Bob Cleveland, a Southern Baptist layman from Alabama, made some helpful points about the ongoing drama in Southern Baptist life about church membership reporting. If sheep are missing, why not ask the shepherds to account for their work? He writes:
Anyway, what’s the real embarrassment in all this? It’s that the 16.5 million “members”, the 8 million “members” we can even find, the 6+ million that are actually THERE on Sunday mornings, the 8.5 million “members” we CANNOT find .. they are all members of LOCAL CHURCHES. Pastored by local PASTORS. If there’s a fault, it’s with the local pastors, churches, and the system(s) in operation. And like my Daddy use to say, what’s EVERYBODY’s fault, it NOBODY’s fault.
With our new pastor, my church has been working on membership recovery for nearly a year. This experience has taught me how carefully this work must go forward. It takes a massive investment of time, energy and congregational patience for a pastor to seriously engage in finding the lost sheep.
I think a statement from the convention encouraging pastors to do membership recovery (and oversight of membership rolls) would be helpful for some churches. Depending on how involved the church is at the convention level, it might be a great nudge to do the right thing.