by Jefferson David Tant
Some four or five students from our local high school have been having some Bible studies with me. Some have come for weeks, but one had come only once. I asked her if she would be interested in studying some more. She replied that she preferred to go where they appealed more to young people. She was very respectful but mentioned that some churches seek to relate to the younger generation. Another has come for every study and says she is eager to learn more.
Sophia’s answer set me to thinking. What should be our appeal? What should we be doing to “entice” young people (and older) to be willing to study and learn about God’s word?
It is obvious that we live in a more secular world than our forefathers in this nation did. We no longer have the “blue laws” that closed all businesses on Sundays except for essential services. We no longer have the freedom to post Bible passages on school walls, and it is becoming more difficult to express our convictions in the public square.
In the denominations, they do many things to draw people in. For some, sports programs are a big part of church activities. Weight loss programs, concerts, entertainment, furniture repair shops, antique car shows … you name it, and it has probably been tried. More recently I have read that some churches are serving beer to attract more and make them feel comfortable.
One thing is clear in all this. It is not working! I have seen articles written by those who have tried these methods, and they say young people are still leaving. I am surprised at how many young people I talk to who do not go to church anywhere. It has been said that what churches offer is too shallow. The one young woman who has come to every study we have had is faithful to attend the church of which she is a member. The church has a large sports program, having bought several acres of land for their baseball and football teams, and who knows what else. Our student even teaches a children’s class. But she doesn’t know diddly squat about the Bible. In one session, I asked the girls who had betrayed Christ? They didn’t even know that!
The religious decline in the United States, and indeed much of the world, is obvious. I have read that in our nation, ten denominational churches are shutting down and closing their doors every day. And the percentages are pretty high with respect to young people leaving churches. One visitor from Australia said that in America “churches are a mile wide and an inch deep.”
So … how do we get them to come? Among some of our brethren, we see various methods have been employed. Some years ago it was the “bus ministry.” Busses were sent out into apartment complexes to pick up mostly children. One church even taped money under one of the seats of the bus and whoever sat in that seat got to keep the $5 or $10 bill. Sort of a “rolling lottery.” That fell by the wayside after a while. It was more or less a disaster in some places.
Some churches of Christ are big into sports, with athletic teams, cheerleaders, etc. One of the large churches in Atlanta has an attendance of some 1,500 on Sunday morning, and maybe 400 or 500 Wednesday night. They have a counseling service, sports teams, and an atrium where you can relax and have your lunch while visiting with folks. Another sponsors a golf tournament.
And some are getting into the beer business. The Sunset Hills church of Christ in Abilene, Texas has opened a satellite church in a bar, and yes, they will serve alcohol at a certain hour.
How about some “praise teams” to liven up the song service? And while we are at it, how about adding instrumental music? That is happening in “churches of Christ” all over the nation, including the Highland Church in Abilene where the Herald of Truth began. The church secretary told me that when they finish remodeling their auditorium, they will add instrumental music.
Well, if all that seems a bit far out for our conservative stance, how about just some good old “positive preaching?” Some of my older readers will remember the song lyrics that urge us to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don’t mess with Mr. Inbetween.”
The idea seems to be that we must be careful not to offend anyone in our sermons or in the tracts in our foyer. Yes, I will agree that we should not seek to offend, and we need to be careful how we present the truth. Peter urges us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15).
How then do we make a “defense?” Let’s allow Paul to give us a clue, as he admonished Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (II Tim. 2:3-4).
Is there ever an appropriate time to identify false doctrine or false teachers by name? Evidently, our Lord thought so, for he often rebuked the Sadducees and Pharisees and called in question some of their practices. Evidently, the apostles thought so, for more than once they rebuked by name those who were in error. But let us do it in the right spirit.
The “sound doctrine” Paul mentioned has both negative and positive aspects — “reprove, rebuke, exhort.” Just preaching the positive part is not preaching the whole gospel, and a faithful servant of our Lord must not shy away from dealing with error and false doctrine.
What shall we offer? How about the simple gospel of Christ? Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (John 12:32). Jesus said He would be the drawing power. If we seek to win people by feeding them food, then we’ll have to keep feeding them food to keep them. One said that if we depend on fried chicken, ice tea, and ice cream, then the church will be as dead as the chicken, as weak as the tea, and as cold as the ice cream. We remember that on one occasion after Christ had fed a multitude, he remarked, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). If people cannot be drawn by Christ, then I have nothing else to offer.
Dear reader, there are two great things that can have a great impact on reaching the lost.
- The power of the gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). We hold this power in our hands. It is called a “Bible.”
- The power of a righteous life. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
If this does not attract the multitudes, then so be it. I don’t remember any time in history where the multitudes sought after God. After all, our Savior said, “For many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Sewell Hall once said, “Our job is to look for those who are looking.”
Israel wanted a king to be like the nations around them. It proved to be a disaster. We do not need to be like the denominations around us with gimmicks and soft preaching. It will lead us in time to be just another denomination, and our lampstand will be removed, as was threatened to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5.
Note: This was written a few years ago when I was working with the Lord’s church in Roswell, GA. We were across the street from the local high school, and we allowed students to park in our parking lot, as there were not enough spaces on campus. Through the years, I had Bible studies with several students early in the morning before school started, and we were blessed to see some of these young people put on Christ in baptism.