At the end of a 4 year process, 1st Baptist Church, Gonzales, Louisiana, removed the final 250 people from the rolls of the church who do not attend. Now the remaining attendees are the real members of the church. Not every church will need to spend so long at the process, admittedly, but I commend the patience of this traditional SBC church for arriving at their goal without alienating the church itself. Only two voted against the final stroke of the process.
Several years ago, when I was leading a similar church in Florida, I removed about 700 within months of arriving there. But my situation was entirely different. The church was desperate. When I interviewed I was able to say, “The church is in ICU and should concentrate on breathing and getting some nourishment.” Therefore, they were willing to cut out all programs and start over. This platform allowed me to clean up the rolls without much ado. Most churches aren’t like this.
Jim Law, the church’s teaching pastor, is thankful, along with his leaders, at the conclusion of this long but fruitful ordeal. When Jim first came to the church 17 years ago there were 1450 on the membership rolls, with 350 attending. Jim likes to quote James M. Boice who said, "We overestimate what we can do in five years and underestimate what we can in 20 by God’s grace."
The church had a few trials along the way, including a threatened lawsuit in a clear discipline case, so he believes there is good reason to rejoice. No one is happy to think that so many people are showing not even the most rudimentary signs of being believers, yet, because the church rolls are purified, membership can now become much more meaningful and the church’s witness will no longer be diluted in the community. We can add to this that the individuals removed are not aided in their deception by their membership in the church. That’s good for them and loving for the church.
Years ago I discovered the same thing that the Gonzales church has seen—absenteeism is a sinister sin because it is often a cover for other kinds of disobedience. The church sought to recover their members in various ways before removing them. But along the way, many kinds of disobedience were seen.
Because they wanted clarity, they added a two-page church discipline section to their by-laws, and a statement about membership itself. The final stage of the removal process was done in a traditional church decision motion. Here is what they presented to the members:
MOTION FROM DEACON BODY AND PASTORAL STAFF
Background: For the last four years we have made a concerted effort to contact over 750 absentees on our Church membership role. Most of these on our list have not attended our Church’s gatherings in many years. We decided as a congregation in April of 2008 that non-attendance was not good for the member in question, for the church, and for the witness of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, in our teaching on this subject, we have noted the warning of Hebrews 10:25 which calls us to not “neglect the assembling of ourselves together.” We have also considered the impossibility of keeping our Church Covenant while not attending and participating in the life of the Church. In response to these concerns, we adopted the following bylaw to guide us as a Church with the issue of absenteeism:
4. Furthermore, the names of any members who have not attended a worship service or Bible study at First Baptist Church for a period of six months or longer may be removed from the membership rolls. The member in question will be contacted of the impending action that will be taken at the next regularly scheduled business meeting. The member may then be removed by a simple majority vote of the church at any regularly scheduled business meeting. However, consideration is given to members who are hindered from attending corporate worship and Bible study because of mitigating circumstances, such as military service, education, and personal health. (FBC Gonzales, Constitution and Bylaws, adopted April 2008)
Below are members who have not to our knowledge been in attendance in the last year. The vast majority of those listed below have not been in attendance in the last ten years.
Motion from Deacon Body and Pastoral Staff:
We move that the members listed below be removed from the membership of First Baptist Church Gonzales for nonattendance.
There are other ways to handle the process, of course. For us, we do not use a constitution and by-laws approach to our church life, but we do have a clear discipline statement (Restoring Those Who Fall)[i] and a membership agreement.[ii] A section of each is devoted to attendance issues, but the documents themselves are much broader. The membership agreement is read aloud after each new member reads his testimony. Then it is signed. Each new member must read the discipline statement also before joining. Regardless of your church’s plan, it should be clear and even signed, in our view. This is a litigious age.
We rejoice with 1st Baptist in their courage to do what is right. The Head of the church has required church discipline, and, though the process was long, it worked, and the church is ready for a new future.
[i] Daryl Wingerd and Jim Elliff, Restoring Those Who Fall (Kansas City: Christian Communicators Worldwide, 2006. https://www.ccwtoday.org/resource_view.asp?resource_id=15