SBC Presidency and Membership Integrity

[This post was first prepared before Dr. Mohler announced his health problems and pulled his name.  I have updated it to reflect this change]

With the announcement that Dr. Mohler is not running for President due to his health, this SBC President election in Indianapolis may or may not be as interesting as 2 years ago.  On February 7th, Baptist Press reported that Dr. Frank Cox from GA was going to be nominated for SBC President by Junior Hill.  I am a bit surprised that this nomination really didn’t catch much press compared to that of when Dr. Mohler’s nomination was announced.  I thought that someone such as Junior Hill nominating someone to ‘oppose’ a seminary president would be a big deal.  Early on Thursday, I searched on Google Blogs and only found 10 blog links to this topic even though Baptist Press published their report a week ago.  Even a search of our own unofficial Southern news source Said at Southernrevealed only one hit for the story about Dr. Cox’s nomination for SBC President.

First, I need to say that I am a student here at Southern and have much admiration for Dr. Mohler.  When we first got married, Beth and I would listen to his radio show which would lead to some great discussions about our faith an walk with the Lord; this was so great for our marriage during this first year together.  (But she is still a bit ‘bitter’ about not getting to ask her question on Ask Anything Wednesday. . . I love you Bethie!)  Being a student here at Southern, I have been able to learn in an environment that was not possible 20 years ago.  For this also, I am thankful for the battle that Dr. Mohler led to reclaim this great Seminary.  So, my vote would have been for Dr. Mohler had he still been running.

While I must say that I do not know anything about Dr. Cox other than what I read both on the blogs, his website, and from the BP article, he seems like a man who is committed to the Lord, his church, and the SBC.  He has served in numerous positions within the convention, has been a pastor at the same church for over 27 years, and leads his church to give 13.4% of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program.  This is great.  Having served on the mission field, I am also thankful for the almost $60,000 the church gave to Lottie Moon in 2006!  So all this to say that this rest of this article is not a hit on Dr. Cox, but more of a general question that came to my mind when I was reading about his church.

From the BP article, here are two quotes about Dr. Cox’s church:

  • “Under his leadership, the church has grown from 700 members to more than 4,600, with 3,600-plus individuals added to the church fellowship as baptized believers”
  • “The most recent information available, Southern Baptists’ 2006 Annual Church Profile Survey, lists 110 baptisms and primary worship service attendance of 1,737 for North Metro.”

Now, I have read through most of the blog comments on his nomination and I have not seen any of them address this point.  Many of them were steering this as Calvinism vs Non-Calvinism, pastor vs entity head, etc. or bringing up the fact that Junior Hill is going to nominate him (Junior did speak at SBTS’s chapel in the Fall of 2007).  But are we not missing another issue here?  This church has a membership of more than 4,600 people but in 2006 only had a primary worship service attendance of 1,737.  That is only 38%!  Now, I know that North Metro First Baptist Church is not the only church with this problem so this is not necessarily directed at Dr. Cox’s leadership, but it does bring up the issue of church membership integrity, again (see here, here, here, etc).   I have heard that another blogger is working on a project looking at just this very issue so I look forward to the day it comes out, but until then, is this issue not as important at the percentage of CP giving?  I have to think it is vitally important to our integrity as Southern Baptists! 

There are many different ways to run from here: should the SBC President’s church not only give at least 10% to CP but also have a minimum % of membership actually attend the church, does this even matter in voting for a convention office, when are we going to address the bigger issue that Tom Ascol has been trying to bring before the convention, is this a Calvinist or non-Calvinist issue, or is the SBC always going to be a convention where half of it’s members are no where to be found?  While all of these need to be addressed, I am not sure how right at this moment especially in light of a young man at our church who is in the hospital with meningitis or the senseless killings at NIU.  The need for the Gospel is so evident as we look around us or watch the news or sit at work.  While I know that these (and others) are issues that will come up the closer we get to the convention, but my prayer is that all is done in light of the cross.

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9 thoughts on “SBC Presidency and Membership Integrity

  1. Ga Boy,

    1) There is a serious problem in the SBC when our church rolls are twice as large as our attendance.

    2) Twice, Dr. Ascol’s Church Membership Integrity resolution has been negated at the Annual Convention

    3) Now, the ‘front runner’ for president is himself the pastor of a church that, when looking at the data in the BP article, is also a church where actual attendance is less than half of church membership.

    4) I would hope that maybe this year the Convention would get serious about having some integrity in how many members we actually have. While none of this is directed at Dr. Cox himself or his nomination, can we just close our eyes to this issue that from the data seems to also be prevelant in Dr. Cox’s church?

    Do you have any thoughts regarding church membership?

  2. wheelj79,

    When you get out of school and start pastoring a church you will have more of a right to comment on this. If you look at most churches they run at about the same ratios in attendance. A lot of times you will have many two sunday a month members that if they would come every week would drastically increase your average attendance. Not to say that i agree with members only going one or two sunday’s a month but that is just the reality of church no matter how well you lead.

  3. Bill, thanks for the comment. A couple of thoughts in response. First, whether I am in school or not does not change the issue at hand . . . integrity in church membership is an important issue that I think the SBC needs to begin addressing. I would hope that you would also affirm this. Yes, I also would agree that, unfortunately, most churches in the SBC run around this same ratio. However, does that not set off alarms in anyone else’s mind or heart? At our church here, we also have this issue, but we are working on seeking out those who are on our rolls but do not attend. We recognize the issue and are working to resolve and even reclaim our integrity in our membership. I know that this is not easy and not a quick fix.

    I also, though, see this as a two-part process. Not only do we need to be work to find and reclaim our “members,” but we in the SBC have to seek to do a better job of discipling those new believers coming into the church so that they don’t become a once-a-month attender.

  4. Most churches have many once a month attenders. People, like yourself, do what they want and attend church when they want.

    What about shut-ins that can’t ever attend church? What about kids that are in divorced situations that visit their parents every other week?

    What do you suggest should be the criteria for removing people?

    Instead of focusing on removing people, we should add more! We need to reach as many people as possible with the gospel.

    There are times when we need to remove people. However, I don’t think we should refuse membership to someone just because they don’t or can’t attend church.

  5. Ga Boy,

    Check out Tim’s blog here: http://timmybrister.com/. He has numerous resources posted right now about church disciple and church membership. I believe that you could find some good info there on criteria for practicing church disciple.

    As for where do you draw the line, well that would be up to each pastor/church to decide. I am just advocating for a push from our convention to bring up the issue and to encourage the SBC churches to do better in this area. Also, I do agree that you have homebound, kids, sickness, etc on the membership rolls. But if we were only talking about, say, 10-20% of your congregation missing because of the above reasons, then sure whatever. But when over 50% of your membership is missing, then that is a problem.

    Second, I agree 100% that we need to reach more people. But we can’t just save them, dunk them, and then tell them to just sit in the pews. We have got to do a better job of discipleship or those that are saved are just going to go right back out the front door and not come back.

  6. I guess I am a month late to the discussion, and I doubt seriously that the 2 people responding to this post will actually return and respond to my statements.

    But I think both Bill and GaBoy have missed the point completely.

    Bill,
    Your ad hominem attack on Will was really unnecessary. First, one need not be a pastor to see that we have a problem in the SBC. Do you feel that laypeople are unqualified to make observations about the status of our churches. Why would you segment off pastors as those alone who are able to assess the situation? Do you really distrust laypeople that much? Are you a Pastor? If so, you lead me to think that you do not really think that the people you lead are capable of independent thought and reason. If you are not a pastor, don’t your own comments disqualify you from commenting on this subject?

    The point is that there is a problem. If pastors are not going to deal with it (and many do not do so because it would hurt attendance numbers and thus their reputation and speaking schedules) then laypeople and even seminary students must step to the plate.

    The big question is not if Will is a pastor (which he may be, I don’t know him) or a seminary student or a janitor or mechanic or a lawyer. The big question is: Why do we have such a huge disparity between the numbers we report as membership and the actual numbers of attendance? The follow-up questions are numerous: What does this say theologically? Do we really believe in regenerate church membership? Why are pastors silent? Why is nothing done? Why do we vote down resolutions calling us to honesty?

    GaBoy,

    This is not an issue of “removing people”…it is an issue of theological fidelity and honesty in reporting numbers. Why are we continually allowed to lie without repercussions? Is lying no longer a sin?
    The issue is not about having more members than attenders or excuses why some members cannot come. Honestly, do you believe that there are 10million shut-ins and kids from divorced families that are causing our number problems?? Make a real argument, not some fallacious nonsense and arguing from exceptions.

    On the whole in the SBC over 60% of our members are not coming to church meetings. Do you guys not see this as a problem?
    We are claiming these people are believers yet we have no idea what is going on in their lives because we have no idea where they are. We claim their numbers to look good, but pastors are not shepherding those people.

    The fact that some would make excuses for this is sad, not unexpected, but sad.

    Let’s deal with the REAL issues.

    – Do we believe that members must be believers?
    – Do we believe that believers must meet with the church body?
    – Do we believe failure to do so demonstrates unbelief (see 1 John)?
    – Do we believe that it is lying to claim people as members that we know have no real association with our churches?
    – Do we believe lying is a sin?
    – Do we believe we must correct this problem?

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