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Resolved to Discipline

Southern Baptists repent of inflated membership numbers.
2008This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

With its 16.2 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. But on any given Sunday, most Southern Baptists are missing in action. According to statistics released by the SBC in April, the average worship attendance in the convention is 6.15 million—10 million shy of the membership total. That is a problem, says Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. Ascol believes that Southern Baptist churches have sinned by maintaining inaccurate membership rolls, and by tolerating inactive members.

Ascol was one of the most vocal supporters of a resolution favoring regenerate church membership that was approved at the convention's annual meeting in June. Regenerate church members have accepted Christ, been baptized, and are active in a local congregation. Proponents said that too many church members failed to meet that description. Ascol also successfully pushed for an amendment that calls on congregations "to repent of any failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members." He said the resolution is the first step toward restoring church discipline. It's the next step—actually deciding who will be removed from membership—that will test the SBC's resolve to discipline.

Members of the convention's resolution committee opposed Ascol's amendment. Jeff Moore, pastor of First Baptist Church in Altus, Oklahoma, pointed out that many churches, such as his, already have accurate rolls.

"When I arrived we had 7,000 members," he said. "That was ridiculous." So Moore's church trimmed off 3,000 members ...

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