As ships pass through the water, they accumulate barnacles. The barnacles can grow to the point that they impede the ship’s speed considerably. Then, the ship must go to a dry dock, where the barnacles are scraped off. Church rolls are like that—they tend to accumulate inactive members who impede the church’s progress. Periodically, churches need to remove barnacle members from their church roll (list of members).
William Thornton and I are old enough to remember the time when most churches had two membership rolls: resident members and non-resident members. Today, some churches call these active and inactive members. I remember some years ago when the SBC admitted that while we had 16 million members on the rolls of our SBC churches, we could only find 9 million of these folks. What causes this problem? Actually, there are lots of “whats.” Members die, and no one in the family thinks to inform the church. Other members move away, and they do not join a church in their new place. Some folks join an independent church or a church of another denomination. SBC churches do not exchange “church letters” with those churches. So, the SBC church is unaware of these new affiliations. Still, others lose interest in the church, and they just drop out.
Ok, there is a problem. What can be done about it? I was taught that a church should review its roll every five years. I doubt many churches perform a review that often, but for sure it should be done every ten years. How should a church go about doing this?
When I became pastor of the Bloomfield Baptist Church in Kentucky, I asked how long it had been since they reviewed the church roll. The members I asked said they could not remember the last time. So, I recommended to the deacons that we review the roll. They agreed, and the congregation approved the motion and elected a committee of three long-time members. They began the laborious process of working through the church roll. Of course, many members were both living in the community and involved in the church. Those were easy. The hard part was tracking down those who were not active. This tracking process involved lots of calling.
Bloomfield is a rural community, and most of the members are related to each other by blood or marriage. So, the committee called relatives to ascertain the member’s situation and contact information. As you would expect, the committee discovered that some of the inactive members had passed away. Others had joined other churches. Still, others had retired to Florida. When they contacted the inactive members, the committee asked if they wished to remain on the church roll. Some did for sentimental reasons. “My family have always been members of that church.” Others readily agreed to having their names removed. By the end the process the committee had removed about two hundred names. The calls from the committee inspired a few to reengage with our church. By the end, I believed the results were worth the effort.
What has been your experience with this? Do you have any advice for pastors with churches encumbered with barnacles?