Posted: February 25, 2010 in On Being Apostolic
Tags: , , ,

You may have noticed that in the Apostolic movement we place a lot of emphasis on evangelism, and rightly so…the heartbeat of God, and all that.

But why?  Why all the effort and money spent to gather more people into our buildings?  Why all the effort and time in trying to develop “personal evangelists”?  Why do we try so hard to motivate people by whatever means (guilt, fear, prizes even) to “win the lost” or bring people to church?

Is it because our ministers really have a handle on what matters most to God?  Is it because they truly care so very deeply for those who are without salvation?

My answer to the last two questions is a qualified “yes.”  Qualified because I think that most of us ministers only have a very limited idea of what matters most to God, and most of that idea we’ve picked up culturally and not from any real scriptural study.  And qualified because I think that it’s impossible to care very deeply about the hundreds a minister personally knows who are lost…and maintain his sanity.

My answer to the first three questions is pretty pragmatic, and liable to be offensive to some of the more esoterically minded.  Yeah.

I think it’s because of the hemorrhaging.  That’s right, the hemorrhaging.  Most of our churches bring’em in the front door with a flourish…and then observe an ignoring silence as they slip out the back door.  We have to emphasize evangelism just to keep our numbers fairly stable.   I’ve been part of this so long that I’m admittedly more than a bit cynical, but my experience has been that pastors tend to get their most enthusiastic/concerned about evangelism when Sunday’s attendance appears to be in free fall.

Another aspect of our horrible retention rate is far more troubling; the horrific “casualty rate” among our youth.  As far as I know our fellowship doesn’t keep statistics on numbers of youth losing their way…I’d be extremely surprised if they did.  Failure rates aren’t something we like to count.  But unofficially, I’ve heard figures as high as 80%.  That’s right…a loss rate of 80%!  We may be losing our Apostolic youth at a rate of 8 out of every 10.

It’s probably not accurate…I hope to God it’s not accurate.  But from where I stand the numbers aren’t likely to be too far off.  In our location there is only a small handful of 30-something adults who have remained faithful during their young years.  Dozens more lost their way.  Then, there’s an even smaller cluster of 20-something adults.  Same story.  As for the teens?  Well…let’s just say that barring some amazing move of God, there’s not much hope there.

You’d never realize any of this on Sunday morning.  Great crowd.  Enthusiastic worship.  Lots of visitors.  Good spread among generations and cultures.  But underneath what seems obviously good there is a heartbreaking truth; we’re not keeping our own.  The number of second and third generation Apostolics among us is so few as to make us multi-generational apostolics an endangered species.

It’s a long-established church.  They should be there.

Hey, don’t misunderstand me!  I’m truly glad for all of our evangelistic efforts, for each repentant soul who is baptized, for everyone filled with the Spirit…it’s wonderful.  Beautiful.  But I’m troubled by the fact that while we seem to be so good at creating first generation apostolics, we seem to do so badly at keeping their descendants in the faith.

I read recently in the National Post about a financial principle that went like this; “From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”  It was explained to mean that the first generation to acquire wealth does so by rolling up their sleeves and working hard.  Then, the second generation enjoys the fruit of that labour…and in the process spends the inheritance of the next generation.  So, the third generation has to roll up their sleeves, work hard, and reconnect with what made them wealthy to begin with.

Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves.

I wonder if there’s some kind of “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” principle operating in the Apostolic movement?

Here’s what I think…I think there’s a confluence of issues that together create the current abysmal retention rate of apostolic youth.

First, each generation must connect to God for itself.  We know that.  We recognize as apostolics that we’re not like the mainline denominations who can simply pass religious affiliation on from generation to generation.  The faith that fuels the fires of Pentecost (Did I just actually write that?  Oh Alliteration, thy name is CanadianClipper!) has to be rekindled in each generation, and in every heart.

That doesn’t seem to be happening.  At least, not to any scale.

Next, apostolic parents actually have to plant interest in godly things in the hearts of their children.  And those parents have to live before their children in a way that will attract their kids to the faith.  Hm…radical concept, that!  You must win the souls of your children!  Too many apostolic parents assume that by hauling their kids to church, some form of spiritual osmosis will occur.

Probably not.  What’s more likely to occur is that the kids will at first grow acclimatized and then desensitized, if little or no effort is made to actually instruct them in the significance of holy things.  Being a Christian has got to be made to seem like the world’s most wonderful, beautiful thing.

As well, pastors must free themselves of the ridiculous and failed idea that youth are somehow a strange collection of alien beings that no one on the planet can relate to except another one of those strange, alien beings.  Our acquiescence to the notion of a youth culture has produced nothing of value.  All that “youth culture” has produced in North American society is a generation of entitled, childish, young adults…who are adult in age, but are markedly lacking in most other adult behavioral markers.

Here’s a radical idea; let’s treat youth like adults.  Let’s talk to’em like adults.  And let’s require things of them that we require of adults.  Let’s make them an integral part of what we do on a regular basis, and not isolate them to their own little youth world.

I realize that each of these three ideas needs to be developed more fully…they probably each need their own post.  Perhaps one day they’ll get one.  But until then,

here’s what I think.

  1. allan says:

    appreciate the article.
    i agree.
    we’ve got too be stirred enough to make difficult changes.

    • Allan- thanks for taking the time to visit and comment. Why not subscribe to the blog? That way you’ll be contacted whenever there’s a new post to be read. And if you read something you like, pass on the blog link to any friends that you think would benefit.

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