On average, across the United States, more than 50 percent of those believers who should be in church are not. They are those who profess Christian beliefs but have willfully disconnected themselves from any meaningful relationship to the body of Christ.1 The Barna Group, which tracks church trends, conducted a survey that presented startling statistics: for every 10 adult Americans, 7 professed a Christian belief. But of those 7, only 3 were active in a church.2
Think of what that means: 4 out of 7 professed believers are no longer active in the church. That is almost 55 percent of professed Christians that are dropouts. This statistic should be alarming and disturbing to every active believer and church pastor. This is a wake-up call about the present-day condition of the Western church.
Picture Christ’s whole church
Can you imagine what it would be like if all dropouts were in church? Based on these figures, we are saying that your church would essentially double in size, on the average.
Restored dropouts are not pew sitters. They are filled with gratitude for God’s redeeming grace to them and show it. They give generously. They get involved in serving. They actively look for others who were like themselves and reach out to them.
It’s not just America
I can confidently say that almost every active believer and certainly every pastor knows some dropouts. They may be friends, family members, neighbors, and work associates. Although this trend is tracked closely in America, the stats are even more alarming for Europe, and Central and South America are also experiencing this trend.
The Western church has not yet figured out how to successfully pursue these wandering sheep. Yes, we sometimes think of them and offer prayers, which is good and vital, but it is not enough. We need to actively pray for them, plan for them, and reach out to them. God loves them, and they need to be in the church.
The traditional means of evangelism, which include things like invitations to church, events, concerts, and other activities at the church, are generally not well received by dropouts. A host of objections, generally revolving around “I’ve already been there, done that,” preempts a positive response. Why is that?
What about “evangelism”?
Our traditional understanding of evangelism, revolving around preaching the gospel, is not effective for the believer who has dropped out. They already believe in Jesus—they just do not care for His people, or they have other excuses. Their false belief systems have set aside the necessity of the church community. These beliefs have to be brought down if the people are to be reconciled to Christ and His body. A one-day or casual interaction with a dropout will not change or accomplish anything.
The only thing that will work to reconcile a dropout back to the community of believers is a consistent, loving relationship with an active believer over time. Dropouts respond in their hearts to the love of Christ for them demonstrated by believers.3
What should we do?
This brings us to Jesus’ parable of the 1 and 99 sheep. Let’s be honest; Jesus gave this analogy to His followers for a reason. Human sheep are often spiritually dumb—ignorant, rebellious, proud, hurt, selfish, distracted, misguided. Any and all of these are ways that Christians drop out. Now, what should you do?
Of course, keep praying. And there is a biblical strategy that will give focus to your prayers while developing a relationship of restoration with the dropout. There is a strategy that can be imparted to the congregants via small groups. Most people are not evangelists, but they do know dropouts. This is a nonthreatening approach for these to reach out to those they know already. And it works!4
What is the strategy?
We need to identify, engage, restore, and reconnect believers who have dropped out in the last days.
The foundation scripture for this harvest is found in Jeremiah 16:16: “ ‘Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen,’ declares the LORD, ‘and they will fish for them; and afterwards I shall send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and from every hill, and from the clefts of the rocks’ ” (NASB).
This harvest is twofold: the gathering of the lost in the nations (John 21:11) by the “fishermen” and the “net”; and the return and restoration of the believer who has dropped out by the “hunter” who tracks down each, one by one (Matt. 18:12).
Just as God desires the unsaved to turn to the kingdom, He desires those believers who have dropped out to return to the kingdom. Fishers fish for the lost. Hunters hunt for the dropouts.
A divine strategy
In 1 Samuel 30, a divine strategy is revealed to David to enable him to restore his children from the Amalekites who had kidnapped them from his camp. These are the five steps David took:
- Strengthen yourself in the Lord.
- Locate the stronghold.
- Recover all by warfare.
These steps not only were effective for David—he recovered every last person unharmed—but also are effective today for the church family, the body of Christ.5 Satan has come into our camp, the body of Christ, and through deceit has taken our brothers and sisters in Christ back to the world. Now they are being held captive in a stronghold of the enemy.
Where are they? How can we find them? What can we do when we find them? Are we strong enough to recover and restore them? These are the questions we must answer to understand the strategy for restoring dropouts to the church.
And that’s only part of the problem—getting them back in church.
Connection to the local church
The other critical part of the problem is connecting every believer, including dropouts, to the church. Unless a believer is connected to the church, he or she is likely to become a dropout when the storms of life come.
Connection to the church is the key to closing the “back door.”6 Connection involves a “three-stranded cord” that is “not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:12, CJB). These cords of connection are as follows:
- Heart for the pastor and vision of the local church
- Personal relationships in the local church
- Area of ministry in the local church
Without each of these three “cords” of connectivity, any believer is likely to become disconnected—a dropout—when the storms and issues of life come.
What are we waiting for?
So, when are we going to take seriously the imperative to search out our wandering fellow believer and put real effort into restoring him or her via a genuine relationship of love and restoration? Here is the crux of the issue—dying to self. Unless we relinquish our overcommitted, self-oriented life and activities, we will never see God’s power to restore the dropouts using us! We have lost our first love if this modern-day spiritual tragedy does not move the church to action. We must repent and return. This is the way back to the heart of Jesus.
Believers: arise and shine into the lives of the dropouts. Churches: be the shepherds that go after the wanderers—the dropouts. That will radically revitalize their lives and your community for God!
Remember: Love never fails.
- A version of this article was published as, “This Statistic Should Alarm Every Sincere Believer,” CharismaNews, July 17, 2019, https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/77217-this-st...
- The Barna Group, “The State of the Church 2016,” Barna, September 15, 2016, barna.com/research/state-church-2016/.
- See Louis Posthauer, “Could This Be the Biggest Myth in Evangelism Today?,” Charisma, May 8, 2018, charismamag.com/life/men/36852-could-this-be-the-biggest-myth-in-evangelism-today.
- See Mark Finley, “Cultivating Relationships Through Small Groups,” Ministry, December 2017, ministrymagazine.org/archive/2017/12/Cultivating-relationships-through-small-groups.
- See Hunters of the Harvest Ministry at huntersoftheharvest.org and Magdiel Perez Schulz, “Finding the Way Home,” Ministry, April 2019, ministrymagazine.org/archive/2019/04/Finding-the-Way-Home.
- See Jerry Page, “Shutting the Back Door,” Ministry, July 2017, ministrymagazine.org/archive/2017/07/Shutting-the-back-door; Alan Parker, “Five Keys to Locking the Back Door,” Ministry, July 2017, ministrymagazine.org/archive/2017/07/Five-keys-to-locking-the-back-door.