Recently I saw the an amazing device that creates scale models of objects and engineering drawings. Taking a topographic map of a golf course, they were able to create a 2″ long model of one of that course’s holes. Using software that estimated the stress points on a joint in various colors, the machine printed out a 3-d copy of the joint with those colors displayed, so the designer and his manager could hold the item and see the results.

In the same demo room was a handheld scanner. With it, the operator was able to create a 3-d rendering of an object. That engineering object could then be worked with until the changes were ready and the model was printed out for review, and then the final product was built.

I know Bible teaching because master teachers let me teach their classes with them in the room. I know witnessing because a pastor grabbed me to join his weekly home visitation schedule. One of the churches I helped had a pastor who had not grown up in the church, and neither had his deacon – they did not know what “normal” behavior looked like until I was able to teach and model it for them.

My model for discipleship comes from business: The way you train a new salesman is “You watch me, I watch you, you go do.” It’s a “lather, rinse, repeat” approach described in 2 Tim 2:2 – “The things you’ve heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, you teach to reliable me, who will themselves then be able to teach others.”

It is the job of every mature believer to find a protege and teach them the faith. That is discipleship. That is what will rescue the struggling church.

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The Christian Science Monitor has published an editorial about the decline and perhaps demise of modern Evangelicalism.  Titled “The coming evangelical collapse” Michael Spencer gives current examples and reasoned predictions that validate what Barna has been warning for some time.  I disagree with some of his predicted outcomes (or maybe I don’t want to listen), but he does make a point that “fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.”

The crux of his argument is that Evangelicals have gotten distracted with social issues, and

“Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture wars, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures. “

This is not a new finding.  In his 1972 work Why Conservative Churches are Growing, Dean Kelly quoted Franklin Littell’s The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (1964).  Kelly and Littell say that parents – even at that time – hadn’t fully passed on their faith, so the children did not even have a full faith to teach their own children.

“In churches in the US, they have not only ‘halved the covenant’ for their children again and again until there was scarcely a sliver left, but also progressively relaxed the standards of membership … members often had only the vaguest notion of what the church they were joining believed or required. …As a result, Littell observes, the churches became filled with baptized pagans, who soon far outnumbered those who had gained and kept some understanding of the obligations of discipleship.”

Even in 1972, Kelly, who wrote the book while on sabbatical from the National Council of Churches, noted “Renewal does not take hold unless it is embodied, exemplified, lived out by a particular group, who show the way to a stronger faith by taking it themselves.”

And that is exactly the problem Michael Spencer is addressing. He claims that “denominations are going to become largely irrelevant” and “many marginal believers will depart.”

Spencer is spot on when he says that if churches survive they must move from maintenance mode to a “new evangelicalism” that returns to the authority of what the Bible says instead of what we want it to say, while continually reinterpreting the form for our culture.

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References:

Barna, George “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” Barna Seminar, 9/30/03
Kelly, Dean M, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (NY: Harper & Row, 1972), p104, 114
Littell, Franklin H. The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (NY:Macmillan Co., 1964) and From State Church to Pluralism (NY: Doubleday, 1962)
Spencer, Michael “The coming evangelical collapse” in The Christian Science Monitor, 10 Mar 09, http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html

“Many people are looking at the evangelical church and finding it lacking.”

So says Ed Seltzer, church growth guru and director of LifeWay Research. His survey of 900 adults, ages 18-29, found that 72% thought the church is full of hypocrites, and that 86% think you don’t have to go to church to have a relationship with God. “Younger adults like Jesus, but not the church.”

Where did the evangelical church go wrong? Seltzer says that “for the last 50 years, we have said the primary way to reach lost people is to invite them to church.”

“We tell people, ‘just pray this prayer to receive Christ,'” he commented. “Just praying this prayer is not what you do. A large percentage of people praying that prayer are not being regenerated. We think we’ll tell them the rest later. … Getting people in classes to make them disciples doesn’t work.”

Seltzer says that if we aren’t serious about how we exercise our faith, about how we turn unbelievers into disciples, the people we do recruit are likewise casual about how they treat the church.

As for teens 15-17, Seltzer finds that our habit of keeping them entertained is exactly the opposite approach to what it needed.

“They are saying the church is not worth their lives, and they are tired of playing church. People don’t want to give their lives to something that doesn’t change them and doesn’t change the world.”

The other factors for keeping teens in church is that both parents stay married and attending church, that they have at least one other adult in the church make a significant investment of time in their life, and that the sermons are relevant to their life.

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Information for this report came from an Oklahoma Baptist Messenger article about Seltzer speaking at a conference in Moore, OK.