The dreaded "Church Roll"...

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by Batt4Christ, Jul 30, 2011.

  1. Batt4Christ

    Batt4Christ
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    I am struggling with something that I know many many churches struggle with - but the Lord has laid it on my heart to take action. But there are few things as "touchy" as the infamous "church roll".

    My observations:

    The church I pastor has a roll that has nearly 300 names. Our average Sunday School attendance is around 45, with Morning Worship attendance at an average of 60. Anyone detect a problem?:tear:

    I have been here almost 3 years. Just a little over a year before I was called here, the previous pastor and a committee put together a bailout that went to every name on the church roll (that they had an address for). The letter basically said that the church was updating the roll and wanted everyone to respond (even those that were active at the time) via a postage paid postcard that gave a few of choices:

    1. I have joined another church, please take me off the roll.
    2. Please keep me on the roll
    3. Please remove my name from the roll.

    From what I can find in the folder all the replies were placed in, about half the names got a reply back. Of those, most of our current active membership (other than the new additions since) replied the obvious way. But there were quite a few that requested that their name remain on the roll - even though they have still not stepped foot in the church, contributed in any way to the ministry, or even had contact beyond that post card.

    My view - This all falls under "church discipline" - these long absent "church members" have removed themselves from fellowship. Some have moved away, others still live in a reasonable distance from the church building - and just don't "go to church" any more.

    Am I so wrong believing that voluntarily removing oneself from fellowship (even if they have not formally asked for such) is ground to remove them from the church roll?

    I have made an effort to call/write/and even track them down to visit - and have had nearly no success. The few I was able to actually talk too - they gave this story and that (none had physical limitations preventing church attendance/fellowship). Some couldn't "really explain". Some said they knew they needed to start back coming.

    Membership at our church is based on being a born-again believer in Jesus Christ/Saved/etc. with a public profession of this, scriptural baptism, and agreement to our church covenant (a pretty traditional and well-known covenant) - that ends in the following paragraph:

    We moreover engage that when we remove from this place, we will, as soon as possible, unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principals of God's Word.

    I have little doubt that there are names on our roll of people who are unredeemed. Not that I know them personally, or have made a judgement based on appearances. But the choice to not "got to church" and/or participate/fellowship falls squarely under the admonition of Hebrews 10, which describes one of the reasons we are to "assemble/meet together" - to encourage/provoke one another to good works and our Christian service and walk. We are to NOT forsake the assembling together.

    Further - as I included this past Sunday in the morning message from 1 John - the redeemed have fellowship with God, and with with one another (v. 6 & 7).

    Every so often, you hear someone say they don't go to church any more because they get board or just don't like the preaching (sometimes it is for superficial reasons like the preacher's voice/he sweats/he's loud), or as I have heard a time or two - they got tired of the preacher talking about sin... (!!!)

    Yet what does 1 John 4:6 imply? The redeemed love the preaching, teaching and reading of God's Word. I can totally understand if someone quits going to a particular church because a preacher is preaching false doctrines or butchering the scripture - but then they should seek to join another church as soon as possible.

    I have prayed, I have read, and I have fasted (which I don't do very often) over this - and have been comforted in knowing that this IS an issue that the Lord wants me to address. But I sure would like some input from others on how this may have been handled in situations you are familiar with (even if it was a disaster - because I can learn from other's mistakes!).
     
  2. HAMel

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    Just forget about 'em and move on as there's no sense in beatin' a dead horse. Elevate the church with what you have to work with and move it along. These folks might just come back to see what all the excitement is all about.
     
  3. tinytim

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    Inactive list is an act of church discipline.. move on, work with what you have, and time will take care of the rest.. .through death!
     
  4. Batt4Christ

    Batt4Christ
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    "Move on". I've tried to put this out of my mind. The Lord continues to put it back.

    This somewhat connects to another vein of thought I have been dealing with -

    The three methods/paths to church membership as practice by most Baptist churches:

    By profession of faith + baptism

    By letter from a church of like faith and practice

    By statement (that the candidate is a born-again believer who has been scripturally baptized in/by a church of like faith and practice) - the spirit of this is to address issues where a person's former church may not exist, or may not have records, etc.

    While I just cannot find anywhere in the New Testament where letters of church membership were granted, the couple of letters most people use as the basis are letters of recommendation - of faithful workers who will be in a particular city for a particular time/purpose. So along that line:

    Someone comes to our church and decides they want to join our fellowship. They come from another baptist church of like faith (that term is another discussion/debate in-and-of itself). If they join on promise of a letter - when we request said letter, the other church, in "granting" that letter is essentially "vouching" for that person.

    Likewise - we receive a request for letter of someone on our church roll - us "granting" that letter is us vouching for that person.

    But what if that person hasn't been in attendance for years. They haven't been in touch or contact (and/or have been living in and with open and unrepentant sin). If we send a letter that essentially leads the other church to believe this person has been a faithful member of our church.... see where this leads.

    In my nearly 3 years here, we have received a couple of requests for letters. One was someone that only a couple of current members (who have been members here for decades) even remembered who they are - and had no idea where they were or what they had been doing. While I hope and pray that they were requesting their letter because the Lord had led them back to a local body... again, can we "vouch" for this person?

    Another example - someone who's name appears on our church roll - he has not stepped foot in this church building since it was built - almost 10 years now - who hasn't made any qualms that he doesn't believe in "organized religion" (I don't either, if you define it a certain way!), and openly questions the validity, authority, authenticity, and reliability of the Bible. His life is an open book example of someone who is unredeemed. But his name is on the church roll...

    And let me throw another monkey wrench into the mix -

    Our church has a policy (after a sister church had a major blow up over use of facilities) that to use the church property for non-church functions/purposes (including weddings) - you must be a church member. While I'm not real fond of the policy as a blanket rule - I also understand the concern and the logic behind it.

    Well... the previous mentioned fellow (name on roll, but doubts Bible, organized religion, etc.) wanted to use the church to get married. The engagement fell through - so it didn't come to a head as I was concerned it would... but this kind of reminds me of a little church I preached at right after surrendering to the ministry - the church owned a cemetery. If you were a member, you could be buried in the cemetery at no cost (other than open/close of grave). The little church had about 70 active members - but had a church roll (and this was a church out in the country) of nearly 400! Nobody wanted their name off the roll, even though they lived hundreds of miles away and/or were regularly attending another church (even in the city this little church was just outside).

    Again - that church roll becomes something beyond a ministry tool and an avenue for discipline.
     
  5. righteousdude2

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    It's Time to Prune Back the Dead Branches!

    Send out a letter to all of those who no longer attend, informing them that their name will be removed from the church roll if they do not respond by such in such a date!

    It is somewhat Scriptural to prune back the dead branches, so, I can see no problem in applying that lesson to this situation.

    As always, this is merely my opinion, and it may not set well with some. However, as a pastor, you need to know which branches are alive and bearing fruit! :wavey:

    Blessing,

    Pastor Paul :type:
     
  6. Salty

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    I basically agre with RD2, except, before I sent the letter, I would have
    a church business meeting to formalize a church membership policy.
    This would include defenitions of Acitive,inactive, junior ect memberships.
    (in fact our church has a memorail membership list - for those who have gone home to be with the Lord -)

    These changes should become part of your constitution.
    Then send the letter stating that by action of the church, active membership shall be limited to those are faithful in attendence to services. That as of (a certain date) - say two months - non-attendees will be placed on the inactive roll.
     
  7. Dempster

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    That's what I was thinking also. That way, these people can still claim to be "members" but the church isn't having to carry them on their active rolls.
    It also takes care of the wedding/burial in the church cemetery issues.....you can restrict those to active members only.
     
  8. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    I'm with Salty. You have to go by the constitution. And if the constitution doesn't have a provision that non-attendance (say for a year) means loss of membership, you should work to get one in there.

    My Dad faced a vote for dismissal back in about 1965, in the church where his ministry was most blessed by God. His opponents in the church worked the non-attenders on the membership roll and got enough votes to force my Dad out. God later judged each of the ring leaders (cancer, car accident, etc.), but the pain went deep. This kind of problem can be prevented by limiting the church roll to attenders.
     
  9. Aaron

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    Ditto Salty and J of J
     
  10. go2church

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    I wouldn't and haven't bothered with such things.
     
  11. Trotter

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    We do something very similar to what Salty said. After so long people are moved to an "inactive" list. After a year they are dropped from the roll altogether.

    Our church roll was four times what our attendance was, once upon a time. It is now much closer to the number of people who are actually a part of the church. The only people who should be on the roll are just that... those who are actually a part of it.

    We do make exceptions for those who are shut-in or invalid, however.
     
  12. HAMel

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    My Dad faced a vote for dismissal back in about 1965, in the church where his ministry was most blessed by God. His opponents in the church worked the non-attenders on the membership roll and got enough votes to force my Dad out. God later judged each of the ring leaders (cancer, car accident, etc.), but the pain went deep. This kind of problem can be prevented by limiting the church roll to attenders.

    John of Japan, my wife and I attended a church many years ago where a group of trouble makers took exception to a very Godly man for no rhyme or reason. As time progressed several of those folks started dying from accidents. In total about seven people died and one ended up in the hospital from breathing the fumes of battery acid. He almost didn't make it home. What a stinking mess and none of them prospered much after this episode.

    The one they were after finally stepped down. What a shame.
     
  13. glfredrick

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    I've been in several churches where we have pared the rolls to those persons that we could identify, either regular attenders or home-bound persons. We eliminated those that that either did not respond to a letter or to whom we had long ago lost contact.

    In once case, the church "membership" dropped from 750+ to about 350 (and almost caused a church split until those who were culled failed to show up for the showdown!).

    In other cases, it was just paperwork, and the people of the church realized that people on the rolls may have been there for one service, or one Sunday school class from the days when everyone who gave the church a name and address were enrolled at some level.

    In each case, the culling took as long as a year to finalize, and the reality that our church(s) were not as large as everyone said struck home in different ways, from sadness to resolve.

    WAY too much "looking over the shoulder" at the "glory days" of most churches to satisfy the requirements for the pastor to actually BE the shepherd of the flock, the Great Commandment, or the Great Commission.
     
  14. Tom Butler

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    Our church has pared its roll over the past three or four years, with the church clerk simply bring names to the business meeting, asking for permission to remove them.

    There was some concern that we had not done enough to try to reclaim those absent members, and I understand that concern. We started with "non-resident members" who had moved away. Most had been on rolls for years and had never transferred their membership. We also had some folks on the rolls whom we had no idea where they were. Those were the easy ones.

    One suggestion was to contact delinquent members and ask them if they wanted to remain a member. I'm against that. The church is the one who determines membership, not just the individual.

    Then there was concern that we might hurt some feelings. My answer is, why should we be concerned about their feelings when they didn't give a hoot about us anyway.

    Then there was a concern that a delinquent member might have a grievance against the church that we don't know about, and we ought to see if it can be resolved. My answer: If it was really a problem, they would have talked to us about it a long time ago.

    I have no problem trying to reclaim absent members. We ought to if we can. But I also don't favor allowing such members to dictate the terms of their membership.

    Lastly, church rolls are a useful tool. It provides a means of keeping in contact with members, it provides a tool through which church discipline may be administered. My employers keep a list of employees. I'm glad they do when it comes to making out the payroll checks. So there are practical reasons as well as ecclesiological reasons for having one.
     
    #14 Tom Butler, Aug 1, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 1, 2011
  15. John of Japan

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    How sad, both for the man of God and his opponents. My grandfather made a point of never defending himself against personal attacks (and there were many), but leaving the results up to God. He used to claim a verse for that:

    Isa 54:17--"No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD."
     
  16. Tater77

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    I'm at a small church with the same problem. This weekend there was a man buried in the cemetery that is on the roll but hasn't attended a service in 25 years.

    He was buried 20 feet from a deacon that died 2 months ago and attended service till near his death.

    This caused a bit of an argument obviously.
     
  17. David Lamb

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    I'm not being judgmental, just curious:

    Why (except for obvious reasons like becoming housebound by a severe medical condition) would a church keep someone who has been absent from all church services for a quarter of a century on its list of members?

    Of course I don't expect you to discuss this particular man in detail, but surely, alarm bells should start ringing if any member remains absent from all services for a month or two, and the church leaders would try to discover the reason.

    It also seems odd that the other members were quite happy to keep on the roll a member who never attended for 25 years (assuming they knew he was still on the roll), and yet argue about where he is biried.
     
  18. Batt4Christ

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    Soon after I surrendered to the ministry, I preached one Sunday at a small rural church that had its own cemetery. I was looking through their information on the grounds - and the policy basically was - If you were a church member, you could be buried in the church cemetery for no cost. Needless to say - they had a HUGE church roll...
     
  19. Batt4Christ

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    I see this all as part of a larger picture- the lack of "church discipline". As you pointed out, if someone is an invalid or otherwise physically unable to attend church - that is a whole different set of circumstances and the church body should have some means of ministering in some way to that individual (sermon auto CDs/video if available, sermon transcripts, ongoing Sunday School materials/bible study materials, and regular visits).

    But someone who, by their own choice, decides to stop going to church - that should be addressed. It might be based on a misunderstanding - but if thats the case, then that person should be seeking a new church body to join with.

    There is a nifty little book, written many years ago by a fellow who was somewhat of a "leader" within the association our church belongs too. His name is J.E. Cobbs. The book's title is "Cobb's Baptist Church Manual". In it, he addresses many issues related to church membership and in one section (page 55 to be exact), he wrote:

    Sometimes churches drop from their rolls those members who move and do not get letters, especially if they never communicate in any way with the church. No formal charge of misconduct is usually brought against them; they are merely dropped. That is sometimes called "erasure", but it is equal to exclusion since they are, by action of the church, dismissed from her membership.

    Yet another problem I perceive in this issue of the "Church Roll" - lack of discipleship. Jesus' commission was not to go build up a big church roll (if it was, someone please point that out to me). No - Jesus said to GO and MAKE DISCIPLES - included in that action is to baptize, and teach.

    Another issue within this discussion is how many truly unredeemed people have their names on a church roll. How does this happen? The old "they walk the isle, lets dunk 'em as quick as we can" mentality. Further - an active and effective discipleship "program" would eliminate a LOT of this problem.

    And finally - churches have to grow some guts. Our church rolls are a fraud. Everyone knows that. A church I am familiar with was trying to refinance the mortgage on their building. The lending institution didn't ask for a church roll, or even the number ON that roll - they wanted to know the average Sunday attendance - and some historical data to compare that (is the church growing or dying). They could care less about the number of folks on a roll.
     

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