Interesting quotes


From time to time others have publicly acknowledged the meaningless membership numbers that dominate Southern Baptist statistics. While every honest admission of the problem is commendable, what we desperately need is a willingnes to move beyond acknowledgment of the problem to a serious investigation of its root and cause. Nevertheless, every public recognition of the problem can help move us closer to having such a conversation.

So, with a desire to see Southern Baptists become honest in our advertizing, I pulled the following quotes together.

Paige Patterson on typical Sunday morning congregations:

“Regrettably I have to believe that anytime you stand up and face a congregation these days in the average church you’re looking at 30-40% that have never been born again and are not genuinely saved…. I’m talking about in Baptist churches where we supposedly emphasize nothing in the world but regeneration. Lord knows what it is in some others, but I think that’s true of us and I think it’s because we have been very careless. We’ve been more concerned about numbers to report to the denominational press than we have been about genuine conversion. So, yes, I’m very concerned about it. Matter of fact, I’ve got to where, going into churches, I preach hardly anything else but the new birth anymore from one of 18-20 passages that I work from, just because I’m so concerned about that. So, yes, I do share your concern about that. It can’t be any other way for us to have as much of the world in the pew as we presently have.” Read the whole interview here.

Do the math: If (and let’s use Dr. Patterson’s conservative estimate here) 30% of the regular Sunday morning attenders “have never been born again and are not genuinely saved” then the that means that only 4 million of the 6 million that tend to show up are converted. That would mean 1 out of 4 Southern Baptists are unconverted…if Dr. Patterson’s assessment is correct.

Fifteen years ago the Wall Street Journal noted bogus SBC statistics

The April 25, 1990, edition of the Wall Street Journal carried an indicting article under the headline, “Official Number of Southern Baptists Is Overestimated, Even Their Leaders Agree” (p. A16). It charges that official claims of 14.9 million members are terribly inflated: “Baptist statisticians and even some top denominational officials acknowledge . . . that as many as half of that number no longer set foot in a Southern Baptist Church.” Over 4.4 million of these are “so-called non-resident members, a technical term [which, we might add, has absolutely no biblical justification,] that actually allows the counting as members those the church has simply lost touch with.”

“Baptist officials say such members should be stricken from church rolls. But in a denomination where membership is often equated with success, few churches will do that.” Beyond this special species of members, the article also identifies another 3 million members on our rolls who “haven’t attended their church or donated to one in the past year.” That leaves about 7.4 million “active” members. But the picture becomes even more bleak when one considers that, according to Sunday School consultant Glenn Smith, included in this “active” figure are those members who only attend once a year at Easter or Christmas.

Former SBC President, Tom Elliff (Jim’s brother) on AWOL church members

From a Feb 18, 1997 BP story by By Art Toalston (NASHVILLE, TN)
“I believe we are living in those few moments before sundown.” Concern number one: “I believe every member of the Southern Baptist Convention somehow, some way needs to … certify his or her experience with Christ,” said Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, in suburban Oklahoma City. More than half of the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists do not attend church services, Elliff said, asking, “By what right do we just assume that those people really know Christ as their Savior … and never call them to account — never call them to certify their experience with Christ?” Acknowledging, “There are always people who think that it’s wrong to encourage other people to think through their conversion experience,” Elliff cited 2 Corinthians 13:5 in the New Testament: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (KJV). The word “examine,” he said of the language of New Testament times, means “cut right down to the heart of a matter,” while the word “prove” means “taking a test.” “This is a scriptural mandate,” Elliff stated. “Somehow we need to get this business of what true conversion really is into the process of Southern Baptist churches — Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, every week, 52 weeks of the year. People need to hear, What does it really mea
n to know Christ? What does it really mean to be born again, to be a child of God? What does it really mean to experience genuine conversion, regeneration?”

Elliff contended: “If all the people that we say are truly born again are truly born again, we’d be a force to be reckoned with in this nation.” Southern Baptists “could virtually have their sway in many arenas in this nation, if we were really hot for God.”

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8 Responses to “Interesting quotes”

  1. Tony Kummer

    Is it true that historically Baptist churches had many more attendees than members, due to the practice of believer’s baptism and church discipline? Have Baptists always been so focused on counting membership?

  2. Tony:

    It is true that Baptist churches in the past commonly had more attendees than members. Membership covenants were taken seriously and discipline was practiced. Because of their understanding of the church, Baptists, historicaly, have been able to keep up with their members. The intoxication with statistics that we see today is more of an American phenomenon than a Baptist one. There are cases in Baptist history where churches experienced revival that was sparked by, in the opinion of church leaders, the careful practice of corrective discipline.

  3. Tom, I agree with you. The lack of church discipline in the SBC is allowing an ungodly membership to continue to serve in leadership in the church. This has polluted the churches morally and doctrinally. The gospel is softened when preached because we don’t want to offend the “seekers” and ungodly church members. The Lord’s supper is also polluted with professing members with ungodly lifestyles taking the elements without true repentance of sins. All three marks of a true church need to be restored for revival to come to the SBC. We need to be more concerned with sanctified lives for Christ rather than statistics.

  4. Great quotes. I especially like the last one. Truly if all the people we lead to “pray the prayer” and take a bath were truly saved then we would be a force for real change, and not just on the political front like some want but in people’s lives.

    I am blessed though to know many fellow seminarians who share this understanding and who will hopefully be agents of change along with my ministry to help recover from our present condition.

  5. It’s sad that I know good men that would agree with those quotes, but a great many of those same men would take the Sandemanian/dispensationalistm (Zane Hodges,Bob Wilkin) view of the definition of saving faith…and therein lies a large part of our problem.

    Awhile back on Steve Hays blog, in discussing church discipline in one of his articles in the context of evangelicals getting involved in “ECB” (evangelical co-belligerence, the pooling of resources with others, including Rome, to further political goals). One of the reasons many of us are leery of these ongoing moralistic crusades has to do with the lack of church discipline in our own ranks.

    He asks:

    I’m all for godly church discipline, but just what, exactly, do the critics of ECB have in mind?

    To which, Centurion, from his blog, replied, “Just about anywhere and anything Steve.”

    I found this interesting, as Steve writes from, I believe, a PCA background. The PCA, like most Reformed churches in my experience, does a much better job policing its rolls and holding its members to their church covenants. To them, the utter lack of church discipline among our ranks is a very strange animal. They don’t realize that the problem isn’t so much that it is lax as it is simply non-existent.

    My Mom’s church is an exception to this rule. Their church covenant is set up to include a disciplinary process. Moreover, church members must, if they decide to leave, keep in contact with the pastor/deacons of the church every six months to keep them up-to-date. A church member under discipline can move his/her membership, but the church reserves the right to inform the receiving church of the circumstances surrounding the discipline of said member. Additionally, if this church grows to over 500 members, it must begin the process of selecting members to form a sister congregation.

  6. Scott T


    I recently visited a SB Church whoes pastor was calling for healthier “giving units.”

    His three point power point was:

    1. Watch your credit card debt….

    2. Be careful not to get tricked by advertisements…

    3. Get a 10-10-80 budget
    (10% to yourself and 10% for God and 80% for …).

    The seeker sensitive pastor then clearly made the point that it had “___giving units” in the church but the real need was “healthier giving units” in order for us to grow to our full potential.

    I think it repulsive to suggest that God’s people are “giving units” for someone’s sucess. Terms like “giving units” indicate we care little about the spiritual nurture and health of people. Terms like this indicate that this seeker pastor has given up on discipleship and replaced it with a pure market model as a measure of sucess.

    However, it would be interesting to compare membership lists with his “giving units” list. If this term gains support among leaders maybe someday churches will be reporting “giving units” instead of members.

  7. Tom Butler

    In 1997, I was part of a mission trip to Romania. I noticed that every worship service in every church lasted two hours or more and there were no invitations. I asked a pastor about it and his response was “we believe that when the Spirit of God stirs someone’s heart, it is not necessary for us to create an atmosphere in which He can work. He doesn’t require music, pleading, cajoling. In fact, those whose hearts are stirred will come to us and we can’t keep them away.”
    He also said something else that hit me between the eyes. “We don’t play church. When someone comes to us, we place him on probation for two years. We’ll disciple him, watch him, and if at the end of two years, he’s still around, we’ll give him full membership privileges, including places of service consistent with his gifts. We also don’t announce the Lord’s Supper in advance. We feel our members ought to be ready at any time. If they not, we deal with that, too.”
    By the way, that church was typical of Romanian Baptist Churches. It had 125 members (in a city of 170,000) and ran 300 in its worship services.
    This experience got me to thinking about the way we as Southern Baptists present the gospel, and led me to a radical re-evaluation of our American methods, practices and even the language we use. In concluded that the Roman Road has been corrupted into nothing more than a sales pitch and the “Sinner’s Prayer” is now just “closing the sale.”
    It wasn’t long after that that I discovered the Founders Ministries website and subscribed to the Founders Journal and to my delight learned that its folks were saying the same things I had come to believe. This from someone who has held to Reformed theology since the l970s, but never had really applied it before. Sorry for the long post, but my oddyssy has been a long one.

  8. Or it could be that Jim Eliff and Ernest Reisinger are clueless.

    Bob Ross, who is also a Calvinist, asked, “Why can’t Calvinists, who say they are preaching the pure Word of God, somehow work it in as a “sixth” point that it is OK to invite those who hear the Gospel and accept it to immediately come forward and confess Christ as Lord and Saviour?”



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