Woman upset after church revokes membership perks over attendance

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CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) — This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you stop going to church, should you still get the membership perks?

Some people say, “yes,” but churches across the area are taking a hardline stance, and marking non-attending members as “inactive,” and it’s causing controversy.

People who have their burial plots all planned out are learning their church membership isn’t on automatic renewal.

“We were told that we were no longer listed on the cemetery diagram of where they have everybody marked,” said Lincolnton resident Rebecca Powell.

Powell found out the church deactivated their membership.

“We were marked as inactive members,” she said.

RELATED: Man with stage 4 cancer says church told him he couldn’t be buried in cemetery

Some churches offer free real estate in their cemetery to members, but recently many churches are changing their bylaws.

“The issue that I’m seeing is that people will join a church, and there’s no clear definition as it relates to when that membership comes to an end,” said Walter Bowers Jr., managing partner at Wooden Bowers Law.

Powell says her family has belonged to Salem Baptist Church for decades; her dad was ordained there.

When the family got a letter in the mail saying they’d have to pay for their plots, Powell was shocked.

“I guess they looked back to see if you had been attending church for some amount of time,” Powell said, “and honestly [we] had not been.”

The letter she received says, “under the new SBC bylaws, if you haven’t attended regularly within the past 12 months, you are subject to be placed on an ‘Inactive Membership List.’”

Salem Baptist Church says the letters went out years ago.

Bowers told FOX 46, “It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.”

Powell didn’t think anything of the letter until her brother-in-law got deathly ill.

“I just really didn’t believe the church would go that route in the long run,” she said.

Now, the family will have to pay $600 for the plot. The church secretary tells FOX 46 all it takes to reactivate the membership is to find a place in the pew. 

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