Two Missouri pastors say it’s time to put FBI out of business
By Allen Palmeri
November 4, 2003
|Doug Shivers, pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church, Springfield, teaches that an able-bodied, genuine convert of Jesus Christ is to be in church on Sunday. To that end, he has trimmed his church roll from 1,230 to 796 — with more trimming to come. Pathway photo.|
Clearing the church rolls does not have to be painful
JEFFERSON CITY – The joke that keeps making the rounds of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) goes something like this: We have 16 million members, but the FBI couldn’t find half of them!Southern Baptists are marked within American evangelicalism as the denomination of “the 16 million." But is the reality of that number, the truth about Southern Baptist membership – and the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) — really a laughing matter?
Last year, 279,000 Missouri Baptists were enrolled in Sunday School. Actual attendance was 139,000. What about the other 140,000?
Some pastors are willing to state the obvious: We can do better. We can move beyond the humor. Doug Shivers of Boulevard Baptist Church in Springfield is among a group of Missouri Baptist pastors who are working toward membership reform.
Shivers used to have a church of 1,230 “members." Over a four-year period Boulevard Baptist has trimmed its roll to 796.
“Ultimately, we’d like to see our actual Sunday morning attendance be larger than our membership," said Shivers, whose church right now averages 250 in worship. “We want membership to be meaningful."
Jim Elliff, president of Christian Communicators Worldwide in Kansas City , works with Missouri Baptist pastors seeking to address the sin on non-attendance in church. On his Web site at www.ccwonline.org, Elliff has posted a “Church Membership Recovery Model" based on the steps that one Missouri Baptist church is taking. That church has 514 “members" and 125 in worship.
“Loving church discipline is a careful process by which the sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction," Elliff said. “The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners."
Shivers and Elliff teach that an able-bodied, genuine convert will come to church (Acts 2:42). If someone leaves, “they did not really belong to us," according to 1 John 2:19. We know we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers, but the one who does not love remains in death (1 John 3:14).
These are the folks the FBI cannot find.
“We believe many of those who are inactive are unconverted and we are praying that this process will be used by God to lead them to genuine salvation," Shivers said. “I suspect one of the largest untapped mission fields in Baptist life is our own church roll."
Shivers is approaching his 10th year in the Boulevard pulpit. He said he strives to systematically warn his inactive members so that he will not have blood on his hands on Judgment Day. He recommends that pastors preach on the privileges and duties of membership for the purpose of getting the church to study what the Bible teaches on forgiveness, restoration and church discipline.
“This has taken years," Shivers said.
The first stage in “Operation Restoration," which is what Shivers calls this process, was to remove members for whom the church did not have a known address.
The second stage was to send letters to non-resident members. Many had joined other churches; a few asked to be left on the roll. Shivers determined to contact these “members" again.
Stage Three involves more detail, with action taking place throughout October and November, Shivers said, noting how his church is going through this process now.
First, inactive resident members are contacted by letter, including a postcard for them to reply. These “members" are then removed if they requested that, or if they have joined other churches. The final list then consists of those who either do not respond or who respond and wish to remain a member.
Personal contacts with those on the final list are scheduled to begin in January, Shivers said. The goal is to visit with the “member" in his or her home to visit about their commitment to the church.
“Our purpose is to reconcile these folks to the church and see them become faithful members," Shivers said. “We will not remove anyone unless they refuse to be reconciled to the church."
Generally, after a pastor lovingly works through these steps, a “member" will show his or her true colors, Elliff said.
“Most of the people on our rolls give little evidence that they love the brethren—a clear sign of being unregenerate," Elliff said.
With the Missouri Baptist church he is planting, Christ Fellowship of Kansas City, Elliff is insisting that new members sign a “Membership Agreement" where this issue is addressed. The language in the agreement is a clear message to anyone who chooses to sign his or her name:
“I will faithfully participate with this church in worship, prayer, study, fellowship and the ordinances of baptism and communion, and will use my spiritual gifts for the common good. Through my involvement, and even sacrifice, I will seek to illustrate to my family and a watching world the immense significance of life in the body of Christ."
Shivers has anticipated nine possible scenarios that he and the other Boulevard leaders might face in the next couple of months. According to Shivers, here is a sample of how “members" typically react when lovingly confronted about their lack of participation in church.
- Reaction: You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.
- Response: Going to church does not make you a Christian, but it is an essential pattern of life for a follower of Christ.
- Reaction: If this is so important, why are you just now talking to me? Where have you been for the last (so many) years?
- Response: We admit we, as a church, have sinned by not trying to contact you a long time ago and reconcile with you. This is part of our repentance.
- Reaction: I will not discuss with you why I don’t attend the church. I have no intentions of ever attending and I expect my name to be left on the church roll.
- Response: We are sorry you feel that way, and we will pray that you would change your mind.
Why go through all of this trouble? Isn’t shepherding the people who do show up on Sunday enough work?
“We are doing it because we believe Christ’s honor, the integrity of the church and the condition of souls matter," Shivers said.
Elliff would like to see church discipline catch on throughout the SBC as a means of attempting to care for those eight million “members" the FBI cannot find.
“People are dealing with their membership rolls all over the convention, here and there, but there is no wholesale commitment to it," Elliff said. “If Missouri Baptists would lead the way, I’m sure others would see the importance."