The Barna Group has brought us another study that tells us of "significant changes" in the church in the last 20 years. That we need a study to tell us that might in itself be a sad statement. But what changes do they see?
They see declines in church attendance, Sunday school attendance, volunteerism, Bible reading, and the claim of being "Christian". There has been a drop in those who claim to have made a personal commitment to Christ and a drop in those who believe that "God is the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today," a sharp decline in confidence in the accuracy of Scripture (even in the principles it teaches), and a drop in those who are "born again".
The news isn't all bad. The numbers of Protestants claiming to be "born again" are up by 8%, and personal evangelism has increased in this group. Still, even among Protestants the Bible is on the "chopping block" as less than reliable. Okay, so maybe that doesn't help much.
Any parent paying attention would be a bit concerned. While your children are at home, you have some control. But you know the day will come when they leave the nest. What then? College is, as we all know, a killer. American skepticism is rising. Cultural forces are not in favor of Christ or the Bible. It is a daunting situation. It's a simple matter of statistics that as few as 4% of Christian youth will remain in the church. (Frankly, that's a "worst case" concept. Better numbers from other sources range from 61% at the low end to 88% at the upper end.)
So, given the general decline in the Church in America and the particular threat to young church people today, what are we to do? Will there be a "next generation"? Are we seeing, as more than one pundit has suggested and more than one Christian in private has intimated, the end of the Church in America?
I'd like to encourage you on this. All of the above information might be discouraging and worrisome. So here's what Jesus said: "I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18). What is it, then, that gets people into the Church? It is not heredity or birth. Neither is it the proper parenting or schooling. It is not good arguments or careful apologetics. It is Christ. It is the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is the omnipotence of a Sovereign God. What is it that will keep the genuine Church of Christ from vanishing? It is that same God of the universe, that same Spirit, that same Christ. What will keep our kids from leaving? It is the change wrought in their hearts not brought about by our care and feeding, but by God's work in them. Or, in Jesus's words, despite any cultural or popular problem, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37). Good start, eh? And the end? "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day" (John 6:39).
Do you want to fear something? How about this: "Let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it" (Hebrews 4:1). Yeah, rest. Fear missing that, because it is available. But the possibility of God losing His Church, of Christ losing His bride, of His Sovereign Will being turned aside, these are not in the realm of reality. Rest, then. Teach your kids. Defend the faith. Demonstrate your genuine relationship with Christ. And rest in Him. He cannot fail.
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