When a person joins Cave City Baptist Church near Bowling Green, Kentucky, he agrees to attend worship services regularly.
But when the church enforced that agreement, it found itself in the middle of a media frenzy.
Last week, the church sent letters to approximately 70 members saying they were being removed from the church membership roles for not attending services “habitually,” giving “regularly” or participating in the congregation’s “organized work,” as is required of members per the congregation’s bylaws.
The letter added, “The doors of Cave City Baptist Church will always be open to you.”
The media pounced on the story after an image of the letter was shared on Facebook by some members expressing anger over how they were delisted.
“I don’t ever want to go back to that church,” Samantha Esters told WBKO-TV. She has been a member of the church since she was a kid.
Pastor Responds to Media Critical of Church Discipline
Cave City Baptist Pastor Ryan Broers told Baptist Press he is “weary of the media circus” and that “lots of lies and half-truths are being told.”
“A lot of the people that the letters were sent to are not attending church anywhere, and this was kind of a wake-up call to them, ‘You’ve broken fellowship with God, you’ve broken fellowship with this church, you need to come back and repent and get your relationship with Him,'” Pastor Broers told WBKO-TV.
He said the letters were only sent to members who had not attended the church in, at least, the past year.
“These are people that we haven’t heard from, they’ve received multiple letters inquiring about their membership,” he said about those who received the letter.
The church roll purge is supported by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator Hershael York.
“Church membership is a covenant relationship. We are accountable to the Lord and to one another. Worship attendance, service, communion, the ministry of the Word, submission to the elders and holiness are not arbitrary requirements of membership but mandatory commands of Jesus,” York tweeted Saturday.
The Lexington Herald-Leader wrote a story about the controversy with the headline: “Kentucky Church Sent Letters Kicking Out Members Over Common Transgressions”.
York asked the paper via social media “if the Rotary Club dismissing members for non-attendance and non-payment of dues is noteworthy?”
Cave Creek Baptist is also getting support from other Baptist churches in the area. David Prince, who pastors Lexington’s Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, defended Broers, tweeting that the Herald-Leader was “outraged a church would care about its members enough to hold them accountable.”
“Where’s their outrage over other groups that have standards?”
Mark Dever, senior pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and the president of 9Marks, has written that removing existing members who live in the area is one of the toughest decisions for churches to make. He said movement on that group must be slow but he adds non-attenders have a toxic effect on the church by making evangelism harder, confusing new believers, discouraging regular attenders and worrying their leaders.
Baptist Press notes some commonly cited Bible passages on church discipline over the issue of attendance including Titus 3:10-11.