Earlier this week, the SBC released their Annual Church Profile, which gives a summary of the convention’s membership totals. The alarm bells are sounding across the convention because membership has declined for the seventh straight year. While this number is getting the bulk of the attention, I believe a different category sheds light on the true state of the SBC.
According to the data, the overall membership of the SBC in 2013 was 15.7 million, while the average weekly attendance was only about 5.8 million. Take a second to consider that. Only about 37% of the SBC attends a weekly corporate worship service. That means on any given Sunday nearly two-thirds of the total membership of our convention is missing from corporate worship.
One of the key points of Southern Baptist doctrine is our belief in regenerate church membership, which means that only true believers comprise God’s covenant community. This meager attendance number shows that we are not practicing what we preach. It is clear that there are many with their names on a church roll, who do not love the bride of Christ, which means they do not truly love Christ.
It is time for pastors and churches to start taking church membership seriously. We must faithfully preach and teach what it means to be a part of God’s church. Ministers must labor to make disciples who see that Christianity lived apart from a local church is foreign to the Bible. We must lovingly pursue those missing millions, seeking to bring them into the community of faith or removing them from the rolls.
I grew up in a culture where church membership was not taken all that seriously. I understand that pastors who want to implement biblical church membership may face pushback from congregations, but this must not deter them from the mission. After all, much more is at stake than numbers on an annual report. There are millions who have false assurance of salvation because their names are on a church roll somewhere. This is a tragedy that must be remedied.
I’m not worried that the SBC is going to die anytime soon. I’m even less worried about the overall health of the universal Church. God is faithful, and He will continue to build the Church until Christ returns to call her home. But as Southern Baptists, we have a responsibility to shepherd well those in our ranks. It is obvious that we are falling woefully short of that, and it is time for us as a convention to repent and look to the grace of Christ for forgiveness and power to change.