Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Southern Baptists, at their convention this week, are considering several resolutions about "regenerate church membership." In preparation for the discussion, the Baptist Press presented a couple of articles on the subject including one reporting the views of David Dockery:
A church membership roll that runs two to three times the number of people actually involved is a symptom of a much-deeper problem - one that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Baptist church and a follower of Jesus, says David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn. ....

"Not that a concern for numerical growth or efficiency is wrong in any way at all," Dockery said. "It was probably quite unintentional at first, but slowly, almost unconsciously, a greater disparity has developed between our reported total membership and the actual number of active and participating members in our churches.

"The result is that we developed two categories that are foreign to the New Testament: non-resident members (those who held membership in the church, but have moved away from the meeting place of the church) and inactive members (those who are on the membership rolls who no longer attend the congregation with any sense of regularity)."

Without ignoring the importance of numerical growth or efficiency, Southern Baptists "need to refocus on what it means to be a Baptist church, what it means to be a member of a Baptist church, along with the importance of faithfulness and maturation of church members," Dockery said. ....

"We need to rediscover the importance of what it means to be a faithful, covenant member of a local Baptist congregation," Dockery said. "We need to reflect again on the biblical teaching about the new birth and discipleship and develop new member orientation processes for those who desire to join our churches.

"We need to highlight the foundational matters of church membership," Dockery added. "We need a fresh understanding of the Gospel; the relationship of saving faith to sanctification, maturation and spiritual faithfulness must be recaptured. Beyond this, we also must recover the New Testament's teaching on church discipline." ....

"We need to ask questions about how we count members and report them as churches, as associations, as state conventions and as a national convention, but these questions must begin at the local church level," he said. "We want simultaneously to affirm the Baptist doctrine of regenerate church membership and the Baptist doctrine of the autonomy of the local congregation." [more]

It is a discussion appropriate for every Baptist church, Seventh Day Baptist churches included. It is likely that we have, on average, more non-resident members than other Baptist denominations simply because not every believer in our doctrinal distinctive is going to start a church in the place to which they move. There is also a reluctance among family members to have a relative struck from the rolls even though they may not have entered a Seventh Day Baptist church for many years.

Baptist Press - Dockery: Spiritual issues at heart of debate over 'total membership' statistic - News with a Christian Perspective

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