Membership integrity becomes priority
JEFFERSON CITY—Interim Executive Director David Tolliver of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) will no longer refer to the MBC as being comprised of about 600,000 total members, preferring instead to go with a “more accurate” number of 400,000 that reflects integrity and true humility in the eyes of God.
“I take seriously the reminder given to the messengers of the recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) concerning more accurate and honest reporting of numbers,” Tolliver said.
On June 12-13 in San Antonio, unregenerate church membership was mentioned as a potential obstacle to revival. Southern Baptists claim a total membership of 16.3 million (with Missouri coming in at 600,000), but a growing number of messengers would like to see the SBC use its primary worship attendance figure of 6.1 million as its main identifier.
Another more accurate number that is being seen as an improvement is resident membership. In the SBC, that figure is 11.4 million; in the MBC it is 392,000. Rounding that number up to 400,000 is something that Tolliver likes more than the previous number of 600,000, which was rounded up from 589,000.
“While I agree with and understand local church autonomy—I cannot tell another church who they can determine to be on their membership rolls—it is frankly a lack of integrity for Southern Baptists to continue to claim these millions of people when we can’t even tell where half of them are,” Tolliver said. “I’m not trying to judge whether they’re lost or not, but I think a grand total membership number is a totally inaccurate number concerning your church.
“For instance, in the Missouri Baptist Convention, we have been using the number of 600,000. The more accurate number is closer to 400,000. That’s resident membership.”
Resident membership in the SBC, according to LifeWay Christian Resources, excludes those affiliated as per total membership but who are not close enough to church to attend, such as college students, snowbirds, the military and other subgroups.
Trimming 200,000 total members from the Missouri grand total makes sense when one considers their impact in kingdom work.
“They’re certainly not helping us in our goal to reach Missouri and the rest of the world for Christ,” Tolliver said. “The 400,000 number is what is more accurate as to who we are.”
“I do believe that we need to be very careful that we are honest in everything that we present,” he said.
Here is how the numbers work in the SBC, according to statistics and explanations provided by LifeWay:
The total membership count of 16.3 million includes all those who have affiliated with a church however that church allows membership. This is said to be the most reliable and most reported number by churches.
The resident membership count is 11.4 million, as was previously explained.
The primary worship attendance count of 6.1 million includes anyone attending worship services, which covers visitors and children not in Sunday School. The number does not take into account who is attending one Sunday and absent the next, and it has no relationship to either the total membership number or the resident membership number.
The Sunday School attendance count of 4.2 million includes anyone attending Sunday School, including prospects and visitors. Again, this number has no relationship to membership numbers.
In the MBC, according to the 2006 Annual Church Profile (ACP), there were 267,000 enrolled in Sunday School and 133,000 in average Sunday School attendance. The primary worship attendance number for the MBC was 189,000.
Both the SBC and MBC figures are based on 88 percent of the churches reporting their statistics.
The SBC attempted to address the need for bringing its numbers more into line with who the body of Southern Baptists really is by making the theme of the annual meeting, “Lord, Send Your Holy Spirit,” with an accompanying prayer emphasis. A resolution on integrity in church membership was brought to the floor after having been rejected by the Resolutions Committee; it ultimately failed on a floor vote that required a 2/3 majority to bring it to life, but some observers felt it may have pulled as much as 51 percent in the losing effort.
Church members who act as if they are unregenerate are becoming more and more of a concern. A return to the practice of biblical church discipline with “ministers of holiness,” as author and Bible teacher John F. MacArthur Jr. describes them, being called out from within the local church is being mentioned more and more as a potential remedy. There are 2,004 MBC churches and missions, according to the 2006 ACP.
For now, it is clear that Southern Baptists see the urgency of prayer that may lead to revival, and Tolliver said in San Antonio that Missouri Baptists had already factored that in as part of what needs to take place at the MBC annual meeting Oct. 29-31 at Tan-Tar-A, Osage Beach.
“We had already put in our program the very same thing,” Tolliver said. “We’re going to call the Convention to a special time of prayer Monday night, and then every session following we will have a special prayer time in the Convention. I’m going to lead those prayer times.
“We’re praying for God’s spirit to fill our Convention and to give us peace and unity.”