Are there problems with today’s Gospel? Statistics continually demonstrate there is a problem with our evangelism today, particularly in the denomination I have most of my experience.
Experts continually report decline in the number of baptisms (and here). Not only are the numbers down of those who have come to faith , but there is reason to question the authenticity of those newly reported “believers.” Grant it, only God knows for sure if someone is truly born-again. But the Bible does tell us that believers will be proven by their fruit (John 15:8; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 24:13). So what’s the fruit saying?
Research suggests that “Faith Has a Limited Effect On Most People’s Behavior.” Another words, by the behavior of many Christians, it is hard to tell they are really Christians. Many are finding a large portion of high school graduates who make decisions for Christ prior to graduating high school are leaving our churches. “Dawson McAllister, national youth ministry specialist, remarked that 90 percent of youth active in high school church programs drop out of church by the time they are sophomores in college.”
Other research suggests at least three-quarters of students who have once professed faith in Christ, fall away from the faith within two years after graduation (From a 2001 report to the SCB Executive Commitee, and the 2002 Report to the SBC Council on Family Life). These reports indicate 70 to 90 percent of churched children are leaving the church. Some may want to label once professing Christians as “backsliders.” However, the evidence may also suggest that many have never slid forward in the first place.
In regard to those high school graduates who are leaving their faith, author Voddie Baucham believes “many by their own admission refuse to claim to be Christians even though it is implied they had made a decision within the church at some point in their childhood.” According to Baucham, these statistics may suggest that “thousands, if not millions, of people have been manipulated into ‘repeat after me’ prayers and ‘if you ever want to see that dearly departed loved one again…’ altar calls without a trace of the Spirit’s regenerating power.”
Not discounting that there are some genuine decisions for Christ among children, often we give those who fall away the benefit of the doubt and label them “back-sliders.” Why are we not more concerned? What does this say about our evangelism practices, or our gospel for that matter? The Bible teaches that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The salvation described in Scripture leads to continual life change, not a temporary change or a unnoticeable change.
Now consider this, many report that the vast majority reported by churches to come to faith in Christ are under the age of 21. The North American Mission Board found “seventy-five percent of conversions occur at age 20 and younger.” Barna said “Evangelism Is Most Effective Among Kids,” finding 77% of all conversions happen to people under 21. For years Campus Crusade for Christ has believed 90% of all decisions for Christ are made by young people.
Using the lowest statistic of children leaving our churches (say 70 percent) and comparing that to the fact that children makeup nearly 80 percent of those evangelized by the church as a whole, this may mean that the youth fallout represents 56 percent of all evangelized converts in modern evangelical churches (making our converts 44 percent likely to be genuine). We should be concerned that such a large percent of those we believe we are reaching through our evangelism practices are not demonstrating saving faith as adults.
Yet, there appears to be reluctance among church leaders to acknowledge that a problem exists in our evangelism, especially among the children of church members. Baucham asks, “What if that four or five-year-old we baptized because he or she was able to look out at the congregation and parrot the words, ‘Jesus is in my heart’ was just saying what he or she had been conditioned to say?” His speculation is not new. I have served with several pastors who struggle in their churches with this concern.
There is enough evidence to be concerned for the need of a greater demonstration of biblical regeneration in our churches today. And if people are not being reborn as we once thought they were, where should we look for answers? Is the Gospel lacking in its power to save contrary to the Bible’s claims (Roman 1:16). Are we using out-of-date methods and in need of some new ones? Are we just lacking in effort? Do we need to reform our ways, or reemphasize current methodologies?
Could it be that our modern evangelism practices are not effective? The implication of these findings is that evangelism practices in the church as a whole are in need of careful reevaluation. Is it possible that our methods of evangelizing children are problematic too? Or, does the problem have to do with today’s Gospel?
Stay tuned. I’ll flesh out more thoughts in Part Two.
 McNeal, Reggie, The Present Future (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2003), p. 4.
 Baucham, Voddie. Family Driven Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007, 12.
 Ibid, 12.
 Ibid, 12.