Baptist writer: Unregenerate church members might spell R.I.P. for SBC

Despite the doctrinal victories of the conservative resurgence, the Southern Baptist Convention is dying, contends Jim Elliff, founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. With congregations of many unregenerate members and long rosters of inactive members, Elliff urged Southern Baptists to combat the rising trend of unregenerate membership before it is too late.

“The Southern Baptist Convention has a name that indicates that it is alive, but is in fact, mostly dead. Regardless of the wonderful advances in our commitment to the Bible, the recovery of our seminaries, a closer look reveals a denomination that is more like a corpse than a fit athlete,” Elliff wrote in an article published on his website,, titled “Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination.”

With Southern Baptists claiming 16,287,494 members nationwide, only 6 million people or 37 percent attend services at their church, according to statistics from LifeWay’s Strategic Information and Planning Department.

“In other words, if you have 200 in attendance on Sunday morning, you likely have 500-600 or even more on your roll,” Elliff said, adding that the numbers of attending members is even lower in evening services. “These figures suggest that nearly 90 percent of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the ‘cultural Christians’ who populate other mainline denominations.”

Even if the small percentage of members who attend services are considered true believers, Elliff said Southern Baptist congregations are still more dead than alive. “If we are honest, we might have to ask ourselves, ‘Do Southern Baptists believe in a regenerate membership?'”

Having served on church staffs in Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma and speaking to groups and congregations across the United States and overseas, Elliff shared some practical examples of unregenerate congregations obtained through his travels.

“In one church, with 7,000 on the active roll, there were only 2,000 in attendance on Sunday morning,” he said, excluding an additional 500 for guests and non-member children. “You have about 1,500 actual members coming in the morning and 500 or so in the evening. Where are the 5,500 members who are missing on Sunday mornings? Where are the 6,500 who are missing in the evening?”

Another church in which Elliff spoke reported 2,100 on the attendance roster with 725 showing up for Sunday morning service. “Remove guests and non-member children and the figure drops to 600 or less. Only about a third of that number came out on Sunday evening, representing less than 10 percent of the membership.”

If love of the brethren serves as evidence for love of the Father, Elliff believes that many of the “missing Christians” are probably not Christians at all.

“Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but ‘forsaking the assembling,’ is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart,” he said, referring to 1 John 3:14-19. “But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections.”

Despite evangelistic crusades that yield large numbers of converts, only a small percentage of new believers remain in the church to continue spiritual growth, Elliff said, adding that poor follow-up is not to blame.

“In many churches there is every intention and effort given to follow-up, yet still the poor numbers persist,” he said, citing an example of a church that followed discipleship methods “by the book” after the crusade of an internationally-known evangelist. Yet the pastor reported that very few of the new believers wanted to “talk about how to grow as a Christian.”

Elliff said authentic believers will not reject opportunities for spiritual growth, having been given love for the body of Christ and the Word of God. “But you cannot follow-up on a spiritually dead person. Being dead, he has no interest in growth.”