Part 1 - Older Christians are Leaving Churches

by Wayne J. Edwards
(Pulpit Helps, March 2006 - May 2006, reprinted by permission of the author)

The headline from the Webpage of my own denomination said, Engage younger Christiansor else! Since I was in the middle of writing this book [see end credit], the headline worked it caused me to take the time to read the entire article. When I finished, I paused to thank the Lord for answered prayer, because I could not have asked for a better way to illustrate the burden of my heart for what is happening in the church today.

The article began with what the writer perceived as the crucial issue a potential financial crisis looms for the Southern Baptist Convention as church members decrease denominational support. Now, if the writer had stopped for a moment, perhaps called a few pastors of those churches where the denominational support had decreased, and had been willing to honestly face the consequences of what he would have heard, he may have been able to find the answer(s) as to why there has been a 30-year decline in giving by SBC church members.

But instead he shifted to another report that said, millions of American twentysomethings are checking out on organized Christianity. And the rest of the article explained how todays young adults are less likely than any other age group to attend church, read the Bible or donate to religious causes, especially if they do not feel a personal connection to the ministry, and how the church had better change the way it relates to younger members and find some way to connect with them, because they wont buy into the same old, same old.

Now here is my dilemma. Two groups of people are checking out on organized Christianity: those who are or have been involved in the church with their time, talents, and tithes for years, and those who are not sure they want to get involved with traditional institutions, and even if they do get involved, they are less likely to support it with their time or talents, much less their tithe. And yet, at least to this pastor, it seems our whole concern today is for the second group rather than the first. In fact, those in the first group are being told in no uncertain terms to move over and make way for a new generation. And to offer any criticism at all to this activity is to question the will of God.

Unchurching the Churched

I believe many pastors have become so concerned about reaching the unchurched that they are unchurching the churched! In their zeal to do whatever it takes to attract a new generation of unbelievers to their church, they are, at the same time, diverting the present and past generations of believers away from the church those who helped buy the property, build the buildings, establish the organization, and who have faithfully supported the church for years. And sadly, statistics are showing they are leaving the church by the droves; giving up, giving out, giving in but they arent giving dollars any more.

In her book, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva J. Dawn cited a report given by David Barrett to Oxford Press, that in a twelve-month period, 2,765,100 worship attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practicing Christians an average loss of 7,600 every day. This means that every week more than 53,000 people leave churches and never come back. Dawn concludes, Something is seriously wrong if so many people do not find it worthwhile to continue participating in the church! (Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: a Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, William B. Eerdmans, 1995). I could not agree more, but it seems we are afraid to ask them why they are leaving!

I have talked to some of these de-churched folks. These people have not given up on God or ceased to believe in Jesus Christ. These seasoned saints are being told that the tools God used to bring them to faith in Jesus Christ; methods that enhanced their love for God and encouraged them to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord; ministries that inspired them and motivated them to give, to go, to serve and to send; concepts that God has used to build His church for 2000 years are not relevant any more. Those who are writing the contemporary church growth manuals are saying the old disciplines of inductive Bible study, dynamic expository preaching, and the great hymns of our faith, are actually barriers to unbelievers hindrances that must be removed if we are to reach a new generation of lost people.

Experts: Lighten Up on Sin

Pastors are being told by the church growth experts that if they want to attract unbelievers to their church, they must soften their preaching on sin, relax their convictions about the blood of Jesus Christ and change their music so that it sounds like the music of the world. They are being advised to use only paraphrased versions of the Bible, and to keep their messages short, because todays generation will not endure a lengthy lecture.

They are being encouraged to insert current movie clips, interpretive dance, personal illustrations and other unique things, just to grasp their attention, and to spend the majority of their sermon time on personal application as opposed to biblical proclamation. One of the most ludicrous examples of this was a pastor who said he actually made his own recipe of salsa as a part of his sermon on how God wants every married couple to enjoy hot sex!

So, the church in America is being lulled to sleep with affluence, entertainment, and a form of godliness, but without the true power of God. We have many great churches, if you look at the size of their buildings, their budgets and the baptisms they report. But the majority of churches today are nothing more than religious organizations, trying to attract the world with amateur theater, synthesized music, and engaging media.

And the faithful remnant, those who sacrificed their time, talents, and tithes to see the church begin, grow, and develop, are now being relegated to the rear of the sanctuary, or they are being told to leave; systematically removed as those who no longer matter.


Part 2 - Why are the Churches Fleeing Their Duties?

by Wayne J. Edwards

The dumbing down of doctrine and theology, in the effort to reach the latest generations, has also weakened our mission to get the whole Word to the whole world. Therefore, not only are we not reaching the unchurched, because we have hidden the true gospel behind catchy phrases, acrostics, and market-driven analysis so much that we no longer have any good news to tell them, but at the same time we have unchurched the churched, by abandoning the very methods God used in their lives to encourage their spiritual growth and maturity including our responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission.

Todays Christians are content to defend their homes and families rather than to allow the Lord to use them in the world to make a difference. The majority of Christians today seem to be more interested in making sure they are getting all of the blessings God has promised them, rather than being a channel of Gods blessings to the rest of the world.

In so doing, the church is missing some major opportunities to share the gospel in a world that has never been more ready to hear the truth than it is today. As Marva Dawn says in her book, While researchers are discovering that members of the boomer generation are searching for moral authority, multitudes of preachers are throwing theirs away. (Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: a Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, William B. Eerdmans, 1995).

Therefore, by not being different from the world, todays church is not making any difference in the world. As we look at the battles we, as believers, have fought over the last century, and especially those over the past 40 years, it saddens me to see that the Christian soldiers of our generation have let the standard of our Lord fall in dishonor. Like Lots family, todays generation of Christians has become accustomed to the casual lifestyle of this evil world. The contemporary Christian seems to enjoy the personal freedoms, the economic opportunities, the pleasures and the pastimes of our society just as much as the non-Christians do.

Where Is the Cry for Restoration?

As for the Christian life in particular, contemporary Christians seem to love the entertaining performances, the religious rituals and the less convicting tone of todays market-driven Christianity more than they the love the Lord, and therefore live by His Word. The truth is, by the lowering of our standards, we have allowed the banner of the cross to fall in dishonor. But the greatest disgrace to our Lord is that there is no great cry among Gods people that someone raise that standard up again.

Irrefutable evidence that we are drawing closer to the Lord in our worship, our walk, and our witness would be that we are able to see this world for what it really is, and not what we would like to believe it is. When we do, then we will be willing to go where we are sent, and do what we are sent to do, in order to make a difference. Since we are not seeing that happen in and through the church today, the only conclusion one can draw is that the glory of God has departed from the majority of churches. The sad thing is that many of the church members are so caught up in maintaining the ministry machinery they do not realize the Holy Spirit is missing.

The reason there is so much confusion about what a church ought to do and to be today is because we have forgotten what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world today. Some believers are trying to make the church fit their own concept of what they think the church ought to do and be. Its exactly what the Christian philosopher Francis Schaffer said in the 1970s would be happening in the church in the 1990s.

Schaffer called it radical individualism, where everyone worships his own concept of God rather than the God of the Bible, who has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ. The great Puritan writer, J. I. Packer, referred to it as hot tub religion the philosophy that Jesus is there to answer prayers and the church is there to meet needs without concern about true doctrine, theology, or the other essential issues of the faith; nor concern about missions, or about witnessing, or whether their worship is acceptable unto God. The church-goers only concern, he intimated, is how the church can meet their needs!

Concept Began a Long Time Ago

But this carnal concept of the church didnt begin in our generation. In fact, the church has always struggled with this to some degree. It was happening in the church at Corinth, which is why the Apostle Paul was so stern in his first letter to them regarding what he called their carnal behavior dividing up into little groups because of their personal preferences and opinions; arguing over who was the best preacher or pastor the very same things we hear today.

Paul said this kind of behavior not only revealed their lack of spiritual growth, but, because they were walking like mere men (1 Cor. 3:4), in their witness for Christ they were no different from those who were unsaved.

But it was during the Great Awakenings of the eighteenth century, that a major shift occurred in the doctrine of the church the results of which are still affecting the church today. That century was the era of the great revivals, when the Holy Spirit moved upon the church in ways the people had not seen before, and thousands of people were gloriously saved in revival crusades all across Europe and then to America.

But rather than give God the glory for the great things He had done, man began to see how he could produce those same results through different methods and techniques, in the hopes of keeping the revival going.


Part 3 - Pragmatism Replaces Passion for Truth

by Wayne J. Edwards

Following the Great Awakenings, mans passion for God and passion for truth was replaced by a passion for lost souls, and the theology of pragmatism began to take hold. Whatever brought more souls to Christ or attracted more people to the church had to be right because it was working! It appeared that God was blessing the method or that God had anointed the man. The purpose of the Sunday worship services shifted from being focused upon God and how His people could honor Him, to the needs of lost people and how the church could reach out to them.

And the spotlight of glory shifted from Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men, to those men who could attract the most people by their charismatic personality or their particular methods or style of preaching or singing. Over the years, many churches, and even many denominations tried to copy those methods in order to take advantage of what appeared to be a great harvest of souls and a great revival of the church.

But whenever there is such a paradigm shift in any organization, there is a gain/loss ratio that must be reviewed. For every gain that was made by some manipulative method to reach the lost, there was a loss of doctrinal and theological truth, as basic convictions were compromised by the very method itself. For every gain in converts by the schemes of men there was a lack of spiritual understanding on the part of the new believer, and that lack of discipleship resulted in a lack of spiritual growth, and therefore the loss of true, biblical worship. What was gained by the numbers in attendance and in converts in all of these extremes was negated by the loss of biblical certainty and theological integrity. But more importantly, the glory that rightfully belonged to Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone, was diverted to man.

Exalting Christ Takes a Back Seat

Today, we are seeing perpetual innovation in the church as it adapts to the changing needs of people, and as it adopts the changing philosophies of the church, without ever questioning whether or not they are acceptable unto God. Today, churches are using every gimmick imaginable to attract people to their brand of Christianity. Trite and trivial logos have replaced the true Logos. Terms such as user-friendly and seeker-sensitive have replaced Christ exalting and God honoring! The worship services are orchestrated to bypass the mind and to excite the emotions, so that everybody leaves feeling good about themselves, even though they have not learned one thing about the sovereignty of God or about His absolute authority over our lives.

In Ephesians 3:1-21, the Apostle Paul outlined Gods eternal plan and purpose for the church. Paul makes it clear that the purpose of the church is not to bring glory to a man, nor to the works of a man, but to the One who began the church by the shedding of His own precious blood the One who holds the church together today by His love, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Because of that, to some degree the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ is in the hands of the church today. And because of that, what is done in every church on the Lords Day will either bring glory to the Lord or glory to man. If it is done in the power of the flesh, no matter how well intended, it will fall short of the glory of God and will only serve to glorify man. But if it is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it lifts up the name of Jesus Christ as Lord, it will not only draw men to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, but it will glorify God throughout all ages, world without end.

Time to Raise the Standard

We have seen, and are seeing today, what happens in and through the church when the standards are lowered. It is time for the standards to be raised again. It is time for us to raise the standard in our love for God, our love for our neighbor, our love for the church, our worship of God, our respect for the Word of God, our compassion for the lost and our preservation of the saved, and in our love for the family. It is time we raised the Standard of Jesus Christ in our lives so the world can see our works of righteousness and be drawn to Him.

It is time the church began to follow the model of the true New Testament church, as outlined in Acts 2:41-47. The people were in harmony with each other, in agreement over the purpose of their fellowship, involved in the pursuit of truth through the teaching of the Apostles doctrine, praising God in their times of worship at the Temple and in their homes, in prayer of thanksgiving for what God was doing, in favor with believers and unbelievers alike, and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

In 1 Corinthians 15:34, the Apostle Paul exhorted his hearers to Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. I believe this is Gods wake-up call to the church today.

Pulpit Helps, March 2006 - May 2006, reprinted by permission of the author.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."