Abstract The growth of thermally induced pores in a two-dimensional model fluid membrane is investigated by Monte Carlo simulation. Holes appear in the membrane via an activated process, and their subsequent growth is controlled by an edge energy per unit length or line tension. The barrier height and line tension, together with a lateral tension, are the independent parameters of the model. In the resulting phase diagram, a rupture transition separates an intact membrane from a disintegrated state. The approach to the ruptured state shows distinct regimes. Reducing the barrier height at large line tension produces multiple, quasi-independent, small holes whose behavior is dominated by their edge energy, whereas at lower line tensions shape fluctuations of the holes facilitate their coalescence into a single large hole. At a small value of line tension and large barrier height, a single hole spontaneously permeabilizes the membrane in an entropically driven phase transition. Entropy dominates pore growth for line tensions not far below those measured for artificial vesicles. Permeabilization of lipid bilayers by certain peptides involves perturbing lipid-lipid cohesive energies, and our simulations show that at small line tensions the entropy of hole shape fluctuations destroys the model membrane’s stability.