Question: I am concerned by the state of the church in America to-date. It seems church growth is the driving force, and winning the lost has taken a backseat. My husband, of 37 years, is unsaved and I am very aware of the loss of intensity for the salvation of the lost. Also, of concern (and related) is that sermons and worship services seem to be of an intellectual ‘bent.’ Clearly, “man believes with the heart.” We are saved ‘with our heart, not our heads.’ What do you think, is the church in a ‘drift?’
Answer: It would be very difficult to judge the whole Church on what it is like in our own congregation. The only way we can get any idea how the Church is doing, is by looking at statistics. God only knows, what is really happening in the Church. However, here are some statistics from The Barna Group, which might help. So after we have discussed the subject a bit you might want to look at Barna’s statistics. He shows that not everyone who calls themselves Evangelical or ‘born again’ are necessarily born again. By the way, you might want to access their website and you can find out a whole lot more information there about the Church.
Depending on what church you go to, you may find those who are as you say, having worship services that seem to be more of an intellectual ‘bent,’ but then you will find many others that are truly worshipping the Lord from the heart. We happen to attend a Calvary Chapel church right now, and we find that worship services are very Spirit led and worship to the Lord is great! That does not mean that you will only find this in Calvary Chapels. You will find many churches that worship the Lord from the heart that are not Calvary Chapels, and you may even find some that are like you described.
Every local church is different, of course. I think that if I were in your place I would pray, and work with the church to try and change things. If that doesn’t work I would look for another body of believers that is more like the early church, like what we see in Acts. You might enjoy reading our Acts Bible Study where we talk about the ‘blueprint’ for the Church. “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)
In our Acts Study we go into what God wants the Church to look like. Remember Jesus said, His Father’s house is called a house of prayer. Certainly singing worshipful songs to the Lord is a type of prayer. I know of a Lutheran church that asked the pastor to leave because he allowed people to raise their hands in the worship service. So men that are not walking with the Lord can be opposed to things that are of the Lord. They may oppose things such as hand raising, or saying amen, because they don’t know the Bible, or else it is against their traditions. In any case, they hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. Of course, all things have to be done decently and in order as Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 14:40, but neither are we to hinder the Holy Spirit’s work in His service.
To answer your question, though, is the Church in America ‘adrift?’ I would have to answer your question in the affirmative. Yes, I believe right now, it is ‘adrift?’ I say that because of the many areas of false doctrines that as floating around under the surface like icebergs ready to sink individual churches or denominations. St. James says of the Church: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3,4)
Some churches and some denominations have already been hit and others will be. These individual churches and denominations have succumbed to false teaching and are sinking into apostasy. Will the whole Church sink though, NO, Jesus said of the Church: “And I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18b)
Also, the Holy Spirit said through St. Paul in Ephesians, concerning the Church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Icebergs out there that are threatening the churches and denominations are teachings such as: Homosexuality, Emerging Church teachings, and other false teachings such as we see stated her from Warren Smith of Oregon. He has written this book Deceived on Purpose. Here is a little of what he and his wife have to say about this subject of the Church:
“I have previously described how my wife and I sat down one day, not long after our conversion, and talked about the ultimate deception described in the Bible—the great falling away of the church and the coming of Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
We agreed that for Antichrist to be credible in the world he would have to be accepted by a majority of people calling themselves Christians. But first he would have to capture the hearts and minds of most of the men calling themselves Christian leaders. These deceived leaders would then be the ones to actually transform and convert the church.
“Deceiving and being deceived” they would unwittingly do the work of our spiritual Adversary (2 Timothy 3:13). The very leaders who should be protecting the church would be the “change agents” who transition the church into the New Spirituality. Not understanding or taking the New Age/New Gospel/New Spirituality seriously, Christian “leaders” would be ignorant of our Adversary’s plans and “devices.”
It would be just as Jesus said: “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way” (Matthew 13:25).
Our Adversary’s Devices
The “Jesus” of A Course in Miracles states that “the journey to the cross should be the last ‘useless journey.’”1 New Age leader Wayne Dyer appears on a PBS special declaring that the teachings of A Course in Miracles could bring peace to the world.2 Yet most Christian leaders remain unaware, unconcerned and fast asleep about what is really going on.
New Age leader Neale Donald Walsch declares in the name of God in his book Conversations with God that “the era of the Single Savior is over.”3 He also declares in the name of God that “Hitler went to heaven,”4 “Hitler didn’t hurt anyone,”5 and that “the mistakes Hitler made did no harm or damage to those whose deaths he caused.”6 Yet Oprah Winfrey describes Walsch’s book Conversations with God as her “favorite book” and Walsch as one of the ten most “memorable thinkers” she has ever met.7 All the while, most Christian leaders remain unaware, unconcerned and fast asleep about what is going on.
New Age leader Barbara Marx Hubbard declares in the name of God that in the New Spirituality everyone who refuses to believe in their own divinity will be purposefully killed by the “selection process.”8 Yet on September 11, 2005 she received a special Peace Builders Award in Washington D.C.9 Meanwhile, most Christian leaders remain unaware, unconcerned and fast asleep about what is really going on.”
So, ‘Yes’ in some ways, in some segments of the ‘Church’ there are those who are ‘adrift,’ but this is because many who claim to be saved, have no idea what salvation is all about. Look at this factual study from The Barna Group on the real Church.
January 18, 2007
(Ventura, CA) – The media and social commentators frequently refer to surveys that describe the opinions and behavior of “evangelicals.” However, those analyses are based on surveys that ask adults whether or not they consider themselves to be an evangelical. For two decades, The Barna Group has been measuring the social, political, religious and behavioral characteristics of evangelicals as well – but using a substantially different set of criteria. The Barna Group’s nine questions pertaining to the spiritual beliefs of people have reported on a very different – and much smaller – group of people. To distinguish them from the self-described evangelicals, Barna has named the segment based on its answers to nine theological factors the “9-point evangelicals.”
Asking people if they consider themselves to be evangelicals produces a comparatively large number: 38% of the population accepts that label.
The Barna Group has traditionally used nine questions to categorize people as evangelicals, whether they consider themselves accurately described by that label or not. Using the nine questions about their beliefs produces a much smaller figure: just 8% of the adult population in 2006 fit the criteria. In other words, the number of self-defined evangelicals outnumbers the 9-point evangelicals by a margin of nearly five-to-one. (The nine factors examined are listed in the Research Details section at the end of this report.)
When extrapolating these percentages across the entire adult population, the difference is staggering: 84 million adults based on self-report versus 18 million using the nine-point theological filter.
Also intriguing is the fact that 86% of the 9-point evangelicals also call themselves evangelicals. In stark contrast, just one out of every five self-proclaimed evangelicals (19%) meets the Barna Group’s nine-point definition.
Demographic Profiles Differ
Those who consider themselves to be evangelicals differ in their demographic background from those who meet the more stringent Barna Group definition. The self-proclaimed evangelicals are less likely to have graduated from college (29%, versus 39% among the 9-point evangelicals); less likely to be married (63%, versus 77% among the 9-point segment); less likely to be white (66% vs. 76%); and have much lower average household incomes ($40,250 for the self-reported evangelicals, compared to $49,194 among the 9-point evangelicals). On the other hand, self-defined evangelicals are more likely to emerge from the Northeast or West (35% of the self-defined groups is from those two regions combined versus 27% among the 9-point evangelicals residing in these two areas) and are more likely to be 60 or older (38% versus 31%)…
Radical Differences in Beliefs
The most striking differences relate to the beliefs of each group. Compared to the 9-point evangelicals, those who say they are evangelicals are:
· 60% less likely to believe that Satan is real
· 53% less likely to believe that salvation is based on grace, not works
· 46% less likely to say they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others
· 42% less likely to list their faith in God as the top priority in their life
· 38% less likely to believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth
· 27% less likely to contend that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings
· 23% less likely to say that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith
In fact, the Barna research also noted that one out of every four adults (27%) who say they are evangelicals is not even born again, based upon their beliefs. (The Barna Group defines someone as born again if they say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicate that they believe when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”)
Divergent Religious Behavior
The study also detailed the very different religious behavior profiles of the two segments. On the traditional measures of religious behavior, the 9-point evangelicals were much more active in pursuing their faith. For instance, the 9-point evangelicals were 40% more likely to read their Bible during the week, and 31% more likely to attend church during a typical week.
Amazingly, the self-proclaimed evangelicals were four times more likely than the 9-point segment to be unchurched.
A Call for Clarity
George Barna, who has pioneered a number of the measurement standards used for examining people’s spiritual lives, called for the media to be more careful and thoughtful in their reporting of faith matters.
“The Bible does not refer to any person as an ‘evangelical,’” the researcher noted. “This is a construct created within the religious community many years ago to differentiate a group that possesses a distinctive theological perspective. Over time, people have become sloppy in the measurement process, as evidenced by the fact that one out of every four self-identified evangelicals has not even accepted Christ as their savior.
Responsible analysts, researchers and journalists should be encouraged to re-examine the term and the measures they are using. Political commentators, reporters, educators and researchers continually make important claims about the spiritual life, lifestyle patterns, voting preferences and issue stands of evangelicals even though it is clear that the criteria they use for identifying evangelicals are misleading, at best.”
Barna suggested that those who describe themselves as evangelicals more closely resemble a segment that his company has labeled the “born again Christian” population – a group that displays an above-average interest and involvement in religious activity, but whose religious fervor and commitment is nowhere near that of true evangelicals.
He stated that past research among the 9-point evangelicals showed that their voting patterns are radically different from those of born again and self-defined evangelicals; that they are much more conservative on a vast array of social and political issues, ranging from abortion and homosexual unions to the importance of family; that their use of media and their lifestyles are significantly different from those of the born again public; and that evangelicals donate significantly more money to non-profit organizations.
When asked about the origin of the nine-point evangelical criteria that his firm has used in surveys for nearly two decades, he cited the work of the National Association of Evangelicals. “Years ago, NAE labored long and hard to identify what an evangelical believes. Because the distinguishing attribute of an evangelical is what he or she believes, we drew criteria from the belief statement of the nation’s leading association evangelicals.
We probably overestimate the number of evangelicals, since we do not take into account all of the beliefs that NAE says a true evangelicals holds. But our measurement approach incorporates the key elements from their statement of faith.”
He ended his remarks with a caution. “Keep in mind that only God knows a person’s heart. No scientific instrument is able to perfectly evaluate what a person believes, or how deeply they believe it. Research is just an approximation of what is happening in society. But America certainly deserves – and has access to – better measures than those that are often used in public discussions about the religious faith of people, and the implications of that alleged faith, especially in matters of politics and public policy.”
The data in this report are drawn from four nationwide telephone surveys conducted by The Barna Group with random samples of adults, age 18 and older, conducted in January, April, August and October of 2006. In total, 4014 adults were interviewed. From those surveys, there were 763 adults who described themselves as “evangelical Christian” and 333 who met the 9-question Barna Group definition of an evangelical Christian. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the self-defined sample of evangelicals is ±3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the 9-point evangelicals is ±5.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.
Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”
The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.
Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free email me. notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website www.barna.org
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2007.
What then is the answer to the ‘adrift’ Church? Get back to the Captain of our souls, and our compass the Word of God. We need to put our anchor in the Lord Jesus Christ, as Hebrews says, He alone is the anchor for our souls. We need to study the Bible, believe and put it into practice. Then we will see souls saved, and lives changed! Then we will see real worship in the churches. I trust that your husband receives Jesus Christ as his LORD and Savior, and we will pray for him and you, as you both seek God’s best for your lives.
Thanks for the question,
Gary T. Panell
For more information email me.