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Churches take steps to renew inactive members’ commitment

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (BP)–Most churches’ membership
rolls may look good on paper but are nowhere close to an
accurate reflection of active service.
“I call it the sin of forsaking the local church,” said
Jeff Noblit, pastor of First Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals,
Ala., who has a prepared sermon on the topic he preaches
once a year. “We have taught this generation that that is
At First Baptist, Noblit has turned to discipline to
enforce active service if members are to remain on the
church roll. Acknowledging it is not always popular with
those who receive a reprimand, Noblit said it is scriptural
to remind Christians of their commitment to the local
church. If that commitment is not taken seriously at First
Baptist, the church takes action.
“Forsaking the church is a serious sin according to
Scripture, and we’re not loving people if we don’t call
attention to that,” Noblit said.
On Nov. 2, First Baptist held a dismissal service in
which names were read of all members who had not responded
to a letter from the church asking if they were willing to
be active servants to stay on the church roll. While most of
the 700 who were deleted could not be found anywhere or had
transferred to another church, Noblit said a certain
percentage were members who “willfully, openly said they
don’t want to be active.”
“Not serving the local church is a blatant, public
dishonoring of Jesus Christ, the head of the local church.
There is no way to be disloyal to the church and not also to
Christ,” he said, noting, “God has given us a biblical
response to dealing with sin.”
Jim Swedenburg, director of church administration for
the Alabama Baptist State Convention, said Baptists
traditionally have not taken members off the roll. In the
past, the only way to have your name removed was to transfer
membership, move or die.
“It is pretty hard to get off a Baptist church roll,”
Swedenburg said. Saying he personally wouldn’t like being
taken off a roll by a church, Swedenburg acknowledged it is
frustrating for pastors to have one-fourth or even one-third
of their members inactive. “There are so many ways to view
it, but there is no rule. Churches have the right to take
the initiative,” he said.
Admitting his approach may not be very orthodox for
most Baptist churches, Noblit said he’s not trying to win
any popularity contests. There are two rolls Christians
join, he said: heaven’s roll through salvation and God’s
service roll of Christians active in the church.
“We just ask people to show up one time every six
months,” Noblit said, joking that they don’t get the FBI out
to check. “But if you have a guy who tells the coach of the
Crimson Tide football team that he wants to be on the team
but not show up, he wouldn’t last 30 seconds. You know why?
“Because football is important. How important have we
made Jesus Christ?”
Lindy Martin, interim pastor of First Baptist Church,
Chalkville, Ala., recently re-enforced the importance of
church membership for that congregation.
Rather than deleting members from the roll, the church
gave members a chance to reaffirm their commitment to
service in the church.
“It was a way to support what we are doing and a chance
to find people we are missing,” Martin said. Every person on
the roll was sent a letter about “Roll Call” Sunday, and
many “missing” members were contacted by their Sunday school
While this was somewhat of a “cleaning house” effort,
Martin said it was a positive way to remind church members
of their commitment to service in the local church.
“For a church to be a success, it needs to know who is
really working toward the success of the church,” Martin
said. “I’m not going to do anything negative. The kingdom is
too positive; I don’t have the right to turn that around.”
Noblit doesn’t look at his method as negative; rather,
it is his obedience to one of God’s commands in the
Scriptures. Some leave one church roll just to become
inactive on another roll, he acknowledged.
“We’re not trying to prove how tough we are,” he said,
noting there have been a lot of “sweet victories” out of the
dismissal service, in that many members realize they have
slipped into a rut and needed a push from the church.

    About the Author

  • Laurie A. Lattimore