s context, if there are 1,000 on roll and 400 in attendance… the church must track down, find, and reclaim the 600. As Jesus said, the straying sheep is important enough to the shepherd to leave the 99 and find the one.
Presently there are 16,266,920 who are members of Southern Baptist Churches. Of that number, only 6,148,868 attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week (Numbers taken from the 2008 SBC Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership). That is a 38% attendance to membership ratio and I doubt our Lord is pleased with that…
What has caused this to be the case in our denomination and churches? I believe it is an emphasis on evangelism that is not followed up with discipleship. In other words, we have focused on getting people baptized and have failed to follow up with making them disciples.
Matthew 28:19-20 is The Great Commission and part of the text reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
“Make disciples” comes before baptism… and “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” follows baptism. The point? Discipleship is important. Repeating a prayer… walking an aisle… and getting people wet in a baptistry does not save anyone. Proof of conversion and salvation is following Christ… being a disciple (Luke 9:23).
I understand that there are some who are physically incapable of attending church, but that does not apply to a majority of people on our church rolls. Believers will regularly worship with God’s people in a corporate setting (Hebrews 10:25). Believers will mature in their faith (2 Peter 1:5-9). Believers will identify with God’s people in a local fellowship.
The Church’s Answer And Responsibility. Church membership must mean something and should be valued, cherished, and revered. Thus members are to take seriously their commitment to a local body of Christ by supporting it with their attendance… building it by putting into service their gift… and funding it by giving their financial support. The church is responsible to build up, encourage, and help members identify with their fellowship. If they stray (Matthew 18:12), the members should show their love, care, and concern for their brother/sister in Christ by taking active steps to reclaim them so that they are restored. After all… we are talking about our family. The family of God. Our brothers ans sisters in Christ!
If churches and their leaders are unwilling to follow Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:12, how can they say they love their brothers and sisters in Christ? If our spouse or children strayed, wouldn’t we seek to find them? We should care at least as much for those who are our spiritual family as we do those who are our blood family. I pray that this resolution will actually be applied by churches across our denomination.