Five Myths about Young Adult Dropouts

November 16, 2011

The Barna Group team spent much of the last five years exploring the lives of young people who drop out of church. The research provides many insights into the spiritual journeys of teens and young adults.

Myth 1: Most people lose their faith when they leave high school.
Reality: There has been considerable attention paid to the so-called loss of faith that happens between high school and early adulthood. Some have estimated this dropout in alarming terms, estimating that a large majority of young Christians will lose their faith. The reality is more nuanced. In general, there are three distinct patterns of loss: prodigals, nomads, and exiles.

One out of nine young people who grow up with a Christian background lose their faith in Christianity—a group described by the research team as prodigals. In essence, prodigals say they have lost their faith after being a Christian at some time in their past.

More commonly, young Christians wander away from the institutional church—a pattern the researchers labeled nomads. Roughly four out of ten young Christians fall into this category. They still call themselves Christians but they are far less active in church than they were during high school. Nomads have become ‘lost’ to church participation.

Another two out of ten young Christians were categorized as exiles, those who feel lost between the "church culture" and the society they feel called to influence. The sentiments of exiles include feeling that "I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world I live in," "I want to be a Christian without separating myself from the world around me" and "I feel stuck between the comfortable faith of my parents and the life I believe God wants from me."

Overall, about three out of ten young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties.

David Kinnaman, who directed the research, concluded: "The reality of the dropout problem is not about a huge exodus of young people from the Christian faith. In fact, it is about the various ways that young people become disconnected in their spiritual journey. Church leaders and parents cannot effectively help the next generation in their spiritual development without understanding these three primary patterns. The conclusion from the research is that most young people with a Christian background are dropping out of conventional church involvement, not losing their faith."

Myth 2: Dropping out of church is just a natural part of young adults’ maturation.
Reality: First, this line of reasoning ignores that tens of millions of young Christians never lose their faith or drop out of church. Thus, leaving church or losing faith should not be a foregone conclusion.

Second, leaving church has not always been normative. Evidence exists that during the first half of the 1900s, young adults were not less churched than were older adults. In fact, Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s.

In addition to continuing the dropout pattern of previous generations, today’s teens and young adults (identified by Barna Group as Mosaics) are spiritually the most eclectic generation the nation has seen. They are also much less likely than prior generations to begin their religious explorations with Christianity. Moreover, their pervasive technology use is deepening the generation gap, allowing Mosaics (often called Millennials of Gen Y) to embrace new ways of learning about and connecting to the world.

Kinnaman commented on this myth: "The significant spiritual and technological changes over the last 50 years make the dropout problem more urgent. Young people are dropping out earlier, staying away longer, and if they come back are less likely to see the church as a long-term part of their life. Today’s young adults who drop out of faith are continuing something the Boomers began as a generation of spiritual free agents. Yet, today’s dropout phenomenon is a more intractable, complex problem." [Note: See Myth 5 for more about how the dropout problem has changed.]

Myth 3: College experiences are the key factor that cause people to drop out.
Reality: College certainly plays a role in young Christians’ spiritual journeys, but it is not necessarily the ‘faith killer’ many assume. College experiences, particularly in public universities, can be neutral or even adversarial to faith. However, it is too simplistic to blame college for today’s young church dropouts. As evidence, many young Christians dissociate from their church upbringing well before they reach a college environment; in fact, many are emotionally disconnected from church before their 16th birthday.

"The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group." Kinnaman pointed to research findings showing that "only a small minority of young Christians has been taught to think about matters of faith, calling, and culture. Fewer than one out of five have any idea how the Bible ought to inform their scholastic and professional interests. And most lack adult mentors or meaningful friendships with older Christians who can guide them through the inevitable questions that arise during the course of their studies. In other words, the university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples."

Myth 4: This generation of young Christians is increasingly "biblically illiterate."
Reality: The study examined beliefs across the firm’s 28-year history, looking for generational gaps in spiritual beliefs and knowledge. When comparing the faith of young practicing faith Christians (ages 18 to 29) to those of older practicing Christians (ages 30-plus), surprisingly few differences emerged between what the two groups believe. This means that within the Christian community, the theological differences between generations are not as pronounced as might be expected. Young Christians lack biblical knowledge on some matters, but not significantly more so than older Christians.

Instead, the research showed substantial differences among those outside of Christianity. That is, older non-Christians were more familiar than younger non-Christians with Bible stories and Christian theology, even if they did not personally embrace those beliefs.

The Barna president described this as "unexpected, because one often hears how theologically illiterate young Christians are these days. Instead, when it comes to questions of biblical literacy, the broader culture seems to be losing its collective understanding of Christian teachings. In other words, Christianity is no longer ‘autopilot’ for the nation’s youngest citizens.

"Many younger Christians are cognizant that their peers are increasingly unfriendly or indifferent toward Christian beliefs and commitment. As a consequence, young Christians recognize that the nature of sharing one’s faith is changing. For example, many young Christians believe they have to be more culturally engaged in order to communicate Christianity to their peers. For younger Christians, matters of orthodoxy are deeply interconnected with questions of how and why the Gospel advances among a post-Christian generation."

Myth 5: Young people will come back to church like they always do.
Reality: Some faith leaders minimize the church dropout problem by assuming that young adults will come back to the church when they get older, especially when they have children. However, previous research conducted by Barna Group raises doubts about this conclusion.

Furthermore, the social changes since 1960 make this generation much less likely to follow the conventional path to having children: Mosaics (often called Millennials or Gen Y) are getting married roughly six years later than did the Boomers; they are having their first child much later in life; and they are eight times more likely than were the youth of the 1960s to come from homes where their own biological parents were never married.

The author of the new Barna book, You Lost Me, Kinnaman asked several questions in response to conventional wisdom: "If this generation is having children later in life, are church leaders simply content to wait longer? And if Mosaics return, will they do so with extra burdens—emotional, financial, spiritual, and relational—from their years apart from Christian community? More to the point, what if Mosaics turn out to be a generation in which most do not return?

"Churches, organizations and families owe this generation more. They should be treated as the intelligent, capable individuals they are—a generation with a God-given destiny. Renewed commitment is required to rethink and realign disciple-making in this new context. Mosaic believers need better, deeper relationships with other adult Christians. They require a more holistic understanding of their vocation and calling in life—how their faith influences what they do with their lives, from Monday through Saturday. And they also need help discerning Jesus’ leading in their life, including greater commitment to knowing and living the truth of Scripture."

Are Americans Dissatisfied Even with Themselves

In the middle of the economic recession and the Occupy Wall Street protests, residents’ economic mood and outlook has been well documented. Yet, underlying emotional and identity factors are often overlooked, such as whether Americans feel they are fulfilling their own personal potential or not.

A new study by Barna Group examines these kinds of indicators, looking at how Americans think about their lives these days. Four characteristics of millions of residents emerged from the survey.

1. One-third of Americans are struggling to live to their "fullest potential."
One out of every three adults in this country say they are not living life to their fullest potential, including those who say they are "not at all" (6%) or "not much" (26%). A slim majority of adults (57%) feel they are "mostly" fulfilling their potential, while about one out of eight (12%) feel "completely" fulfilled. Those most likely to feel they are fulfilling their potential include Elders (ages 65-plus), practicing Christians, and Bible readers.

Interestingly, education was correlated with fulfillment, but only to a certain point: college graduates were some of the least dissatisfied, but they were also some of the least likely to feel completely fulfilled. A similar pattern emerged with regard to personal economics: the wealthiest Americans were some of the most likely to give extreme responses, either very fulfilled or very unfulfilled.

2. Seventy million Americans feel held back by their past.
Overall, 70 million Americans (31% of adults) feel "held back or defined by something in their past." This perception was most commonly expressed by younger adults, blacks, divorced adults, unmarried individuals, and those who have some college experience but never completed their degree. Those with a practicing faith were among the least likely to feel defined or held back by their past. Lower-income households were more likely than average (38%) to feel defined by their past, though 25% of higher-income households were also likely to share this perception.

3. Nearly 70 million Americans are dealing with emotional conflict.
When asked if they are dealing with unresolved emotional pain or conflict in life, three out of 10 adults (30%) confirm this description is a present reality for them. This perception was most common among lower-income adults, divorcees, women, and those with no faith allegiance. Married adults, Elders, men, and practicing Christians were the least likely to be dealing with unresolved emotional conflict.

4. One-sixth of Americans are wrestling with the role of church and religion.
In total, 15% of Americans said their experiences with religion have caused them to question God, a sentiment that was most common among twentysomethings, college graduates, unmarried adults, non-Christians, and unchurched adults. Similarly, 16% of Americans said they have been hurt by experiences in churches. This perception was most common among women, Boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964), and divorced adults.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, directed the survey. He pointed out: "In recent weeks the Occupy Wall Street movement has focused on the economic gap between the wealthiest one percent of the population and the remaining 99 percent. As others have observed this movement reflects a mix of anti-institutionalism and disillusionment with the economy, government and financial industry.

"But perhaps Americans’ growing dissatisfaction with institutions is more influenced than they realize by their own personal expectations and experiences. While people are increasingly skeptical of external forces, like religion and government, the research shows that internal doubts about fulfillment, faith, emotion and personal history significantly define millions of the nation’s residents."

Why One Minister Resigned

Some lessons you learn by reading books and blogs. Those feel great.

However, the most life-changing lessons are often learned through painful mistakes and brutal moments in valleys so low that you aren’t sure if you’ll ever climb out. Over the past year, I’ve been in that valley, and while I was down there, I learned some lessons that probably took a few years off my life expectancy in the process. I will be a better leader this day forward knowing these things. I want you to know them, but this is a blog and you’re so hardheaded that you’ll probably have to learn them the hard way, too. Here they are anyway…

(Remember – these lessons cost me a few fingers and toes so I hope you pay attention.)

1. Start a thing as close to the way you dream it being down the road as you can.

For 10 whole years before I started Courageous Church, I dreamed of it being one thing, started it as another, then spent the next 3 years trying to get it back to the church of my dreams. I own this. The vision of my heart was for a committed community of people that first and foremost served God in radical ways in inner city Atlanta and in broken places all around the world. Sunday morning would simply be the time when those people came together to celebrate and honor God and invite others into our Monday-Saturday adventure.

Instead, I started a super cool Sunday worship service centered church with 700 people and spent the next 3 years begging thousands of people to help me be the hands and feet of God by fighting child trafficking and caring for widows and orphans. I was advised by the best church planting experts in the world to go this route, but in the end, it was my decision, and it was the wrong one. I sold my soul for church attendance in our first week and could never quite get it back. Whatever it is you are starting (a business, a new job, a church, etc.), you need to remain as true to your core vision from the start as humanly possible, or you may find yourself lost in an unfamiliar place so far from your dream that you don’t even recognize it. That’s me right now.

2. People L.O.V.E to hear about radical change. They just don’t love making it.

Political campaigns based on radical change win. Books written about radical change sell. Sermons on radical change boost Sunday morning attendance. The idea and thought of change is exciting to people, but mistaking that excitement for an actual willingness on behalf of those people to change now or later could be a miscalculation. I found out the hard way.

In March of this year, I announced I was preaching my last sermon series of all-time. For the next 8 weeks, I preached the most radical, game-changing sermon series ever entitled “Disciple.” Our average attendance was its highest ever. Our average offering was the highest ever. Excitement was its highest ever. Man, I was pumped!!

Then, almost literally the day we jumped into change, all types of stuff started falling apart. People left in droves. Scores of people started falling through on leadership commitments they made. Systems starting failing. Attendance was down. Offering was down. Excitement was down.

I had no idea that zero correlation exists between how much people love hearing about change and their actual willingness to make it. I then made a series of gross errors that really cost me dearly based on what I incorrectly assumed was a desire for people to change when, for most people, what existed was just an interest in the topic on a theoretical level. Here are some of the errors:
I seriously overestimated how excited (or even willing) people were to actually do the things I was talking about.
When people left our church saying they did not support the changes, I did what I never do and helped talked them in to staying. I meant well, but this was so dumb of me. These folk stayed but never earnestly fought for the vision because, as they already stated, they don’t believe in it.
Change sounds pretty but actually looks ugly, feels like hard labor, takes time, and pushes every limit we have. I had said that the changes I was suggesting could take 3 years to really nail down. Few people objected when I said that because we hadn’t actually changed yet. When I took a private poll just 3 months after we made changes, over 85% of people stated that they wanted to go back to the way things used to be. Our board did as well. I overestimated how willing folks would be to deal with the ugliness of it all.
These miscalculations also took an enormous toll on my family and me, and it was at this point that I decided that I could not lead the church back to a place where I had no heart, vision, or stamina to go. The death of Pastor Zach Tims shook me up in such a way that I didn’t want to ignore my own warning signs before it was too late, and I ended up losing my family (or my life) in the process.

3. Few disciples of Jesus Christ actually exist in the world.

I’m not even saying I am one and nobody else is. I have to fight the battle for my own discipleship daily. What I am saying is that church attendance, Sunday morning services, sermon-listening (or even sermon preaching), song-singing, hand-clapping, amen-saying, and all of the things that “Christ-ians” have lifted up so high look so little like Christ himself that I am utterly convinced that we are completely off base with what discipleship means.

Considering all of this, I think I have given up on church as I knew it. Big buildings. Huge crowds. Few disciples. I’m not with it. It’s inefficient and just doesn’t feel right with my soul. This is not a rejection of big buildings or huge crowds but an indictment on how few disciples are being made in the process of it all. A better way has to exist.

Shaun King, Atlanta

PS. Ask your pastor how he or she is doing lately. Michael

5 Things God Did NOT Say

Larry Moyer offers wonderful insight to Christian fallacies.

Misconceptions of God can be costly, because they can be very defeating. For example, it’s agonizing to me how many people think “Cleanliness is next to godliness” comes from the pages of Scripture. If this is indeed a word from God, then homemakers have every right to feel guilty that their house is not always tidy. In fact, depending on how far you carry it, people soon become more concerned about their furniture than they do their family. And what about “God helps those who help themselves”? I’ve seen this used as a basis for many people thinking they can work their way to heaven. They therefore miss the Biblical teaching that eternal life is free (Romans 6:23).

Here are five other misconceptions of God’s Word you’d be wise to spend a Sunday addressing. In fact, I think you’d be wiser to give one Sunday to each of these. I assure you, they are so rampant that you could easily spend a 30-minute message discussing each one. Most unfortunately of all, every single one of them in some way adversely affects our outreach to non-Christians.

1. If you don’t know the date you were saved, then you are not saved.

Unfortunately, evangelists have been the worst at propagating this first misconception. The fact is, there is a split-second when a person goes from darkness into light. After recognizing you’re a sinner and that Christ died for you and rose again, you place your trust in Him alone as your only way to heaven.

However, just because you don’t know when that particular split-second was doesn’t mean you aren’t saved. When Scripture gives assurance of salvation, it doesn’t go back to a date or a moment; it goes back to a fact. Who are you trusting right now? If you’re trusting Christ alone as your only way to heaven, you are saved, regardless of when you crossed the line. After all, John 3:16 does not say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and whoever believes in Him and knows the date should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This idea is critical, because if a person buys into this misconception, it’s a tremendous hindrance to their outreach for Christ. How can I talk to someone else about their salvation if I’m not entirely certain of my own?

True, some people come to Christ from a very sudden and dramatic experience, like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39; he could have easily given you the date. And there’s no doubt the same thing was true of Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:1-22, 26-28; I’m sure he not only could have given the date, but he could have testified of the specific hour he trusted the Savior. But there are those whose conversion is not as dramatic. They may have been raised in a Christian environment, where Christ was spoken about frequently. Certainly at some point of time they came to clearly understand their sinful condition and trust Christ, but they may not know exactly when the moment occurred.

Minister deeply to your people and free them by telling them that as long as they’re trusting Christ alone, they are saved, regardless of when they crossed the line.

2. If you want to be saved, just invite Jesus into your heart.

Well-meaning people often use the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart.” They often base this on Revelation 3:20 where we’re told, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” With the phrase “stand at the door and knock” in mind, many picture the heart as a door where Jesus stands begging us to let Him in. Therefore, the lost are exhorted to “invite Jesus into their heart.”

However, that verse is addressed to Christians, not non-Christians. Verse 19 reads, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Chasten means “to discipline” and is used of believers, not unbelievers (Hebrews 12:5-6). The passage addresses the church of Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3. Their wealth at the time had lulled the church into spiritual sleep; Jesus Christ described this distasteful condition as “lukewarm” and invites them to repent of their condition and make Him the center of their love and worship.

Additionally, in Revelation 3:20, the Greek translation of in to means “toward.” In a figurative language, Jesus is saying to Christians He will enter the Church and come “toward” the believer for fellowship. The word dine referred to the main meal of the day to which you invite an honored guest. It was a meal given to hospitality and conversation. Again, the issue is fellowship, not salvation.

Why is this phrase so dangerous to use in evangelism? There are those who “invited Jesus into their heart” and sincerely meant they were trusting Him as their personal Savior, and they are forever His. However, there are some people who think that by simply saying a prayer in which they “invite Jesus into their heart,” they’re saved. In this case, their trust is in a prayer, not in a Savior who died on a cross.

Ninety-eight times in the Gospel of John, the one book whose purpose was to tell us how to receive eternal life (John 20:31), we’re told to believe. It means “to trust in Christ alone as our only way to heaven.” There’s nothing wrong with someone praying to tell God they’re trusting Christ alone, but he/she must be aware that saying a prayer doesn’t save; it’s trusting Christ that saves.

Teach your people to use the right terminology. They should ask lost people to do what the New Testament asks them to do—believe—and this means to trust in Christ alone to save them.

3. When you miss an opportunity to share Christ with someone, it’s your fault if that person goes to hell.

Many believers don’t enjoy evangelism. When they do practice it, they often do it out of guilt, not grace. One reason people feel guilty is because they’ve been told that if they’re given an opportunity to share Christ but they don’t take it, they are forever responsible if that person goes to hell.
This false teaching is often based on the misuse of Ezekiel 3:18-19. There we read, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”

This passage has nothing to say about evangelism. God appointed Ezekiel a watchman (Ezekiel 3:17). His job was to warn of impending danger. The nation was doomed, and only through heeding their watchman could they survive. Chapters 4-24 of Ezekiel contain his cry of alarm, which gave those outside the walls opportunity to seek protection. It also gave the people time to secure the gates and man the defenses. The death spoken of in Ezekiel 3:18-19 is physical, not spiritual. The context is the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem that Ezekiel predicted.

A person refusing to heed God’s warning from Ezekiel could expect physical death. Ezekiel was to warn the righteous, not just the wicked. If Ezekiel refused to speak God’s message to people who came to his house, he’d be guilty of murder. This is the meaning of “…but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” By giving a warning, Ezekiel delivered himself from the responsibility of the coming judgment. Those who ignored his warning could only blame themselves. One can see the danger when this idea is applied to evangelism; all of a sudden, we become responsible for someone’s eternal destiny.

But bringing people to Christ is a God-sized job. It’s our job to bring Christ to the lost; only God can bring the lost to Christ. John 6:44 reminds us, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Evangelism now becomes exciting. I do it recognizing that God is not holding me responsible for the results.

4. If you come to Me, I want either all of your life or none of it.

This one is said in different ways, but the meaning is the same. There are those who exhort, “You can’t meet God halfway. If you want to come to Christ, you must completely surrender to Him. God will only do business with you if you mean business with Him. He’s going to get all of your life, or He doesn’t want any of it.” What’s the problem here?

Look at the language in John 3:15, 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:25, 6:47, 11:25-26, and 20:31. All of them make it clear that salvation is based on one thing: believing and trusting in Christ alone as our only way to heaven. The moment we trust Him this way, we are as certain of heaven as though we’re already there.

This misconception is, again, often based on a wrong handling of Scripture. To support it, verses are cited that speak of discipleship, not salvation. Every Christian should be a disciple, but unfortunately, not every Christian is. In fact, Christ warned people about the cost of discipleship before encouraging them to sign up (Luke 14: 26-27). Salvation is free, but discipleship involves a cost.

Here’s where the misconception becomes so defeating: Who of us at any given moment would say every single aspect of our life belongs to Christ? All of us have those aspects we hold back, and even if we do give them to Him, there are moments we take them back. If indeed He has to have control of my entire life, how can I speak to someone else about their salvation? This misconception presents new Christians with conditions that, as unsaved people, they’re not even remotely prepared to meet.

Encourage your congregation, when they speak to the lost about Christ, to explain that salvation is instantaneous, but discipleship is a process. Once they decide to trust and believe in Christ for salvation, wholehearted surrender and Christ-likeness become a goal to achieve with the help of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of believers.

5. If you’re not willing to confess Christ publicly, you cannot be saved.

This misconception comes in different colors, and there are those who carry it to different extremes. Some are simply talking about admitting personally and publicly that you’re a Christian. Some go so far as to say one must walk forward in a church through what is commonly called the “altar call.” Either way, the understanding is given that if you don’t, you can’t be saved.

When addressing this misconception in a message, approach it positively, not negatively. Stress the importance of unashamedly telling people that you are a Christian. After all, if He was not ashamed of you, why be ashamed of Him? Such a confession plays a part in receiving eternal reward. A good passage to support this is Matthew 10:32-33, where Christ declares, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” The context clearly explains that the issue is not eternal life; the issue is discipleship.

Then show your people that confession is not an issue of salvation by pointing out three things. The first is John 12:37-43. The miracles of Christ were designed to wave a flag before the Jewish people proclaiming Christ as God. Many refused to believe. John tells us, “…but although He had done so many signs before them they did not believe in Him.” Some, though, did believe. John 12: 42-43 says, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” In the book of John, the words believe in are used consistently for saving faith. Jewish rulers had trusted in Christ the Messiah, who could save them from their sins. But confessing Him in public would have resulted in their excommunication.

You can also show them the many verses that condition salvation upon faith alone, apart from any public confession. For example, John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Romans 4:5 says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
You might also point your audience to the thief on the cross. The thieves on the cross were divided in their view of Christ. One extended the condition, “…if you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). The other placed his faith in Christ, asking, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (vs. 42). Christ’s response was the best news a dying man can hear. “Surely I say unto you, today you’ll be with me in paradise” (vs. 43). There was no way this dying thief could have told others of his salvation. He was saved by recognizing Christ as who He said He was—the only One who could save him from his sin.

Romans 10:9-10 is many times used to support the misconception that if you don’t confess Christ publicly, you can’t be saved. We read “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Above all else, it’s worth noting that the word righteousness in Romans 10:10 is a noun form of the verb translated “justify.” Romans 5:1 reads, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justified here means “to be declared righteous.” Therefore, the meaning of the first part of Romans 10:10 is, “…with the heart man believes and is justified before God.” But confession in Romans 10:9-10 is a part of what’s necessary to live a victorious Christian life. The context is arguing that one has to be willing to confess Him publicly in order to triumph over sin. For further explanation of this passage, I would direct you to my book, Free and Clear, which has a chapter entitled, “If I Don’t Confess Him, Do I Possess Him?”

Regardless, the passage itself clearly says that believing is what justifies a person before God. A public confession of Christ is very important, but the importance is not related to our eternal salvation. Upon trusting Christ, we receive His gift of eternal life. By confessing Christ consistently and unashamedly, we experience victory over sin and gain eternal reward when we see the Savior face-to-face.


Misconceptions can be damaging and defeating. The above five can be a particular hindrance in our outreach to non-Christians. The result is a confusion of the message, the questioning of our own salvation, and even a lack of boldness in speaking to others about the Lord.

The Church and Change

A stagnant organization is a dying organization. Change means growth and growth means change.

Our criterion for change is never the latest “church growth” fad or the newest innovation of that church down the street. Change must be from the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Change for the sake of change is never appropriate. “This isn’t working; let’s try something different” is a blueprint for failure.

How does the wise pastor facilitate change? The Lord will normally give you the vision and direction He would have your people go before He gives it to them. This is not to say only you hear the voice of God. It’s not to say that good ideas never come up “through the ranks.” It is to say that the job of leaders is to lead, and that means getting out in front.

The key elements of change are information and patience

If a person says to me, “God told me,” I am going to walk away. If they say, “God told me to tell you,” I am going to run. If they say, “I sense the Lord is leading me,” I will listen.

Before introducing a bold new program to win the world, spend some Sundays preaching about Jesus’ compassion for the lost. Before you introduce that million-dollar building program for a new youth recreation building, preach about the needs of a dying generation of teenagers and the responsibility of the church to reach them.

Remind your people that the message never changes, but the means must be ever changing. The telegraph has been outdated by radio, radio by television, television by the Internet, and the end is not yet. Take your time, give adequate information, instill the vision, and try to get everyone on board.

Provide a forum in which to allow questions. What will happen if we do this? What will we lose if we don’t? What are the risks? What is the cost? Are there other options? Will there be a committee? Will this be done at the sacrifice of other programs in the church? God’s people are good people, and they can handle the truth.

When you begin a new ministry, don’t be afraid to experiment. Everything doesn’t have to be forever. While this is true, make every effort to see it through. Give new ministries time. Even the best will often struggle at first. The most common things that tear up Baptist churches are deacon-pastor conflict, worship wars, and changing too quickly.

In a new pastorate, members have enough of an adjustment to look up every Sunday and see a new face in the pulpit. It takes time to adjust to you before they’re ready to adjust to your changes. Reverse the order and you are doomed to failure. Don’t change anything quickly!

I could write a book on modern-day churches that lost hundreds, even thousands of members, in a few months. All were good churches with good pastors who had good ideas but bad timing. Too much too fast. Don’t!

Then John’s disciples came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them? The days will come when the groom will be taken from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old garment with unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment and makes the tear worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt. 9:14–17)

Excerpts taken from Pastor’s Handbook by John Bisagno, B&H Publishing Group, copyright 2011. Used by permission.

The Branch

Every Branch in me that Beareth Not Fruit, He taketh It away—John 15:2
Here we have one of the chief words of the parable—branch.
A vine needs branches: without branches it can do nothing, can bear no fruit. As important as it is to know about the Vine, and the Husbandman, it is to realize what the branch is. Before we listen to what Christ has to say about it, let us first of all take in what a branch is, and what it teaches us of our life in Christ. A branch is simply a bit of wood, brought forth by the vine for the one purpose of serving it in bearing its fruit. It is of the very same nature as the vine, and has one life and one spirit with it. Just think a moment of the lessons this suggests.
There is the lesson of entire consecration. The branch has but one object for which it exists, one purpose to which it is entirely given up. That is, to bear the fruit the vine wishes to bring forth. And so the believer has but one reason for his being a branch—but one reason for his existence on earth —that the heavenly Vine may through him bring forth His fruit. Happy the soul that knows this, that has consented to it, and that says, I have been redeemed and I live for one thing—as exclusively as the natural branch exists only to bring forth fruit, I too; as exclusively as the heavenly Vine exists to bring forth fruit, I too. As I have been planted by God into Christ, I have wholly given myself to bear the fruit the Vine desires to bring forth.
There is the lesson of perfect conformity. The branch is exactly like the vine in every aspect—the same nature, the same life, the same place, the same work. In all this they are inseparably one. And so the believer needs to know that he is partaker of the divine nature, and has the very nature and spirit of Christ in him, and that his one calling is to yield himself to a perfect conformity to Christ. The branch is a perfect likeness of the vine; the only difference is, the one is great and strong, and the source of strength, the other little and feeble, ever needing and receiving strength. Even so the believer is, and is to be, the perfect likeness of Christ.
There is the lesson of absolute dependence. The vine has its stores of life and sap and strength, not for itself, but for the branches. The branches are and have nothing but what the vine provides and imparts. The believer is called to, and it is his highest blessedness to enter upon, a life of entire and unceasing dependence upon Christ. Day and night, every moment, Christ is to work in him all he needs.
And then the lesson of undoubting confidence. The branch has no cure; the vine provides all; it has but to yield itself and receive. It is the sight of this truth that leads to the blessed rest of faith, the true secret of growth and strength: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” What a life would come to us if we only consented to be branches! Dear child of God, learn the lesson. You have but one thing to do: Only be a branch—nothing more, nothing less!
Just be a branch; Christ will be the Vine that gives all. And the Husbandman, the mighty God, who made the Vine what it is, will as surely make the branch what it ought to be. Lord Jesus, I pray Thee, reveal to me the heavenly mystery of the branch, in its living union with the Vine, in its claim on all its fullness. And let Thy all-sufficiency, holding and filling Thy branches, lead me to the rest of faith that knows that Thou workest all.

Leadership Pipeline

My basic premise of leadership development is leaders raise up other leaders. Leaders who do not reproduce other leaders are shortsighted and ultimately damage the long-term health of their organization or department. If leaders do not produce leaders, where will the future leaders come from? I’ve heard John Maxwell say on several occasions, “It takes one to know one, it takes one to show one, and it takes one to grow one.” Leaders produce leaders.

Every organization has a natural hierarchical structure that people advance through as they gain greater leadership responsibility. This has become known as the leadership pipeline. If there is a shortage of leaders at various levels, if the same old people are doing the same old jobs year after year, if growth is hampered because of a shortage of leadership, then this is a clear indication that your leadership pipeline is clogged. So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Make leadership development an expectation of all the leaders in your organization.

You can do this by talking about it frequently and by making it one of the factors that you measure in your organizational scorecard. (Ex: How many new leaders are being developed in each department?)
2. Inspect your leadership pipeline regularly.

I would recommend a regular inspection of the condition of your leadership pipeline. Take at least an hour a quarter and look at the leaders at every level of your organization. Your organization’s database should be able to print a report that would show the names of those at each level. Discuss these level by level by level, name by name. Ask the following questions: Where do we have leadership gaps? Who are the potential leaders to fill those gaps? Who has the potential to move up to the next level? What is their next step, and how can we help them take it? Who is in process of being developed for the next level?
3. Build on what’s working.

Find those in your organization that are already mentoring new leaders. Recognize them, reward them, and challenge them to reproduce more mentoring leaders in your organization. If you only have 20% of your current leaders mentoring new leaders, it will have an exponential impact on the multiplication of leaders in your organization.

Mac Lake

After 911

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, millions of Americans flocked to churches and houses of worship. But, for most, the shift in spiritual behavior was short lived. According to tracking research by the Barna Group, within a few months the spiritual lives of the nation’s population were back to pre-attack levels.

As the tenth anniversary of America’s largest terrorist event approaches, a new analysis of Barna Group tracking data examines the long-term spiritual profile at one of the epicenters of the attacks—New York City and the surrounding media market. Based on analysis of research conducted over the last 14 years, the study shows that the faith profile of residents of the New York market has changed significantly over the last decade and a half, but many of these shifts may not be attributable to 9-11.

Changes in Faith Behaviors
Residents of the New York City media market are more spiritually active today than they were in the late 1990s – and more so than they were in 2001. Reported weekly church attendance, for instance, was lowest in 1999 and 2000 (31%), but has since grown to represent 46% of the market’s residents. (Note: Although the vast majority of church attendance stems from Protestant churches and Catholic parishes, Barna Group’s religious attendance measure does not exclude those of other faith groups who participate in other weekly religious events.)

In addition to worship attendance, several other measures of faith also showed increases in the New York market, including Bible reading (growing from 29% to 35%) and those who qualify as having an active faith. Active-faith adults, a multiple-activity indicator that represents those who pray, read the Bible and attend church in a typical week, has increased from 17% to 24%.

Also reflecting the overall rise in spiritual participation, the percentage of residents of the New York area who are unchurched – defined as those who have not attended a worship service in the last six months – declined from 42% to 34%.

For context, during the same period of time in the nation’s population, church attendance has declined and there has been a corresponding increase in the percentage of unchurched adults. Bible reading has been essentially flat nationally over the last decade.

David Kinnaman, the Barna Group president, directed the research study and pointed out that the most significant spiritual change in the New York market, the increase in church attendance, does not appear correlated to the 9-11 attacks. “Most of the change in spiritual behavior seems to have happened since the middle of the last decade. Church participation in the New York market especially has shifted most since 2004.”

Changes in Belief
While the New York metro market is more spiritually active than it was a decade ago, what it believes about God, Christ, and faith reflects a mixed set of results. The Barna study explored three measures of spiritual belief and commitment: overall importance of faith in a person’s life, the percentage of the market who are born again Christians, and the proportion who are evangelical Christians. (Note: in Barna Group studies neither evangelical nor born again Christians are based on a respondent’s self-identification with these terms. The definition of these groups is based on a person’s beliefs and commitment. Details appear below.)

The study revealed that religion declined in importance for many New Yorkers from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Then, following 2001-2002, this indicator rebounded, though it has softened again in recent years. Still, given the conventional characterization of the driven, secular nature of the New York market, it is striking that three out of every five residents of the New York market strongly agree that their religious faith is very important in their life (61%). Nationally, 72% of US adults say their religious faith is very important.

Looking at some of Barna Group’s proprietary faith measurements, the percentage of New York’s media market residents who qualify as born again Christians surged from 20% in the late 1990s to 32% today. This measure has been steadily increasing since 2001-2002. These are individuals who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in the life and who believe they will go to Heaven because they have accepted Christ and been forgiven of their sins. The surveys do not ask people if they call themselves “born again.” Currently, 40% of adults nationwide can be classified as born again.

Surprisingly, the growth in the born again population has not translated into an increased evangelical audience, at least in the way that Barna Group typically measures this population. The percentage of evangelical Christians in the New York metro area actually declined over the last 14 years, from 4% in the late Nineties to just 1% of the market in the most recent polling. This compares to 7% of the adult public who qualifies as an evangelical. In Barna Group studies, the evangelical segment is a subset of the born again population. In Barna studies, evangelicals meet the born again criteria and also embrace other aspects of evangelical teaching, such as the necessity of sharing one’s faith with others, rejecting works-based salvation, and accepting the accuracy of Scripture principles.

Kinnaman put the larger findings in context by pointing out that “the research suggests that faith and religion took on new urgency for many New Yorkers after 9-11, but the impact was neither immediate nor long-lived. While people’s born again commitment and religion’s importance did grow in the years after 9-11, church attendance and active faith measures did not really start increasing until after 2004.

“The research shows that spiritual change can and does happen, even in large population centers like the New York media market. What cannot be determined by survey research, however, is what exactly caused the change. There are many front-and-center factors, such as the terrorist attacks, the Wall Street crisis, and the weakening economy. But there are also below-the-radar factors, like immigration and people moving into and out of the city, personal factors such as marriage or health issues, as well as the work and coordination of local faith communities in the metropolis. Whatever the combination of causes, the residents of the New York City region are more spiritually active, more likely to be ‘churched,’ and more committed to Christ than they were a decade ago.”

A View from the Hearse

Consider the words of a wise funeral director:

A couple years ago my dad had this cheesy bumper sticker on the back end of his truck. It said, “Live So the Pastor Doesn’t Have to Lie At Your Funeral.”
There’s some truth to that bumper sticker.
I have worked about 3,000 funerals in my 10 years as a funeral director and I have never heard a pastor state conclusively that the person they are memorializing is going to hell, although I’ve heard thousands of messages that state CONCLUSIVELY that the deceased is in heaven!
There’s been some fancy preachwork done by pastors for those who lived less than clean, God honoring lives. I remember one pastor saying about a man who blatantly hated God, “This man didn’t like God, but he was a man who loved the outdoors. And anybody who loves the outdoors is like a lover of God because God created the outdoors.”

Honestly, contra my dad’s cheesy bumper sticker, I don’t think pastors are actually lying. I think pastors honestly have the hope that—despite evidence to the contrary—the deceased finds himself or herself in the presence of God.

I see two types of universalism: one that’s a doctrine and another that’s expressed as a hope: Hans Urs von Balthasar, the esteemed Catholic theologian, makes the distinction in his book, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? between the hope of universal salvation and the doctrine of universal salvation. The former wishes that all men would be saved, while the latter asserts that all men WILL be saved. For example, The New England Universalists (rebellious Calvinists) held the doctrine of universal salvation based on their causative assumptions of God’s salvific work, coupled with their strong assertion of the universality of God’s love. In other words, IF God can choose who will be saved and He loves all, then the doctrine arises that he will choose to save all.

I believe that God himself is a hopeful universalist when it states in both 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 that he wishes all men to be saved and that none would perish. This isn’t a soteriological doctrine but an eschatological hope, which is the major distinction that—if not acknowledged — will cause you distress.

And when it comes down to it: when the rubber hits the road; when preachers show their cards; when they stand up before a grieving, hopeless family who has just lost their loved one to an overdose, suicide or alcohol, all the preachers I have ever heard, either imply or state the same thing as Rob Bell–they, too, hope that love wins.

Maybe if Rob had spoken his thoughts at a funeral, nobody would have had a problem with it.

Christ In You

This Christ within you is a living Person. He loves you with a personal love, and He looks every day for the personal response of your love. Look into His face with trust, till His love really shines into your heart. Make His heart glad by telling Him that you do love Him. He offers Himself to you as a personal Saviour and Keeper from the power of sin.

Do not ask, can I be kept from sinning, if I keep close to Him? But ask can I be kept from sinning, if He always keeps close to me? And you see at once how safe it is to trust Him.

We have not only Christ’s life in us as a power, and His presence with us as a person, but we have His likeness to be wrought into us. He is to be formed in us, so that His form or figure, His likeness, can be seen in us. Bow before God until you get some sense of the greatness and blessedness of the work to be carried on by God in you this day. Say to God, “Father, here am I for Thee to give as much in me of Christ’s likeness as I can receive.”

Then wait to hear Him say, “My child, I give you as much of Christ as your heart is open to receive.” The God who revealed Jesus in the flesh and perfected Him, will reveal Him in you and perfect you in Him. The Father loves the Son, and delights to work out His image and likeness in you. Count upon it that this blessed work will be done in you as you wait on thy God, and hold fellowship with Him.

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