In the March/ April issue of FACTS & TRENDS published by LifeWay Christian Resources, there was an excellent article on closing the back door written by Brad Waggoner of LifeWay Research. All of us know that the overwhelming majority of our churches are plateaued or declining. Status quo seems to be the norm. Baptisms are stagnant, thousands don=t even baptize one person a year. You have to wonder, why are we here? What difference are we making? Did we cut out being “salt and light” in our Bibles? The problem, of course, is there is very little difference between the lost, unchurched, formerly churched and those active in church when it comes to lifestyle. There are millions of “formerly churched” people in America in all denominations. Let’s look at some facts regarding those who are “formerly churched” according to the LifeWay Research:
What is evident is that people are no longer interested in spiritual things in a historical context. Everyone in America is “spiritual,” but they want to define faithfulness and spirituality in a non-biblical way. In fact 24% of those surveyed called themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” Hey, I’m not religious, but there’s a difference between being religious and being committed to the church Jesus died for.42% responded that they were “Christian, but not particularly devout.” Can you be a non-devout believer? Can you be a part-time Christian? Can you serve God on your terms? Read the Bible. You tell me. Not everyone that calls him “Lord” and walks the aisle is a Christian. The teachings of 1 John remind us that every evidence of salvation is present tense. It’s not that I walked the aisle years ago, it’s the evidence of fruit today. One reason we have the formerly unchurched is we’ve so watered down the gospel, so compromised the cost of discipleship, that we have millions of joiners who have never truly committed their hearts to Christ. They’ve bought into an easy believism and what J. I. Packer calls “Hot Tub Religion.”
According to the research, the formerly unchurched are open to returning to church. My question is: What’s stopping them? If they don’t like their former church there are millions of others to choose from. If they don’t like their former pastor, Bible Study leader or staff, there are options.The reason they don’t return is lack of conviction of sin, pride, indifference and possibly wanting someone to beg them to come back. Jesus never begged anyone to follow Him. He laid out the cost of the cross life and kept walking. He didn’t water it down to make it easier to swallow. He didn’t allow people to get off the hook by blaming others. 62% say they are open to the idea of attending church regularly, but they are not actively looking. Why? Maybe the church is ignoring their cries for attention. Maybe we missed a moment when they were hurting. It could be, but we are each responsible for our own lives. We will have no one to blame at the judgment seat of Christ for our indifference. I’m not sure what you should do with this information. The back door at most churches is as big as the front door. We have a casual, insipid, bland, tasteless version of Christianity in America. Yes, we have people who can roll down the aisles and jump pews, but once the emotions are calmed down the wild fire can quickly turn to no fire. I have some thoughts. One, I believe the more we de-emphasize the importance of faithfulness to the local church the easier it is for people to slip through the cracks, make excuses and look for ways to skip and ultimately miss church altogether. Two, if we don’t connect people to a small group they will get lost in the crowd. We need to help people build relationships in an ever-changing, mobile society. The traditional family is gone. We must work to build a feeling of family in our local churches. Three, teach the cross, discipleship and lordship. Don’t soft-peddle or soft-sell the gospel. Don’t take it to the lowest common denominator. Raise the standards high. Lift up the Lord as worthy of our life, our love, our all. Four, remember that what you reach them with, you keep them with. If you depend solely on events, hype, promotion, concerts and fun events, you’ll have to continue to top yourself to keep the crowd. You can only have so many “events.” Better to reach them and build them with solid teaching and ministry. Five, pray for a moving of the Spirit among your people. There’s nothing wrong with most folks that a good convicting, cleansing and filling of the Spirit couldn’t cure. The problem is not the distractions. The real problem is they don’t understand fully the power of God that abides in them. If they are saved, they are backslidden and are grieving the Holy Spirit.
This is no time to sell a cheap, watered down faith. Our churches need to raise the bar, not lower it. It begins in the pulpit. Are they seeing in us a life they want to live?© Michael Catt, 2007
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.