A great article at SBC.net by David Francis examines the age-old question of “just WHEN is it okay to remove a person’s name from the Sunday School roll?” Francis sees the question and its motivations, and reinvents the argument into “when is it okay to say we’re no longer ministering to this person?” Francis calls for churches to consider the idea of changing the various sheets that track attendance from Membership Rolls to Ministry Lists.
News from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention has contained discussions about the frighteningly-inflated membership roles of local SBC churches. Such unreliable numbers make it difficult to truly measure how many people are part of the denomination, and a call for better information goes up every year. If Francis’ idea was applied to church membership rolls as well (understanding that churches should also maintain records to track important distinctions among people receiving ministry such as profession of faith, baptism and formally joining the congregation), it might have long-term evangelistic implications for the local church, and perhaps the entire denomination.
I suppose the argument one might have with this idea is that many of today’s churches seem more and more reluctant to put any form of obligation upon their members; refocusing something as small as a roll sheet puts the pressure of work upon the ministers rather than the members. That may be, but in my 20+ years of teaching the Scriptures I have never had anyone tell me the reason they showed up was because their name was on a membership roll. People choose to attend a class because they are learning something new about God and His Word and growing; because they are connecting with other classmates; because they have a need and/or desire to be spiritually fed; and/or they have their own form of ministry within the class. Those factors far outweigh shooting for a “perfect attendance record” any day of the week.
I hope the idea of “ministry list” catches on across the denomination. It’s a small wording change, but carries the potential for a big thinking change for many ministers, teachers and lay leaders.