At Together for the Gospel, Mark Dever is fired up about a rampant Southern Baptist mistake…treating inactive church members as prospects. Is it biblically correct to keep inactive ‘church members’ on the membership role of the congregation because they are good perspective candidates to return to full fledged membership? Dever rejects the idea, and I concur. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but here are the notable quotes:
When a question was raised about the propriety of allowing those who are able to attend church, but who never do to remain members of our churches, the answer was given that this was in order to keep the names as “prospects”. Presumably, the intention is that our prior contact with them gives us an excuse for contacting them personally.
For me to allow my local congregation to continue on, with people in membership regularly forsaking assembling together is to be in sin, to lead my congregation into sin, confuse what it means to be a member, and confuse what it means to be a Christian.
Do you know who opposes this practice of Southern Baptist Churches? God in Hebrews 10. Our Southern Baptist forbears who knew what it meant to be a Christian, and a church member, and who suffered for it. No messenger to a Southern Baptist Convention a century or so ago could have conceived of such an action (or inaction). Current Southern Baptist church planters oppose us in this. As Ed Stetzer and David Putnam have recently written, “Any church with a membership twice its attendance is not and cannot be living up to its responsibilities to care for, nurture, watch over, and disciple its church members.” [Ed Stetzer and David Putnam, Breaking the Missional Code (2006), p. 150].
How could such an answer have been given? I’m sure in well meaning sincerity. But how could it have been soberly accepted by thousands of messengers? I can only conclude that it must have been due in part to our cheapened understanding of conversion, debased practices of evangelism, worldly attitudes about being “judgmental” and an addiction–a drunkeness, if you will–to numbers. I don’t think it came about by careful reflection on the Bible’s teaching on what it means to be born again, to be made a new creation, to consider the fruit of the Spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh. We were not thinking of II Peter 1. We not calling people to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith, as Paul urged the Corinthians. We have not with a sober love called them “sinners” in need of repentance; we have called them “members” and assured them that they are saved. Or we’ve called them “prospects.”
Friends, “prospects” are in the phone book, in our family, in our neighborhood, at work. Church members are not “prospects”. Church members are supposed to be our brothers and sisters in Christ. Church members are supposed to be saved from God’s wrath against them. If they give no evidence of it, we’re playing a high stakes game here with the souls of those we claim to love.
Church members are not prospects. Church members are not prospects.