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REACHING THIS GENERATION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Morning, September 6, 2009
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).


It is a well documented fact that the percentage of evangelical Christians has been steadily decreasing in America for the last 100 years. Dr. Woodrow Kroll, in his book, The Vanishing Ministry (Kregel, 1991) says that the number of Bible-believing churches dropped by 50% in that period. Think of it! Fifty percent of the Bible-believing churches have closed their doors forever since 1900! Thom S. Rainer, in his book, The Bridger Generation (Broadman/Holman, 1997) gives the dismal statistics. I am using another popular set of names for the generations, and dividing the GIs and the Silents, but the statistics are the same.


-  65 percent of the GI Generation (born between 1905 and 1925) were evangelicals

-  50 percent of the Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1945) were evangelicals

-  35 percent of the Baby Boomer Generation (born between 1946 and 1966) are evangelicals

-  15% of the X Generation (born between 1966 and 1986) are evangelicals

-  4% of the Millennial Generation (born between 1986 and 2006) are or will be evangelicals.


What do these statistics show? They show that the methods currently used in most churches are an evangelistic failure. Not only are they totally failing to reach the non-churched, they are also utterly failing to keep the kids that are raised within the churches. The statistics show that 88% of those raised in evangelical churches leave, never to return, by the time they are twenty-five years old.

My belief is this – current methods are a failure. The methods that are being used are not reversing this trend. We need to rethink everything we are doing – and we need to do it now! It will be too late 25 years from now. So, let us with great honesty and open minds take a good, hard look at the situation and reevaluate what is being done in our evangelism.

I. First, current methods of evangelism don’t reach today’s young people.

Those who study the statistics of evangelism agree that 80% of those who do become church members do so before the age of 21. That figure shows that we are doing something wrong regarding the group (age 15 to 21) who are most likely to become new church members.

The response is often to become “progressive.” Bring in new translations of the Bible. Throw out the traditional hymns. Bring in snare drums, Power Points, overhead projectors and “worship leaders.” Make the “worship service” 45 minutes long and cut the preaching to 15 minutes. All of this is supposed to turn the churches around and bring in young people. I say that’s balderdash, flummery, gibble-gabble, drivel! Who has it brought in? Where has it worked?

“Oh,” you say, “in the super churches! It works there!” But are you sure that you’re right? I say you are not right. I say that these so-called “progressive” methods have utterly failed to bring unchurched young people between 15 and 21 years old into our churches.

I read an interesting article titled “Contemporary Churches Aren’t Attracting Many Contemporaries” (World Magazine, August 20, 2005, p. 24). In that article, Clint Rainey, of the Dallas Morning News, said in a recent interview that the “seeker friendly” mega-churches are designed to attract middle-aged Baby Boomers, who build these super churches by transferring “in” from smaller congregations. This statement reflects Dr. James Dobson’s evaluation that “80 percent of church growth results from transfers of membership” (Focus on the Family Newsletter, August 1988, p. 2). Clint Rainey, that college-age journalist, said, “The younger crowd has had its fill of big flashy churches…These churches attract middle-age adults…but [not] my generation.” He says these mega-churches are “impersonal in every way.” He says, “Young people today are not impressed with technology, big buildings, and commercialism…Young adults today crave real religion.” Then the article says, “Changes implemented to make Christianity more attractive to young people are actually turning them off.”

The article continues by saying, “Many megachurches have grown not by making new converts to Christianity but at the expense of small congregations, doing to them what Wal-Mart does to small businesses. But in congregations that are so big the pastor does not know his own members and the members do not know each other, it is difficult to give people…the care…they often need.”

There you have it – from a writer of your generation, a young man who knows what he’s talking about! Calvary Chapel, Rick Warren and Robert Schuller are playing to the older Baby Boomers! They are not reaching your generation! Their methods of evangelism do not reach your generation! Most of the methods used to evangelize today are based on “myths” or “fables.”

“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Timothy 4:4).

II. Second, the New Testament method of evangelism
is the only way to reach young people today.

Which takes us back to our text,

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

The word translated “love” is “agape” in the original Greek text. It literally asks the Lord to make “you to increase more and more, and to cause you to overflow in love one to another, and toward all men” (Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, 1989, p. 596). The expositor W. E. Vine called agape, “The characteristic word of Christianity,” because it is at the heart of the Christian message – God loves us with agape love (cf. W. E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, volume III, p. 20). God sent Jesus, to save us from sin out of His agape love for us. Jesus died on the Cross to pay for our sins out of agape love for us. He rose physically from the dead and lives at the right hand of God, praying for us out of agape love. Yes, agape, Christian love is “the characteristic word of Christianity.” Christianity, in its pure form, is all about God loving us, and us loving each other. That’s the central word of Christianity – agape – Christian love. Christian love “never faileth” (I Corinthians 13:8). The gimmicks and the big “show” the mega-churches put on is failing to reach your Generation. But “charity [agape love] never faileth” (I Corinthians 13:8). We need to make Christian love central in our evangelism if we want to reach the young people of our day!

The early Christians expressed their agape love to each other and all men by having a “love feast,” an “agape” banquet every Sunday. They sat down and ate a meal together. The Christians of the first century ate a meal together every Sunday. They called it an “agape feast.” Dr. John MacArthur, though wrong on the Blood, was right when he pointed out that they had meals like this every Sunday (cf. The MacArthur Study Bible, notes on Acts 2:46 and Acts 20:7). And their evangelism centered around the big, happy meals they had together!

I’ll be talking more about that in the sermon tonight at 6:00. Don’t be late! We’re going to have dinner after I speak!

That’s called “fellowship.” I wrote a little song about it that Mr. Griffith sang a moment ago.

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and let us break bread.
Jesus is with us, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

The fellowship’s sweet and your friends will be here;
We’ll sit at the table, our hearts filled with cheer.
Jesus is with us, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

The big city people just don’t seem to care;
They’ve little to offer and no love to spare.
But come home to Jesus and you’ll be aware,
There’s food on the table and friendship to share!

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and you will be fed.
Your friends will be waiting, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

Chorus:

Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!
   (“Come Home to Dinner” by Dr. Robert L. Hymers, Jr.,
      chorus to the tune of “On the Wings of a Snow White Dove”).

As John Fawcett put it,

Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
   (“Blest Be the Tie” by John Fawcett, 1740-1817).

Sing it!

Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

Agape – Christian love! That’s what we must have “one toward another, and toward all men” if we want to win the young people of the new generation to Christ and get them into church!

I said that most of the methods used in so-called “evangelism” today are based on myths or fables.

“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables [Greek – myths]” (II Timothy 4:4).

These “progressive” methods appeal to the old Baby Boomer generation, people who already consider themselves to be Christians. But these methods are based on myths, and they do not reach today’s young people of your generation. Why? Because they are not based solidly on the Bible.

What could be more solidly Biblical and “fundamental” than having “love one toward another, and toward all men”? You hardly hear anyone talking about fellowship and Christian love “toward one another, and toward all men.” And yet that is exactly what you find in the New Testament. The ancient pagan writers said, “The Christians love each other and they love the whole world.” That is something these ancient pagan authors couldn’t understand. But the young people of the first century understood it! And that’s why they literally poured into the early churches! In the cold, heartless pagan Roman world of the first century, these young people found warmth and acceptance in the “agape” fellowship of the local church!

W. E. Vine called “agape” (Christian love) “The characteristic word of Christianity [which is] used in the New Testament to describe [God’s love] toward His Son…the human race…to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…to His children concerning their attitude one toward another…and toward all men” (W. E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, vol. III, pp. 20-21).

God’s “agape” love sent Jesus to the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

God’s love for you sent Christ to the Cross to pay for your sins. God’s love for you raised Christ physically from the dead. God’s love for you draws you to Christ for salvation. God’s love for you drew you into this local church this morning to hear the gospel and to experience our “love one toward another, and toward all men” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

And I hope that you will come back tonight! We’re going to have a tremendous time together! We’re going to have a meal together upstairs, starting exactly at 6:00 PM. I will preach an old-fashioned gospel sermon. And we will celebrate the birthday of one of our young people. We’re going to have a wonderful time tonight!

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and you will be fed.
Your friends will be waiting, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!
Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!

The article by Clint Rainey comes after the outline of the sermon below.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 2:42-47.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Come Home to Dinner” (by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.).


THE OUTLINE OF

REACHING THIS GENERATION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

I.   First, current methods of evangelism don’t reach today’s
young people, II Timothy 4:4.

II.  Second, the New Testament method of evangelism is
the only way to reach young people today,
I Corinthians 13:8; John 3:16.


The article by Clint Rainey, of the Dallas Morning News, is now given in its entirety for your examination and edification, from World Magazine, August 20, 2005, page 24.


PACKED, BUT STILL EMPTY


“Contemporary” churches aren’t attracting many contemporaries


Clint Rainey, a journalism student interning at The Dallas Morning News, is put off by the “seeker-friendly” approach to church that – he contends – does a good job filling up massive church buildings but leaves many feeling spiritually empty.

In his opinion piece for the paper – “The younger crowd has had its fill of big, flashy churches” (July 25, 2005) – Mr. Rainey recalls how the church he grew up in transformed from a small congregation of a few hundred members into a megachurch of nearly 10,000. He says that the contemporary touches are designed to appeal to baby boomers, not to today’s young people. “These churches attract middle-age adults like iron filings,” he says. “But my generation isn’t in such awe.”

Mr. Rainey finds the new churches too materialistic and “impersonal in every way.” He says that young people today are not impressed with technology, big buildings, and commercialism. He decries the overall emphasis on “stuff” that plagues our culture and now our churches. He says that today’s young adults crave real religion.

Mr. Rainey closes his column with these haunting words: “In Europe, mass religious apostasy left its churches people-free, but the American megachurch could bring this irony: We, unlike the Europeans, have people in our big, empty churches.”

Set aside the debates over the church-growth movement. Also set aside for a moment the irony that changes implemented to make Christianity more attractive to young people are actually turning them off. The challenge of “empty churches” – even those that are packed with people – deserves attention.

Part of the problem is what sociologist and megachurch pastor Leith Anderson calls “generic Christianity.” He points out that today, one can go into a church (especially a megachurch) of nearly any denomination – Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Lutheran – and be unable to notice any difference among them. They all are likely to use the same praise songs and contemporary worship style. The sermons will tend to be about practical biblical tips for successful living, and go light on doctrine and sin. Also, all of these different denominations tend to use Sunday-school curriculum and other material from the same nondenominational publishers. These companies purposefully avoid all controversial issues and doctrinal distinctives, which would limit their market share.

As a result, “generic Christianity” is erasing denominational differences and giving churches a brand-new theological framework. Mr. Anderson thinks this is a good thing. Whereas the ecumenical movement among liberal mainline churches tried but largely failed to unify churches from the top down, the church-growth movement has succeeded, unifying the different denominations on a grassroots level.

And yet, this unity comes at a cost. Both liberal theologians and church-growth theologians downplay historic doctrines, seeing them as divisive and irrelevant. Both value what is new over what is old. And so both cut themselves off from the spiritual heritage of historic Christianity. Since some Christians today make up their own theology and practices as they go along, oblivious to the time-tested, battle-tested experiences of the church through the ages, their spirituality can seem shallow or “empty.”

Generic Christianity is not found in megachurches alone, of course, and many very large, “mega” congregations are still faithful to Scripture and to their own spiritual heritage. “Nondenominational” churches can draw on all of the strains of historic Christianity, instead of rejecting them all. And in a cultural climate that values “diversity,” the rich diversity of Christian churches should thrive.

As should small churches. Many megachurches have grown not by making new converts to Christianity but at the expense of small congregations, doing to small churches what Wal-Mart does to small businesses. But in congregations that are so big the pastor does not know his own members and the members do not know each other, it is difficult to give people the pastoral care – and the discipline – that they often need to be spiritually “full.”

But this has been neglected by churches of every size. Both large and small congregations must find ways not only to fill their pews but to fill their members.


By Gene Edward Veith, Cultural Editor, World Magazine, August 20, 2005, page 24.

(End of the World Magazine article)