Church Discipline and Purging the Church Roles

Hat tip to Justin Taylor for bringing our attention to Tim Challies’ summary of Jim Ellif’s article: Southern Baptists: An Unregenerate Denomination. Challies’ summary and Ellif’s article deal with the widely known fact that the membership roles of Southern Baptist churches are woefully inflated. Many Southern Baptists have simply grown accustomed to the fact that only about 37% of the names listed on their church’s role actually shows up regularly for worship.

This statistic reveals how far Baptists have drifted from their tradition as Baptists. Historically, Baptists have been a people who adhere to a regenerate church membership. That is, we believe that the only people who are allowed to be members of the church are those who profess and practice faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Eliff’s statistic shows that about 63% of Southern Baptist church members do not in fact practice their faith by attending regular worship services.

Earlier this week, I listened to an interview with Paige Patterson in which he talked about how a pastor can get a church to practice church discipline when that church has never done so before. This can be an extremely difficult move for a pastor, but Patterson suggested that, after preaching about the meaning of membership, a pastor could begin by pursuing non-attending members. If the non-attending members either cannot be found or do not want to return to the fold, then they should be removed from the church membership roles. This is Patterson’s advice, and I agree that it is a good place to start.

There is much more to be said on this, and I refer the interested reader to the 9Marks website for resources on and teaching about church discipline within a Baptist context.


  • Steve Weaver

    For a little over five years I have been serving as the pastor of a small SBC church in East Tennessee. One of my main goals over the past five years is to restore a biblical understanding of church membership (as regenerate). The process has been slow, but we are progressing. We have instituted church discipline and are seeking to make membership more meaningful by the manner in which we receive members. Thanks for the link to the article and your comments. They are helpful.

  • Jim Bryant

    I was a member of an SBC church in Atlanta for 9 years before coming to know Christ in a citywide revival as a 15 year old teen. I just assumed that 90% of Southern Baptists were lost because I was. There was absolutely no difference between the teens in my Sunday School and those in my high school. After graduating from Wheaton College, my Pastor in Atlanta, a Southern Baptist, advised me to go to Dallas Theological Seminary. I wanted to go to Fuller Seminary. Carl F. H. Henry was still on the faculty then along with George Eldon Ladd. God led me to stay with Southern Baptists using what I came to think was rather arrogant thinking: I thought 90% of Southern Baptists were spiritually lost. In the Bible churches I visited were virtually no lost people. I wanted to preach where there were lost people, and that was in the SBC.

    Years later, Billy Graham asked me how I decided to go to a Southern Baptist Seminary. When I told him about the 90% assumption, I added that I had since moved the percentage down to 50%. About 40% of SBC members were carried on what then was known as the “non-resident roll.” That meant they were literally lost. Nobody knew where they were. Of the remaining 60% nearly half came only on Christmas, Easter, and for weddings and funerals. My guess when talking to Billy Graham was that only 50% of Southern Baptists were lost. Billy said, “Your first percentage was correct. The greatest mission field on earth is the roll of a Southern Baptist Church.”

    Instead of being ashamed of our unregenerate membership, why not try to win them to Christ? If pastors would visit every member and simply use the Evangelism Explosion double questions, who knows what might result. Also, if SBC pastors made sure in every sermon to tell people how to be saved, a lot of them would be saved. Robert Murray McCheyne used to pray every day, “God save my church members.” What an awakening it would be in America if a revival broke out in Southern Baptist churches. 2 Chron. 7:14.

  • Kris

    How many of us bear each others burdens and give ourselves to restoring those who have fallen away into sin with gentleness. I think far too many of the “10%” who are left may be a tad self-righteous and try to pull out the wheat along with the tares. I am a southern baptist and you can see what my last post was on my blog. Part of it pertains to this. I wish our denomination would have more emphasis on who we are in Christ and the grace of God. That may reduce the number of people falling out of the church.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Kris

    One more thing:
    Paul sure spent alot of time on the grace of God and who we are in Christ in most of his letters. Shouldn’t we point new believers in this direction to?

  • Denny Burk

    Dear Kris,

    Yes. Paul spent a great deal of time talking about grace. And I also think that the Lord would have us pay attention to everything he teaches us through the apostle Paul. Clearly Paul teaches that the body of Christ has to discipline members who are in unrepentant disobedience to the Lord (e.g. 1 Cor 5).

    I appreciate your reading my blog. Thanks for the comments.

    Denny Burk

  • Kris

    Mr. Burk,
    I understand what you are saying about discipline and it is needed as a last resort for those who refuse to repent after those who are spiritual have tried to help them. I think discipline should be carefully thought out, making sure an effort has been made first giving the person a chance to refuse to repent.

    I was mainly referring to those on the church roles that have quit coming because of sin in their life or whatever reason when I was speaking about grace. I feel we don’t pay attention to those and just assume they know how to “straighten” up on their own. Some of these are the ones that I feel need more emphasis on grace instead of pulling them out along with the tares.
    Why did the Lord tell that parable about the wheat and the tares? I think it was to show us that sometimes you can’t tell the difference and its better to let a few tares grow than to cause one of those who believe in Him to stumble over His grace thinking they are alienated from God when they are not.

    Thanks for space and God bless you and your family.

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