Tolerated Nonattendance Raises Questions

Mark Dever has questions–good questions–that I believe warrant our consideration and merit an honest, biblical response.  Regarding the unregenerate state of church membership today, he writes:

A member’s regular, tolerated nonattendance begins to raise further questions.  What kind of leadership must a church have to allow such a misrepresentation to arise and flourish?  What expectations are being communicated to those who are joining?  What discipline is practiced, if any?  In fact, tolerated noninvolvement among members may even call into question the kind of evangelism being done and the church’s understanding of conversion, even of the gospel itself.  Allowing such nonattending members to retain their membership would seem to be such blatant disobedience to Scripture, and such a brazen disregard of the scriptural health of those concerned, that it would even call into question the teaching that brought about such an unhealthy tolerance in the body.

– Mark Dever, “Regaining Meaningful Church Membership” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, edited by Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 46.

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7 Comments on “Tolerated Nonattendance Raises Questions”

  1. david Says:

    I certainly agree with Scripture’s teaching on rcm, and I agree in large part with all dever says about this. Here is my question though…let’s say that sound teaching is being presented from the pulpit and other places in the church but the church as a whole is just not at the point where they would understand this. I guess my question is should this be done even if it is going to cause a rift in the body? I would personally say this is a “hill to die on,” but timing is the question. Any thoughts?

  2. David,

    Does your church have a covenant? If it doesn’t, then I think I would begin talking with the leadership team about the importance of having one, why, how, etc. I would then put together a special emphasis and day of signing among all the members of your church, publicly expressing their commitment to their church. Those who do not sign will provide an opportunity to follow-up on, and those who do have now entered into a responsible relationship that involves both the church towards them and they towards the church.

    I think church members will understand and agree to the importance of and expectations for baptized believers covenanting together in a local church. If they don’t, then I think that it would be helpful to maybe put together a series on what it means to be a local church or what is a healthy church member (see thabiti anyabwile’s newest book).

    I guess those are my initial thoughts. But I think having church covenant would be step one. Other factors, such as accepting members via interviews, membership class, and/or meeting with the elders/pastors would also be helpful. So I would try to address it both from practical steps to implement and instruction through God’s Word over the topic of church membership or what makes us a healthy church (or something along those lines).

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts David. It’s good to hear from you.

  3. […] tolerated nonattendance raises questions […]

  4. david Says:

    Tim, thanks for the feedback. After thinking on this some more today, I am fairly convinced that our people would see the value of rcm. The difficult part for a small few would be the removal of those from membership who do not desire to fall under the authority of the church but want to remain on roll. Everyone would agree that memebrs must be believers but having ppl. on the roll w/no active involvement has been a problem for so many years now. We do have a covenant but I am not sure how many know that. I have been thinking for some time about preaching through the elements of our covenant, so maybe the time is right.

  5. Should a church spell out how often a member must attend? If so what number do you use. Attend three times a month, a quarter, a year? I am in full agreement with the idea of regenerate membership but don’t know how to answer this question.

    How do you decide what level of attendance is too little? Is there Biblical direction here?


  6. David,

    Preaching through the covenant on a Sunday night perhaps is something I am finding more churches doing. For instance, I preached in a church a couple of weeks ago in Alabama that was doing precisely that, and the pastor found it incredibly helpful. Other churches recite the covenant before communion (I think Capitol Hill Baptist does this). You are right. The hard part will be going from person to person, family to family, finding out where members are in their obedience to Christ and commitment to the church. I am encouraged by you interest and desire to pursue rcm, and I pray that God gives you wisdom, courage, and grace in the process.

  7. Dismal,

    I think that is a good, practical question to ask. Back in the day, members had coins that they turned in during communion which took place at least once a month, and when members were found not to be in attendance, the pastoral leadership would begin to inquire about their absence. Some churches, I have heard, do not pursue correction until 6 months or more with chronic absenteeism. Other issues that churches take into consideration are members who work in fields where they are required to work on Sunday (such as medical, law enforcement, etc.). But all caveats aside, churches should encourage and exhort believers to “not forsake the assembling of themselves together.” In order to fulfill the corporate commands such as the “one another’s” in Scripture, it seems that being chronically absent or even inconsistent would cause one to fail in the area of such corporate biblical commands.

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