Review of the Literature
Christianity’s earliest days, individuals have ceased active
participation in church life. Jesus himself spoke of individuals
who would come to him and later leave the faith (Lk 9:62;
11:24-26). Shortly after the church’s establishment, Simon fell
away after he came to Christ. When Simon saw that the apostles
could bestow the Holy Spirit, he offered the apostles money for that
same capability, saying, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on
whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:19).
Peter rebuked Simon with strong words: “May your money perish with you,
because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You
have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right
before God” (Acts 8:20-21). Peter encouraged repentance and
prayer for Simon (Acts 8:22), and Simon expressed a repentant attitude
when he said to the apostles, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing
you have said may happen to me” (Acts 8:24).
Later in church history many
Christians left the church during the Decian persecution. In AD
250 the Roman emperor Decius issued an edict which required an annual
sacrifice jointly to the Roman gods and the emperor. Those
refusing to offer such sacrifices faced death, and “a commission was
appointed in each city to enforce the emperor’s decree.”
Authorities gave those individuals who sacrificed to the idols
certificates, called libelli, which provided protection against
prosecution, and many Christians sacrificed to the idolatrous gods to
receive libelli. In an attempt to maintain their faith, many
Christians sought forged documents from the police stating that they
had sacrificed to idols, when in fact they had
Decius’ persecution did not last
long; he only reigned from 249 to 251. After the persecution
ended, many Christians who had abandoned their faith wished to
reconcile with the church. Some Christians wished to accept their
lapsed brethren back with open arms while others believed that those
who had committed idolatry had sinned so grievously that they could no
longer find any forgiveness. Cyprian’s solution lay in the
middle. “Against those who would be too lenient, he advocated
periods of fasting and prayer and the giving of possessions to the poor
for forgiveness and restoration. Against those who would be too
strict, he advocated eventual mercy and renewal of fellowship, but only
after the sinner had proven sorrow and a change of heart and
life.” In Cyprian’s own words:
If anyone performs prayer with his
whole heart, if he groans with genuine lamentations and tears of
repentance, if by continuous just works he turns the Lord to the
forgiveness of his sin, such can receive His mercy, who has offered His
mercy with these words: “When you turn and lament, then you shall be
saved and shall know where you have been”; and again: I desire not the
death of the dying, says the Lord in the Lord's own words: “Turn,” he
says, “to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, patient
and rich in mercy and who turns his thought toward the evil that has
been done.” He can grant mercy; He can turn aside His judgment. He can
with indulgence pardon him who is repentant, who performs good works,
In other words, God could forgive those who had
fallen into paganism, but he could only do so provided the erring
Christians demonstrated true repentance. Additionally, according
to Cyprian, the sinner’s forgiveness rested upon divine mercy.
Jesus clearly understood
individuals could abandon their faith. Peter and Cyprian, both
leaders in the church at different times, responded to individuals who
had left the church. Peter urged immediate repentance and prayer,
while Cyprian urged restoration after a period of visible
repentance. Leaders in the modern church also deal with
delinquent Christians. In order to deal with such Christians,
leaders must understand why individuals leave the faith, for different
motivations for leaving the church call for different strategies in
reclamation. Second, leaders need effective strategies to seek
the lost sheep. This chapter will explore both the causes of
delinquency and restorative strategies for church leaders. The
chapter will begin, however, by outlining the responsibilities of
church leaders toward inactive Christians.
The Responsibility of Elders Toward Inactive
Christians possess a level of responsibility toward their wayward
brethren. James framed this truth in the following manner: “My
brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should
bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of
his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins”
(Jas 5:19-20). James refers to “someone” bringing back the sinner
from his error, not a church leader. Paul also mentioned others
besides church leaders reclaiming Christians caught in sin. The
apostle wrote, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are
spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal 6:1). Instead of a
generic “someone” bringing back the erring brother, Paul calls upon the
spiritually mature to minister in such a manner. The spiritually
mature would include church leaders and non-leaders. However,
elders, because of their maturity, possess a unique position to work
with inactive brethren. The Scriptures call upon church leaders
to involve themselves in precisely that ministry.
Paul’s Instructions to the Ephesian Elders
he would see the Ephesian elders no more, Paul called for those elders
to meet him at Miletus. The speech Paul gave the Ephesian elders
is an important speech, because it
serves as Paul’s last will and testament and belongs to the genre of
farewell speeches. It has none of the elements of a missionary
speech (no kerygma) or a defense address (no apologia); rather it is
totally pastoral in its conception, as Paul reflects on his own work,
ministry, and testimony, and exhorts the presbyters of Ephesus to
imitate his service of the Word.
In other words, Paul provided the Ephesian elders
with counsel to follow in light of his coming departure. The
apostle addressed the elders saying, in part:
Now I know that none of you among whom
I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.
Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of
all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole
will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of
which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the
church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that
after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare
the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort
the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on
your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning
each of you night and day with tears (Acts 20:25-31).
address to the elders, like 1 Peter 5 to be exegeted below, draws upon
the rich imagery in biblical tradition of God’s people as God’s flock
(e.g., Mi 5:4; Is 4:11; Jer 13:17; Ez 34:12). Paul exhorted
the elders of Ephesus to shepherd the church of God. The Greek
term Paul employed (poimaino) refers to shepherds tending
flocks. Concerning the instruction for the elders to shepherd
the church in their charge, F. F. Bruce, late professor emeritus at
Manchester University, wrote, “The Holy Spirit had entrusted them with
the charge of the people of God in Ephesus; they had to care for them
as shepherds cared for their flock.”
How did shepherds in antiquity
care for their sheep? Fist according to Jesus, ancient shepherds
knew their sheep. Christ said that the shepherd “calls his own
sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10:3). This calling of the
sheep by name strongly implies that the shepherd knew his sheep; if the
shepherd did not know his sheep, how could he call them by name?
Certainly shepherding the flock of God requires that elders know those
in their flock.
Knowing the flock, not just by
name, but having an intimate relationship with the flock, allows elders
to work actively to prevent the falling away of those in their
charge. In Dana L. Gill’s study of inactive members in the
congregation where he ministered, inactive members knew the elders far
less than did active members. Twenty-five inactive members of the
sample of 108 did not know the elders at all, while the researcher
expected only thirteen to give such a response. On the other
hand, none of the control group of active members said that they did
not know the elders at all, while the researcher expected twelve in
Elders who know well the flock in
their charge will recognize when a sheep wanders and go to reclaim him
or her. In a rhetorical question, Jesus asked, “Suppose one of
you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave
the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until
he finds it?” (Lk 15:4). If the shepherd does not know his sheep,
how will he know one has wandered and how will he know he has found his
sheep, opposed to the sheep of another shepherd, when he finds
it? F. LaGard Smith, current visiting professor of law at Liberty
University, wrote, “In an area of great fluidity in ‘church
membership,’ do elders today (especially in larger congregations) know
who is coming in to be fed, and who is leaving, perhaps because they
are not being fed?” Elders must know the sheep in their
Second, shepherds in antiquity
led their sheep by their voice. Jesus said, “When he [the
shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and
his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (Jn 10:4).
Shepherds led and sheep followed. How do New Testament elders
lead their flock? First, Jesus mentioned that the leading occurs
audibly; in other words, shepherds speak to their flock. The New
Testament envisions elders teaching the congregation. Only one
“able to teach” can function as an elder (1 Tm 3:2). Christ gave
some to be teaching-pastors (Eph 4:11). Elders who labor in
“preaching and teaching” deserve special honor (1 Tm 5:17).
Second, New Testament elders led the Christians in their charge by
“being examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3).
Teaching the church directly
bears on the elders’ work of reclamation. Elders, through their
teaching role, can provide preventive instruction on the dangers of
apostasy. Additionally, in their teaching role shepherds can
encourage other spiritually mature Christians to work for the
reclamation of inactive brethren. As elders provide an example of
reclamation to the congregation, spiritually mature members will likely
find encouragement to seek wandering sheep themselves. Also, as
the shepherds provide an example of life to the inactive members of
their congregations, they will have much moral capital to encourage
wayward members to return home.
Third, shepherds in ancient times
defended their sheep even at the risk of their own lives. Jesus
provided an example to modern elders when he said, “I am the good
shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his
sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the
sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and
runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it” (Jn
10:11-12). Killing both lion and bear, David defended his flock
at the risk of his own life (1 Sm 17:34-36). Paul envisioned New
Testament elders functioning in a similar manner; he told the Ephesian
elders, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among
you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men
will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after
them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31).
How do elders who function as
ancient shepherds by defending their sheep at the risk of their own
lives impact inactive Christians? First, elders must keep false
doctrine at bay. Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders on Crete
because there were “many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers,
especially those of the circumcision group” (Ti 1:10). The Cretan
elders had the responsibility of preventing false doctrine from
spreading through the congregations on the island. The
shepherding role of preventing false doctrine greatly affects the
reclamation ministry. As demonstrated below, doctrinal disparity
often leads to inactivity. Elders in assimilating new members
into the congregation must see that new converts receive adequate
instruction in the faith to prevent doctrinal disparity.
Additionally, elders who closely monitor the teaching in a congregation
will prevent error from leading some members into apostasy.
Second, elders function as
ancient shepherds in defending the congregation by keeping watch on
intracongregational conflict. In Paul’s farewell address to the
Ephesian elders, he foresaw that the congregation or congregations in
which they pastored would become embroiled in conflict. Once more
the following words deserve special attention: “Even from your own
number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away
disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Paul knew conflict would
split congregations apart. As demonstrated below,
intracongregational conflict leads to apostasy. Good shepherds
work to prevent conflict from escalating to the point that some leave
James’ Instructions to the Elders
James 5:13-20 deserves special
attention in writing about the eldership. James, the Lord’s
Is any one of you in trouble? He
should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of
praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders
of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of
the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick
person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he
will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and
pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a
righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just
like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did
not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed,
and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My
brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should
bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of
his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Christians understand these instructions for the sick to call for the
elders for anointing and prayer? Many have seen this passage as
an appeal for a ministry of the elders to the sick. In fact,
one author wrote of this passage, “James envisions a bedridden
Christian whose weakened condition requires special prayer and
attention. Hence he urges the sick person to call for the elders
of the church.”
However, such a view ignores the
context in Scripture concerning healing of sickness. Nowhere
else in the New Testament does healing occur through the elders in
local congregations. Although “gifts of healing” find mention in
1 Corinthians 12, nowhere else in the New Testament do the inspired
writers call for a ministry of healing. Additionally nowhere in
the New Testament do writers connect prayer and healing so closely as
in the present passage.
Although the word “sick” occurs
twice in the New International Version given above, two different words
occur in the Greek text. The first term (astheneo) refers to
being weak. The term occurs thirty-four times in the Greek New
Testament, referring twenty times to physical weakness (primarily in
the Gospels and Acts) and fourteen times to spiritual weakness
(primarily in the Epistles). Paul often used the word to
refer to spiritual weakness (e.g., Rom 14:1-2; 1 Cor
8:11-12). Translating the term as spiritual weakness would
not at all be out of step with the Epistles.
The other term translated “sick”
in the above text (kamno) occurs only one other place in the New
Testament where the term refers to weariness: “Consider him who
endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow
weary [kamno] and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you
have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb
12:3-4). Although the term can refer to physical illness, the
term primarily refers to being weary or fatigued. Because of the
usage of the term in Greek, viewing the term here as referring to the
weak makes far more sense than viewing the term as referring to the
The largest obstacle to
understanding the illnesses of James 5 as spiritual rather than
physical illnesses is the reference to the promise of healing in verse
16. The Greek word (iaomai) does refer to the healing of the
physically ill in the New Testament. However, the term occurs
in Hebrews 12 referring to spiritual healing, as the context makes
obvious. The author began the chapter by encouraging his readers
to fix their eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfector” of their faith,
so that they would “not grow weary and lose heart” (1-3). The
author encouraged his readers to view their current trials as divine
discipline (4-11). The writer concluded the section with these
words: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled,
but rather healed (iaomai)” (12 -13). Obviously the healing the
author of Hebrews envisioned involved not physical healing for the
lame, but the strengthening of Christians lame from weariness.
If the above exegesis accurately
portrays James’ intent, what do those words say concerning elders
ministering to inactive Christians? First, James specifically
singles out elders for this work. If a member of the church
becomes discouraged and weak, he should call for the elders to pray
with him. Second, elders have a responsibility to know who among
them struggles with weakness. Granted, James instructs the weak
and struggling to call for the elders, but elders cannot wait for
members to call them in such situations; they need a proactive stance
in the local congregation as illustrated by the shepherd imagery used
in other texts.
Peter’s Exhortation to His Fellow Elders
spoke of the work of elders in his first epistle. He wrote:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a
fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will
share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is
under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but
because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money,
but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but
being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Pt
Peter appealed to the elders among his
readers. Although Peter addressed the elders, the phrase “among
you” makes clear that he writes to these elders in “their relation to
the churches.” In other words, elders do not function without
a flock; they only serve in their capacity as elders within the
church. Obviously, the context of Peter’s address to the elders
requires the conclusion that they acted in an official capacity in the
church; the mention of “young men” in verse 5 illustrates the term
keeps some of its original meaning of “older person.”
Therefore, “elder” could very well carry the connotation of a mature
person in 1 Peter 5; elders function in their capacity because they
have matured in the faith. In the ancient world, “elders”
referred to the heads of households who held prestige because of their
age and experience.
Peter called himself a “fellow
elder” in the above-cited passage; interestingly, Peter made no claim
to his apostolic authority in telling these elders to pastor the flock,
but he referred to himself as an elder. Some have used the
absence of apostolic authority in the passage to argue for the book’s
pseudoprigraphy. However, why would a pseudopigraphical
author not stress apostolic authority in this passage? Surely
such would have added more to his argument. Others argue that
Peter served as an elder in the sense that he was an apostle; however,
because the New Testament differentiates between apostles and elders,
Peter’s serving as an elder probably had nothing to do with the fact he
also served as an apostle. “It is clear, then, that this is
an inclusive term that, rather than stressing his authority, stresses
his empathy with the elders in their work.”
After the apostle also identified
himself as a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as a participant in the
soon-to-be-revealed glory, he exhorted the elders to shepherd the flock
in their charge. Paul also addressed the elders in Ephesus as
shepherds in the passage exegeted above. Peter’s unique
contribution to the concept of elders serving as shepherds lies in the
instructions Peter gives concerning how God intended elders to
shepherd. God intended elders to shepherd by overseeing the flock
out of a willing spirit and serving as examples.
God intended elders to shepherd
the flock by exercising oversight for those God has placed in their
charge. The noun form (episkopos) of the participle Peter used
often occurs in English versions as “bishop,” indicating “that as yet
no difference between ‘elders’ and ‘bishops’ had developed when this
letter was written.” In encouraging these elders to oversee
the flock, Peter encouraged these elders to look after the spiritual
condition of the sheep they oversaw. Peter used the
ingressive aorist in exhorting the elders to oversee the congregation;
in so doing, “he indicates that this is something that needs to be done
with ever new vigor rather than as a routine undertaking.”
Proper elders shepherd and
oversee God’s flock, not because they must, but because they are
willing. Elders, in other words, serve in their capacity, not
because they have no other choice, but out of a real desire to serve
the Lord and his church. By acting out of desire, the elders
would act in a godly manner, for “none of God’s acts for humanity was
done out of necessity, but voluntarily, out of grace.”
Clearly elders who served out of willingness would view their work as
an honor rather than a burden.
Proper elders do not serve out of
a desire for money but eagerly. Because some elders in the
apostolic age received compensation for their work (1 Tm 5:17-18) and
had access to the church’s funds (Acts 11:30), monetary gain could
entrap some elders. To counter such a temptation, elders serve
eagerly, with an intrinsic motivation that preceded any thought of
Finally, proper elders do not
“lord it over” those in their charge, but they provide an example for
others to follow. The term “lord it over” indicates “a
heavy-handed use of authority for personal aggrandizement, manifesting
itself in the desire to dominate and accompanied by a haughty demand
for compliance.” Peter had heard Jesus speak about the
inappropriateness of a domineering leadership among his people.
Jesus had said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the
Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority
over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to
become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be
first must be slave of all” (Mk 10:42-44). Proper elders
demonstrate they serve all by providing an example; in providing an
example for the congregation, elders “lead, not drive” those in their
Peter provided elders a reason
for their humble behavior: when Christ, the Chief Shepherd, appears,
elders shall receive an unfading crown of glory. The depiction of
Christ as the Chief Shepherd undoubtedly served to remind the first
century elders they did not own the flock, but they merely served under
Christ. Because the flock belonged to Christ and not these
elders, they had a responsibility to guard the flock as Christ
desired. When Christ returned, he would bring an unfading crown
of glory for these elders. The crown of glory refers to the glory
Christ will bestow on his undershepherds, glory which shall never
What do Peter’s words tell the
modern church about elders who work with inactive Christians? As
mentioned above, Peter envisioned elders as men mature in the
faith. The elders’ maturity makes them ideal to work with
inactive Christians, for Paul desired the spiritually mature to work
with brethren caught in trespasses (Gal 6:1). Peter wrote of
elders “serving as overseers” in their respective congregations; as
overseers, elders possess the responsibility to look after the
spiritual welfare of those entrusted to them. The elders’
willingness to work as elders should invigorate them as they seek the
sheep gone astray. Additionally, realizing that they serve under
Christ should cause elders to go eagerly in his name to win back those
who have wandered from Christ.
A Difficult Situation
churches of Christ, the actions of the elders in the church at
Collinsville, Oklahoma, illustrate quite well the difficulties elders
face when working with inactive members. Marian Guinn obeyed the
Gospel in March 1974 when one of the Collinsville church’s elders, Ron
Witten, baptized her. A few years after Guinn joined the
Collinsville church, the three elders, Ted Moody, Ron Witten, and Allen
Cash, learned that she and former Collinsville mayor Pat Sharp were
involved in a sexually immoral relationship. The elders met
with Guinn on at least three occasions and urged her
repentance. Although the elders sought Guinn’s repentance,
she refused to cut off her relationship with Sharp, and the elders
withdrew fellowship from her on October 4, 1981.
The episode gained national media
attention when Guinn sued the church elders and former minister Barry
Stephens for $1.35 million for invasion of privacy and emotional
distress. After the week-long trial, the jury deliberated
five hours and awarded the plaintiff $390,000. Jurors
interviewed later “said their verdict was intended to show that there
were limits to the length churches could go to discipline their
members.” The church appealed the ruling to the Oklahoma
Supreme Court. Christian attorneys from Nashville, Los Angeles,
and law professors at Pepperdine University assisted Truman Rucker, the
church’s attorney, in preparing his appeal. The Oklahoma
Supreme Court declared that Guinn could only seek damages for the
infliction of harm after she resigned her membership, and they remanded
the verdict back to the lower court. Before the case went
before another jury, the church and her elders settled out of court;
the settlement prohibits the parties from discussing the settlement.
While the researcher realizes the
difficulties, he regrettably found that many churches chose not to
practice discipline following the lawsuit. “In a practical vein,
Collinsville has probably caused church elders to be almost too
reluctant to grasp the razor sharp thorn of church discipline. As
someone stated, Collinsville has had a chilling effect.”
Flavil Yeakley, professor at Harding University, surveyed churches of
Christ concerning their practice of church discipline, and he found
that “the practice of withdrawing fellowship from anyone for any reason
has declined significantly since the court’s decision.”
Robert E. Whiddon, Jr., when writing a doctoral dissertation on church
discipline in the churches of Christ at Trinity Theological Seminary,
found the chilling effect of Collinsville in his literature
review. He wrote:
The literature available presented a
clear picture of how the Collinsville case devastated the Churches of
Christ. The average article written in brotherhood magazines
before Collinsville was markedly general in nature. It was
pointed out that half of the articles were general studies or overviews
of the subject of church discipline. The remainder of the
pre-Collinsville articles dealt with specific details of church
discipline, yet the nature of the articles were [sic] general.
The moment the Collinsville case broke into the spotlight, a marked
change occurred in the writing styles and nature of articles.
Many articles were written with the idea of how to practice discipline
without getting sued. The main idea then changed from a ministry
of recovery to the ministry practiced by the church only towards its
own members. Lawyers, not theologians, became the experts in
No longer were congregations solely concerned
about carrying out biblical instructions, but they also desired to
insulate themselves from lawsuits.
Guinn v. Church of Christ of
Collinsville and the “chilling effect” the case had upon churches of
Christ stand as stark reminders of the perils elders face in restoring
the erring. While the majority of inactivity does not result from
blatant sin as in the case of Guinn, how open would inactive Christians
be to outreach by the elders? Would they, like Guinn, feel their
privacy had been violated and file suit? How should elders deal
with such accusations? These difficult questions demonstrate
clearly the perils elders face in working with delinquent Christians.
Causes of Inactivity
scholars have studied the psychological aspects of church involvement
and have discovered multiple variables that make one more likely or
less likely to participate in church life. While the
candidate clearly sees overlaps between those studies and an
examination of inactivity among Christians, the candidate will make no
attempt to review those studies in this chapter for two reasons.
First, those studies examine why individuals participate or do not
participate in church activities, but they do not examine why
individuals go from active participation to inactivity. Second,
when examining subjects who do not include themselves in religious
activities, researchers examine both those who have never participated
and those who once participated but no longer do so. Therefore,
the populations of such studies do not provide useful data for
examining specifically the inactive member.
Instead, this present chapter
explores the movement from active service to inactivity. What
variables lead individuals to cease church participation? What
actions can active Christians take to reinvigorate the former
member? Why should elders in churches of Christ concern
themselves with reaching delinquent members of their respective
The Parable of the Sower
recorded that Jesus sat in a boat by the lake and taught a crowed
gathered there. He told them:
Listen! A farmer went out to sow
his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the
path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky
places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly,
because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the
plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so
that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good
soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty,
sixty, or even a hundred times (Mk 4:3-8).
When the disciples did not understand the parable,
Jesus gave the following explanation:
The farmer sows the word. Some
people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As
soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown
in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word
and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root,
they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes
because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like
seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life,
the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in
and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown
on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – thirty,
sixty or even a hundred times what was sown (Mk 4:14-20).
Although the so-called Parable of the Sower occurs
in all three Synoptic Gospels, the candidate chose to focus on Mark’s
account, for the Parable of the Sower plays an important role in Mark’s
Gospel. Through the telling of the Jesus story in Mark, the
astute reader sees the different soils discussed in the parable through
the characters in the Gospel. Not only does the parable function
importantly in Mark’s Gospel, the parable puts on Jesus’ lips important
points about what contributes to inactivity.
As the sower went forth to scatter seed, some seed fell on the path and
birds quickly devoured the seed. Such individuals, according to
Jesus, hear the word, but Satan quickly comes and removes the
word. In Mark’s Gospel, the scribes, the Pharisees, the
Herodians, and the Jerusalem Jews well fit the description of this
hardened soil. “What is important to the author about these
opponents, and thus what is stressed in their characterization, is
their monolithically negative response to Jesus.” The
characters first appear when Jesus healed the paralytic (2:1-12) where
the scribes accused Jesus of blasphemy. In 3:6, the Pharisees and
Herodias began their conspiracy to kill Jesus, a wish they finally
fulfilled in 14:64 when the Jewish aristocracy condemned Jesus to
The sower additionally scattered
seed in thorny soil. The seed germinated quickly but also died
quickly, for the roots had no depth. Such individuals, according
to Jesus, quickly accept the word preached to them, but they quickly
fall from the faith when trouble or persecution arise on account of the
word. In the context of Mark’s Gospel, the rocky soil obviously
refers to the apostles, specifically Peter, James, and John.
When Mark discussed the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, he
emphasized the quickness of their response. Concerning the
calling of Peter and Andrew, Mark wrote, “As Jesus walked beside the
Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into
the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said,
‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their
nets and followed him” (Mk 1:16-18). Jesus called James and John
“without delay” (Mk 1:20).
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem,
the disciples fell away as quickly as they had accepted him. At
the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples, “You will all fall away” (Mk
14:27). Peter denied that he would fall away even if every other
disciple did so. Jesus replied to Peter, “I tell you the truth,
today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will
disown me three times” (Mk 14:30). Shortly after Jesus’ arrest,
Peter denied the Lord three times, just as Jesus had predicted (Mk
Throughout the Gospel, the disciples reacted in a manner consistent
with the rocky ground Jesus described. After Jesus walked on
the water and calmed the storm, the disciples “were completely amazed,
for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were
hardened” (Mk 6:51-52). When the disciples worried over their
lack of bread, Jesus reminded them of his feeding of both the four and
the five thousand, and he asked them, “Do you still not understand?”
(Mk 8:21). The disciples lacked appropriate faith to cast out a
demon (Mk 9:17-18, 29), but they did rebuke one who could heal (Mk
9:18). In short, the disciples failed to mature and produce
fruit, but they did quickly fall away.
Other seeds fell among thorny
soil, which prohibited the seeds from reaching maturity. In
interpreting the parable for his disciples, Jesus said this soil
represents those who hear the word, but the desires for the affairs of
this world prevent the seed from bearing fruit. Three characters
in Mark’s Gospel fit the typology of the thorny soil. The
first character, the rich young man, came to Jesus seeking eternal
life, but when he learned he must sell his possessions to follow Jesus,
“he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mk 10:22).
Herod, another character fitting the thorny soil typology, enjoyed
hearing John the Baptist (Mk 6:20) but had the prophet killed after his
step-daughter enticed him through dance (Mk 6:22-28). Pilate, the
third character fitting this typology, first appears positively in
Mark’s Gospel by attempting to secure Jesus’ release; however, finally
the “worries of this life” caused Pilate to acquiesce to the crowd’s
desire to have Jesus crucified.
The sower also scattered seed on
good soil, and the seed brought forth abundant crops. Such
individuals, according to Jesus’ interpretation, hear the Gospel,
accept the word, and bring forth abundant fruit. Those healed by
Jesus in Mark function as the good soil in the Parable of the
Sower. The demon-possessed man in Mark 5 clearly fits the
good soil typology. After his healing, this new disciple begged
Jesus for the privilege of traveling with him (Mk 5:18). Jesus
refused the man’s request but instructed him to go back to his family
and tell them how the Lord had blessed him (Mk 5:19). The man did
much more than simply tell his family the good news of Jesus; Mark
recorded, “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how
much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed” (Mk
5:20). The believing man brought forth much fruit.
At first glance, readers might wonder how such a narrow interpretation
of the Parable of the Sower can provide insights into inactive
Christians removed two millennia from the characters fitting the
typology in Mark’s Gospel. Such concerns ignore a couple of
important points. First, the other two Synoptics develop the
parable differently and thus allow for a more universal
application. Second, individuals today fit the typology just as
did the characters in Mark’s Gospel. Some, like the Pharisees,
Herodians, and Jerusalem Jews still reject the message from the first
time they hear the word. Others, like the disciples, desire to
follow Christ, but they stumble when they encounter difficulty.
Still others like the rich young man, Herod, and Pilate begin to follow
Jesus, but the cares of this world soon overwhelm them and they slip
into inactivity. Some, like those healed, hear the word, accept
the message, and respond by bringing forth abundant fruit.
As the Parable of the Sower
illustrates, individuals leave active service in the church for a
variety of reasons. Some researchers described below have
attempted to oversimplify the process which leads some individuals to
inactivity. John Frederick Roberts probably stated the matter
best in his dissertation at Abilene Christian University when he wrote,
“No single description fits every dropout. Single or multiple
factors may be involved in each case.” Therefore the research
discussed below explores multiple factors.
Demographical Description of
exploring causes which lead to inactivity, readers can benefit from
understanding the profile of the typical inactive member. Nearly
every study on the demographics of dropouts agrees that males
apostatize much more frequently than females. Why do males leave
the church more frequently than females? Two writers offered
Thus, societal pressures affect males and females
differently, causing more males to leave the church.
Cultural expectations with
regard to church attendance are different for males, who are much less
likely to receive social disapproval for dropping out of the
church. In fact, in some circumstances continued church
affiliation on the part of males is viewed as a sign of weakness.
For females, on the other hand, to be outside the church may well be
seen as a character flaw, if not indicative of questionable
Not only do males leave the
church more than females, but young people leave the church in greater
numbers than their older counterparts. Forty-five percent of all
Catholic dropouts stopped attending Mass by the age of
twenty-two. Research conducted in 1975 demonstrated a 60
percent decline in Sunday school enrollment in the Presbyterian Church
from the sixth to the tenth grade. Two researchers estimate
that around 40 percent of Seventh Day Adventist youth leave the church
of their youth by their mid-twenties. Other research shows
that 83.7 percent of drop-outs left church participation before they
turned thirty-five. Yeakley estimates that half of all the
children of adult members baptized in churches of Christ drop out.
Why do younger individuals leave
the church more often than their older counterparts? Younger
individuals do not leave the church because they have lost faith, but,
in one study, 44 percent of young people left the church but still had
interest in faith and could not “relate to the present
church.” Perhaps younger people cannot relate to the church
because of dissatisfaction with church doctrine; in a study of Catholic
drop-outs, Dean R. Hoge, professor of sociology at The Catholic
University of America, found dissatisfaction with Catholic doctrine as
an important factor with 42 percent of young drop-outs. Peer
pressure lessens the chances young people will remain faithful so much
so that two researchers declared “it seems that a high school youth
will seldom participate in church youth programs if his closest friends
Parents play a huge factor in the
youth drop out rate. Dana Larry Gill, in completing his Doctor of
Ministry at Harding University Graduate School of Religion, studied
inactive Christians at the church of Christ in Merkel, Texas. In
his study, Gill used faithful members of the Merkel congregation as a
control group and discovered the religious preference of the mother did
not greatly affect adult faithfulness, but a slightly higher percentage
of faithful members had fathers who were faithful members of the
churches of Christ. Another study found the attendance of
both parents played a huge role in whether or not children would remain
faithful, but even more importantly, “the amount the parents carry
their religion over into all of life” played an enormous role in
faithfulness once children make their own decisions.
Even when parents desperately
desire to transmit their religion to their children, several family
factors often keep children from the religion in which their parents
reared them. Children coming from religiously mixed marriages
leave the church in far greater numbers than those coming from
religious homogeneous marriages.  Tensions between parents
also prohibit many youth from remaining in the religion in which their
parents trained them. Children from supportive homes remain in
the church far more than children from controlling parents. In a
study of Seventh Day Adventist youth, a caring mother greatly predicted
the activity of subjects in their early twenties. Youth may,
through no fault of the parents, consistently doubt their childhood
religious training; many such youth leave the church.
Many churches actively coordinate
youth programs for young people with the aspiration such activities
provide youth greater incentive to remain in the church as they
mature. In studies of youth drop-outs, the quality of the adult
leaders played an important role in whether the youth would remain
faithful or leave the church. Specifically, research has shown
“whether the pastor and the youth leaders were approachable and
understanding” impacted whether youth would remain in the church or
find socialization and support elsewhere. In a study of 390
high school students attending youth conferences supported by three
Protestant denominations, youth who were less alienated from the church
believed both their parents and religious leaders possessed appropriate
religious qualities. Additionally, for those same students
the researchers found that “relations with pastors and opportunity for
church involvement are the strongest factors related to teenage
attitudes toward religion.”
In a study of Seventh Day
Adventist youth, the youth who felt they had a better relationship with
Jesus remained in the church far more than youth who had no comparable
relationship. Additionally, those Adventist youth who
believed they would receive salvation if the Lord “were to come right
now” remained with the church far more than other youths.
C. Kirk Hadaway, current director
of research for the Episcopal Church Center, performed a cluster
analysis to identify the attributes of the typical American apostate
using the National Opinion Research Center’s (NORC) General Social
Survey from 1972 to 1985. Hadaway termed the first cluster in
his analysis the “Successful Swinging Singles.” The
researcher found these apostates to be young, cosmopolitan, single, and
financially secure. The second cluster, the “Sidetracked
Singles,” resemble the first cluster in many respects, but they differ
dramatically in their outlook on life; only 1.3% of this second cluster
identified themselves as happy. Hadaway summarized this group
by saying, “They have been shunted to the side-track, watching the good
life pass them by.” The third cluster, “Young Settled
Liberals,” come largely from youth, have spouses, and have happiness
and well-being. This cluster apostatized for two main
reasons: their liberal views regarding abortion, homosexuality, and
marijuana place them outside the mainstream of most ecclesiastical
bodies and their satisfaction with life leads them to believe they have
no need for the church. The fourth group, “Young
Libertarians,” find value in freedom of action and thought; Hadaway
wrote that for this group “apostasy may be more of a rejection of a
religious label than a rejection of religious belief.” The
fifth cluster, Irreligious Traditionalists, appear as something of an
oddity in that they appear most like the typical church member: they
are older, married, and conservative. What has caused them,
then, to reject religion? Hadaway found a few interesting
possibilities. First, of all the clusters he identified, this
fifth cluster largely rejects the concept of an afterlife; 63.3 percent
in this group stated that they did not believe in life after
death. Second, they have largely moved to different states,
which other studies have demonstrated to free individuals from previous
Causes Prior to Initial Conversion
examined the characteristics of prospects for religious
conversion. Some variables showed differences in those who
converted and between those who dropped out or did not convert.
Yeakley found that those subjects with the most heterogeneous sphere of
religious influence were more likely to convert and those with the most
homogeneous sphere of religious influence were unlikely to convert and
highly likely to become inactive if they did convert. Thus,
those whose close family all belonged to the same religious group
dropped out of the church much more frequently than those whose close
family members belonged to various groups. Using the measure of
stress developed by Thomas H. Holmes, Yeakley measured the stress each
subject had experienced shortly before a member of the churches of
Christ contacted them; he found that converts had much more stress than
either the non-converts or drop-outs before being contacted by a member
of the churches of Christ. Yeakley asked the subjects
about their dissatisfaction with their previous church or non-religious
life before religious persuasion. Yeakley also found that
converts largely came from roughly the same theological position as the
churches of Christ while drop-outs and non-converts largely came from
groups either more conservative or liberal than the churches of
The Role of the Congregation
Yeakley also tested variables
relating to group characteristics in religious persuasion. He
found that the greater the similarity in age, in socio-economic status,
and in educational level between the congregations and the communities
they serve, the greater the likelihood individuals would convert and
remain converted. However, Yeakley found “upward social
mobility” in congregations gaining and keeping converts; congregations
which were slightly higher than prospects in socio-economic status and
education were more likely to gain and keep converts.
Heterogeneous congregations in regard to age, socio-economic status,
and education were more successful in gaining and keeping converts than
were congregations that were largely homogeneous. Yeakley
also used the Religious Construct Test to test similarity between the
minister and the subject’s cognitive complexity; Yeakley found that “if
a cognitively complex person affiliated with a congregation in which
the minister is cognitively simple, the subject was much more likely to
The Role of the Persuaders
Individuals who attempted to
persuade others played an important role in whether or not the subjects
would convert and whether the subjects would drop out if they did
convert. When cognitively simple persuaders taught cognitively
complex subjects, most subjects did not convert and those who converted
soon ceased active service in the congregation. Age
differences between persuaders and their prospects played an important
role in whether the prospect would convert and whether or not he or she
would drop out; the mean age difference in Yeakley’s study for converts
was 11.26, for the non-converts the mean age difference was 25.9, and
for the drop-outs the mean age difference was 23.59. The
similarity in educational level between persuaders and prospects “was
an important factor” in Yeakley’s study. When subjects had
an educational level which differed from their persuaders by two or
more points, only 34 percent converted while 60 percent did not convert
and 62 percent dropped out. Likewise, when subjects and
their persuaders differed by two or more levels in regard to
socio-economic status, 68 percent did not convert and 88 percent
dropped out while only 20 percent converted.
The persuaders’ message also
played a huge role in whether individuals converted and remained
faithful. When the persuader viewed evangelism as a manipulative
monologue, the prospect was likely to convert but then drop out after
his conversion. Eight-five percent of the drop-outs in
Yeakley’s study saw their teachers as salesmen. Another high
percentage of the drop-outs, 83 percent, said that their teachers had
asked them their views on issues “but seemed to do so simply to
Churches have much to learn from
Yeakley’s work. Persuaders and prospects need to be paired as
closely as possible on variables such as age, education, and
socio-economic status. If the persuader and prospect cannot be
exactly matched on such variables, churches would do well to use
persuaders slightly higher on the education and socio-economic
variables because of the desires of upward social mobility.
Persuaders must show genuine interest in those whom they seek to
convert; they dare not manipulate them or treat them as a salesman
might treat a potential costumer.
The individual or individuals
responsible for conversion also seem to influence whether converts will
remain with the church or will leave. In a study of a local
congregation, family members influenced sixty-five of the active
members while the researcher only expected fifty-one to give that
response. On the other hand, dropouts were greatly
influenced by church leaders; church leaders influenced thirty-four
dropouts while only eighteen active members had been thus
Causes Following Initial Conversion
of teaching following initial conversion seems to play a role in who
remains faithful and who becomes inactive. In a study of a local
congregation of the churches of Christ, 34 percent of drop-outs had no
instruction whatsoever following their initial conversion.
Far fewer active members than the researcher expected said they had
received no instruction following conversion. This
demonstrates the importance of continuing teaching individuals after
God intended converts to learn
after their conversion as well as before they come to him through
Christ. When Jesus gave the Great Commission to his disciples, he
All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded
you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age
As disciples are made, they are to be baptized in
the name of the Triune God and taught to observe all of Christ’s
instructions. Baptizing and teaching serve as participles of
manner. Participles of manner, also known as modal
participles, indicate “the manner in which the action of the main verb
takes place.” Thus, disciples are made by being baptized and
by being taught.
Not only are disciples made by
being baptized, but they are also made by being taught “to obey
everything” Jesus had commanded his apostles. In this way, then,
the disciples are called upon to teach as Jesus taught throughout
Matthew’s Gospel. Keeping this instruction in the context of
Matthew’s Gospel, teaching disciples to obey what Jesus taught probably
refers to Jesus’ teachings contained in Matthew such as the Sermon on
the Mount and the many parables. While the context does requires
teaching new disciples Jesus’ instruction as recorded in Matthew, Jesus
did instruct his disciples to teach new disciples “to obey
everything.” No teaching of Jesus can be excluded.
Obviously, when the church does exclude some of Jesus’ teachings,
disciples will not likely remain active in the church.
causes many individuals to drop from active service. Savage
studied active, less active, and inactive members in four suburban
United Methodist Churches. Savage found a drop-out pattern
where individuals move from active service to less active service and
eventually leave the church. In Savage’s research, anxiety often
began the process of moving one from active service. This anxiety
comes in four forms: reality (anxiety based on actual events), neurotic
(anxiety coming from thought patterns not anchored in reality;
delusions often accompany such anxiety), moral (anxiety resulting from
conflict between one’s behavior and what he believes his behavior
should be), and existential (anxiety resulting from the reality of
death). In the interviews conducted as part of Savage’s
research, 95 percent of participants in the less active and inactive
categories “could tell quite clearly what the event was, when it
happened, and could express strong feelings about” the event which
caused their anxiety. Three variables brought about anxiety
to such intensity that individuals left the church: conflict with the
minister, conflict with another family member, and conflict with
another church member.
Anxious individuals attempt to
resolve the anxiety. When anxious, congregants often provide
verbal clues such as “It’s too much” or “It’s no use” or “I can’t take
it anymore” to signal their apprehension. If no one offers
to resolve the anxiety, congregants move from anxiety to anger;
however, if the uneasy congregants find no resolution in their anger,
they move further and further away from the situation where they center
their anger. For example, Savage found 95 percent of active
members serving on a committee but no inactive members serving on
The failure of individuals from
the congregation to contact inactive members reinforces their belief
that no one in the congregation cares for them. None of the
inactive persons interviewed in Savage’s study reported anyone from the
congregation ever attempted “to find out why they were losing interest
or had dropped out.” Savage reports that a third of the
inactive members cried in the interview, revealing the intensity of
their anxiety and anger.
Individuals internalize the
anxiety and anger in one of two ways. Some internalize the
anxiety and anger through apathy, a feeling that nothing can change
one’s predicament. Fifty-seven percent of the inactive
members in Savage’s work did not call upon the church for her
services. Apathetic congregants leave the church because
they can find nothing outside of themselves to help solve their
problems, but bored individuals leave the church because they can find
no inner resources to deal with their difficulties. Instead of
blaming others, bored individuals blame themselves for the problems at
church and leave active service.
Drop-outs, whether they cease
active service for boredom or apathy, usually wait six to eight weeks
before reinvesting their energies in a new activity. “If no
one from the church attends to their needs, they will re-engage their
time and energy in other pursuits.” Savage discovered that
about half of drop-outs invest the time and energy previously devoted
to church work to community activities, and the other half devote
themselves to family activities. Elders, therefore, cannot
wait to call upon inactive members, but they must do so
immediately. As soon as elders notice members moving toward
inactivity, they must contact those members to seek appropriate
Lawrence Olson, professor of
ministry and religion at Martin Luther College, replicated Savage’s
study in Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregations in Arizona,
Florida, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. While
Olson’s work largely reached the same conclusions as Savage’s study,
Olson’s work differed in one substantial way: only 33 percent of the
inactive members in Olson’s study reported an “anxiety-provoking
event.” Olson believes methodological differences in the two
studies resulted in the different findings. Because Savage sent
letters asking for participation, “it may be that only those inactive
individuals who had a story to tell related to a specific
anxiety-provoking event were motivated to respond, and thus the sample
was, to a certain extent, self-selected.” In Olson’s study,
on the other hand, the researcher sent a letter alerting individuals
that a phone call would soon follow, but the researcher did not ask a
response of the individual. Thus, individuals who dropped
from active service for a variety of reasons participated in Olson’s
work. Olson concluded, as this literature review reveals, “that
the reasons for inactivity are more complex than what Savage discovered
in his research.”
Although anxiety-provoking events
precede the exit of many from the church, few active members have not
faced anxiety-provoking events. What allows certain members to
remain faithful in spite of such events while others leave shortly
after experiencing such events? First, formerly active members
may face greater crises in their families; in one study of a local
church of Christ, inactive members faced greater divorce rates and
family crises than did active members. Second, and perhaps
more importantly, formerly active members said that they attempted to
“solve problems through [their] own strength and resources” far more
frequently than did active members.
Changes in Motivation
a change in motivation leads individuals toward inactivity. In
his study, Hoge termed the largest group of drop-outs “weary
dropouts.” These individuals lost motivation to attend Mass
and soon ceased their presence. Subjects provided six distinct
reasons for their loss of motivation. For some, they became
disenchanted with the church or found the institution meaningless
shortly before they dropped out. Others had children who had
recently left home, removing the motivation to provide spiritual
formation for their children. Some respondents had recently
accepted a new job, worked longer hours, or simply did not have time to
worship. In a study of Mormon drop-outs, the researchers
discovered that just over half of the drop-outs had found other
activities which in turn caused the drop-outs to spend less time in
church activities. Other participants in Hoge’s study had
been encouraged to attend by spouses, fiancés or fiancées
from whom they had recently separated. Additional subjects found
little support at home and decided they could no longer contend with
the struggle. Others had recently endured a conflict with a
priest, nun, or another parishioner.
church does in assimilating new members plays a role in whether or not
those new members will remain faithful. In a study of a local
church of Christ, inactive members did not feel as needed as did the
active members. Fifty-five inactive members said that they did
not feel at all needed by the church, while the researcher expected
only thirty-two in this category. Gill noted, “Members must
be drawn into the mission of the church. People will not remain
active in serving Christ and the church when they feel left out and
Members’ involvement in the local
congregation impacts whether they will remain faithful or drop
out. In Gill’s study, the researcher expected to find twenty-five
drop-outs “very active” in the church’s work and fifty drop-outs
“somewhat active” in the church’s work; however he found only eleven
and thirty-eight respectively. Not only do churches need to
find roles for individuals to fulfill, but churches must actively seek
to disciple new members. In a study that defined discipleship as
“training and equipping believers to integrate the faith’s teachings
into their lives,” the researcher discovered discipleship had a greater
impact on religious commitment after conversion than other
As important a role as
assimilation plays in the faithfulness of new members, one person
cannot assimilate all new members him or herself. As R. Larry
Moyer, executive director of EvanTell in Dallas, Texas, said,
“Follow-through is not the responsibility of only one person—or even of
the one who led the individual to the Savior. Instead it is the
responsibility of the entire church. No one person can do it
alone.” However, elders can and should take an active lead
in the assimilation process as part of their pastoral role discussed
John Frederick Roberts, in a study of the
Wilbarger Street Church of Christ in Vernon, Texas, found vast
differences in the way active Christians and inactive Christians viewed
the world. For example, active members were significantly
more likely to view maturity as defined by following the Bible as were
inactive members. Active members were significantly more
likely to turn to verses of Scripture when facing personal crises, but
inactive members largely desired patience for the crises to pass.
Doctrinal disparity also occurs between active and
inactive members. The use of instrumental music in worship
revealed great differences between active and inactive members, active
members largely opposed to such a practice and the inactive members
largely supporting such a practice. When asked whether the
Bible was inspired and infallible, active members greatly supported the
statement while inactive members showed some ambiguity. In a
study of the Christian Reformed Church, a conservative Calvinist
denomination, members left because they found the church “confining,
too demanding and intolerant.”
In his study, Roberts found the absence of supportive relationships to
be the most significant factor related to leaving the
church. Inactive members were much more likely to have no
close friends who were members of the congregation under study as were
active members; only 7 percent of inactive members had most or all of
their closest friends as members of the congregation but 55 percent of
active members had most or all of their closest friends as members of
the congregation. Gill also found friendship impacted the number
who remained faithful versus the number who left the church; the
drop-outs were far below the expected frequency of having more than
fifty friends in the congregation, while faithful members were well
above the same expected frequency.
Marriage impacts whether individuals remain in the
church or leave. Three researchers framed the argument this way:
If religion is an important factor in
human affairs, then we should expect a strain toward similarity in
religious affiliation in that most intimate of human relationships, the
married pair in the nuclear family.
In a study of denominational mobility, the
researcher discovered that a good plurality of those who switched
denominations left the denomination of their birth for the denomination
of their spouse. Forty-one percent of the female married
switchers changed to their husband’s denomination, while thirty-nine
percent of the male married switchers departed for their wife’s
denomination. In another study, 84 percent of subjects achieved
homogeneity in the family’s religious practices. In yet
another study, thirty-three percent of those who switched denominations
said the most important reason for doing so was their spouse’s
Change in Perception
in the way converts perceived the church prior to their conversion and
what they learned of the church following their conversion impacts
whether they remain active or whether they leave. Individuals may
believe a church can meet their perceived needs but learn shortly after
joining the church the congregation cannot meet such needs.
Individuals may also agree verbally with a church’s doctrine while not
fully understanding the doctrinal peculiarities of the group; once
learning those doctrinal peculiarities individuals may drop out.
Returning to Church
present study concerns how elders can lead inactive members back to
active service in the church, this section of the literature review
explores research on religious returnees. Many disaffiliate from
religious bodies only to return later. “A common pattern in
middle-class America is for youth to drop out during their teens or
early twenties and for a majority of them to return some time
Above the candidate explored
reasons individuals left active participation in the church, but what
factors cause them to reidentify with a religious body? What can
modern ecclesiastical leaders learn from such research? As
mentioned above, a close relationship with parents lessens the
likelihood one will leave the church once he or she no longer lives at
home. However, research also indicates that if those having a
close parental relationship do leave the church, they likely will
return in later life. Research also shows that the more
contact children have with their parents the more likely they will
return to the body of Christ if they leave at some point.
What can elders learn about such research? First, from a
preventive standpoint, they can educate parents about the need for a
close, loving relationship with their children. Second, elders
wishing to begin an outreach program to encourage inactive members
could begin such an effort with those who had close relationships with
their parents while still at home.
Once dropouts leave their
parents’ nest and begin families of their own, they will also be more
likely to rejoin an ecclesiastical fellowship. Those who marry
between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five leave the church far less
frequently than those who do not, but also return to the church far
more frequently than those who do not marry within those
years. Also, those who have children by the time they reach
twenty-six drop from active participation in the church less frequently
than childless young adults but also return at greater levels than
childless young adults. These research findings suggest
elders wishing to reach inactive young adults have prime opportunities
both when the youth marry and have children.
In Hoge’s study of Catholics, he
found two factors necessary in parishes where Catholics returned to
active service. First, returnees return to churches in
suburban parishes where the neighborhood population averaged between
twenty-five to forty and where residents possessed a good
education. Second, returnees join parishes where “the leadership
and program relate effectively to them.” Obviously, elders
can do little concerning the placement of the congregation they
shepherd; they cannot transport their congregation to a suburban area
with younger, educated individuals. However, elders can seek to
relate effectively to those they serve, and they can seek to develop
programs that relate effectively to the formerly active member.
In his research, Hoge
additionally identified four types of returnees to the Catholic
Church. Spouses, fiancés, or fiancées influenced
the first type of returnee, Marriage Life Returnees, to return to
active participation in the Catholic Church. Probably
because someone else urged these Catholics to return to the church,
these returned Catholics attend Mass far less frequently than other
returnees and they do not see religion playing an important role in
their lives. The second type of returnees, Family Life
Returnees, returned to active church participation out of concern for
their children’s religious training. Family Life Returnees
reported that others such as children, spouses, priests, or friends, in
that order, played some influential role in their decision to return to
the church. Guilt-Feeling Returnees, the third type of
returnee, “experienced a sense of need or void in their feelings about
life.” The majority had experienced the death of a loved
one, marital crisis, or a personal illness or crisis shortly before
their return to the church. Friends, priests, children, or
relatives, in that order, had influenced them to return to the
church. Seeker returnees, the final returnee type in Hoge’s
study, often had adjustments recently that caused them to fill a void
in their lives. Many had recently divorced or lost a spouse,
suggesting that “the return to Mass attendance was probably part of the
readjustments” to life. Eighty percent of this group
reported that their return to the church came about because “they had
recently felt a sense of need or void about life.”
Interestingly, this group tells “of the importance of priests in their
decisions to change.”
must grasp the practical aspect of restoration. Once they have
understood their responsibilities, the demographics of the drop-outs in
their congregations, and the causes for inactivity, they need to
understand how to work with those inactive members. Theory
provides the basis upon which to build their reclamation ministry, but
unless they understand clearly the practical aspects of restoration,
the theory will prove fruitless. Therefore, this section of the
chapter explores steps elders can make to seek the wandering sheep.
Making Initial Contact with the Inactive
Stewart, a leader in personal work among churches of Christ, has
suggested not having an appointment should not deter one from visiting
the inactive member. He wrote, “Sometimes it is possible to make
an appointment with the delinquent Christian. When an appointment
is not given, this does not remove the responsibility to these
delinquent Christians but rather the workers should proceed and visit
the home unannounced.” Stewart wrote more than a quarter
century ago, and changes since that time necessitate that restorers
make calls prior to meeting with inactive Christians. As Bradley
stated, “Today’s society will not stand for ‘cold turkey.’”
Granted, “a phone call might eliminate the opportunity of a caring
confrontation with an inactive church member;” however, those who
refuse a meeting when called would not likely receive unannounced
visitors well anyway.
Bradley discussed in a seminar at
the church of Christ in Guntersville, Alabama how to make the phone
call. When calling the inactive member, restorers first need to
introduce themselves and gain permission to continue the conversation
lest they leave the wrong impression by calling at the wrong
moment. Callers then make clear that they desire to visit
with the inactive member because he or she has been absent from church
activity. In calling, restorers give the name of the
individual who will be accompanying him or her. To deal with
resistance, restorers give the inactive Christian a choice as to which
day would work best for him or her. Restorers then want to
gather information about the household so that they will know who will
be at the home when they arrive. Finally, restorers want to
set a specific time to meet with the inactive Christian and repeat the
time back to him or her.
Making the Visit
arrive at the home of inactive members, listening skills become greatly
important. Because members who leave the church due to apathy
place blame outwardly, “the first barrier to get past is to make that
person aware that there are people in the congregation who truly do
care.” Bored members, on the other hand, place blame
inwardly and therefore need much confirmation and
affirmation. Listening to an inactive member’s concern goes
a long way in demonstrating that the church cares. David
Augsburger, professor of pastoral care and counseling at Fuller
Theological Seminary, frames the argument this way: “Being heard is so
close to being loved that for the average person they are almost
In order to hear the inactive
Christian appropriately, good restorers commit themselves to listening
carefully to the inactive member. That commitment includes a
willingness to give the inactive Christian one’s undivided
attention. The commitment also calls for hearers to open
themselves to perceiving the other’s views and values, seeking to
understand where the speaker is at the moment. In order to
understand where the speaker is, the listener suspends judgment or
evaluation as he listens. Good speakers additionally commit
themselves to listen patiently to the speaker as he or she expresses
his or her own thoughts and
Hearing the inactive Christians
also means restorers allow for emotion. Christians may not
always feel completely comfortable hearing individuals express strong
emotions, especially when speakers direct such emotions at God.
However, Paul Eric Jones, in completing his dissertation at New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary, aptly wrote, “Just as the psalmist David
expressed negative feelings in Ps. 22:1-2, others can as well.
God does not need a bodyguard.”
When visiting inactive
Christians, restorers shall hear numerous stories, and they will find
in these stories deeper truths. Savage describes four levels
of storytelling. He refers to the first level as “data back
then.” This level generally begins with statements such as
“When I was a kid, I . . . .” or “Back when I was in . . .
.” These stories seek to reduce one’s exposure and put one’s
life in distant context. The second level, “feelings back
then,” brings about more exposure and begins to discuss emotions one
felt at a previous time. When telling stories at the third
level, “feelings now,” speakers become more direct and their language
loses much abstraction. The fourth level, “self-disclosure”
brings “to conscious awareness the meaning” of one’s life story.
Not only will restorers hear
stories at different levels, but they will hear different stories, all
of which play an important role in learning about the inactive
Christian. The first story type, the reinvestment story, informs
the hearer that the inactive Christian has reinvested his or her time,
energy, and money away from the church to some other group or
activity. For example, drop-outs may discuss with their
visitors how they now actively camp on the week-ends or have joined a
sewing group. The second story type, the rehearsal story, informs
the hearer of events from the past, but the themes in the story
currently impact the speaker. Savage provides an excellent
I overheard a marvelous rehearsal
story from a pastor who was chatting with other church leaders while we
were standing in a hallway on a break. The pastor mentioned that
he had just visited a parishioner and was told a significant rehearsal
story. The church member was in the hospital, seriously ill with
cancer. The patient asked the pastor if he had any large trees in
his backyard. The pastor responded that he did, but then did an
important thing. He turned the story back to the
storyteller. The pastor did not get hooked into telling his own
story, but listened to the other person instead. He asked, “Do
you have large trees in your backyard?” The parishioner responded
that he did, and then told this brief story. “As a matter of
fact, I have one that is a beautiful old tree, but it is rotting out on
the inside, and I think it is going to die, so I guess I had better cut
it down.” The pastor heard the deeper story by picking out the
metaphor and used it as part of the feedback for the story check.
His response was, “I’m wondering if, when you find yourself in the
hospital, you don’t feel like a tree that is rotting out inside, and if
maybe you feel that life is cutting you down. Any chance that
this is what you are seeing happen to yourself?”
story type, the “I Know Someone Who” story, allows speakers to project
something about themselves upon someone else; these stories typically
begin with phrases such as “I have this friend who. . . .” or “I have
this neighbor who. . . .” When using the fourth story type,
the anniversary story, speakers recount narratives with themes that
happened in the past but around the same time of year the speaker tells
the narrative. The final story type, the transition story,
informs carefully listeners about transitions taking place in the
Elders possess a pastoral responsibility toward
those who have fallen away for a variety of reasons, and research has
established solid methods for pastorally reaching out to those inactive
members. However, do elders recognize their pastoral
responsibilities toward inactive Christians? How qualified do
elders see themselves for working with inactive Christians? Do
elders believe they possess the communicative skills required for such
ministry? Do elders fear the anger inactive Christians may
express toward them or the church? Do elders fear possible legal
consequences resulting from work with inactive Christians? How
willing are elders to learn to work with inactive Christians more
effectively? The next chapter provides the research methodology
the student undertook to answer those questions.
1. Some would argue that Simon makes a poor
choice to speak of working with inactive Christians, for he was never
converted, an argument Ben Witherington III makes; see Witherington,
The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids,
MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 288-289. However,
Basil Overton, former editor of The World Evangelist, provides three
lines of evidence that Simon truly converted before his fall back into
sin. First, Simon did exactly the same thing as the Samaritans,
viz., they believed and were baptized. Second, Peter does not
tell Simon that he would perish because he never converted but because
he attempted to buy the power to pass along the Holy Spirit.
Third, at Pentecost, Peter told the crowd to repent and be baptized,
but he told Simon to repent and pray; had Peter thought of Simon as an
alien sinner, he surely would have told him to repent and submit to
baptism. See, Overton, Conversions in Acts (J. C. Choate
Publications: Winona, MS: 1981), 24-25.
2. Ancient Christian tradition ascribes the Gnostic heresy to
Simon; see F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 166-167. Whether Simon
founded the Gnostics or not, and evidence does support the assertion
that he did, his repentance depicted in his response to Peter need not
be discounted. Simon could easily have repented of the specific
sin Luke records and have fallen again later.
3. Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, rev. ed. (Grand
Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 92.
4. Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 83.
5. J. Roldanus, “No Easy Reconciliation: St. Cyprian on Conditions for
Re-Integration of the Lapsed,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa
92 (1995): 24; John H. Taylor, Jr., “St. Cyprian and the Reconciliation
of Apostates,” Theological Studies 3 (1942): 30.
6. Roldanus, “No Easy Reconciliation, 24.
8. Taylor, “St. Cyprian and Reconciliation,” 32.
9. Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, 1999), 119-120.
10. On the Lapsed, 36.
11. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Acts of the Apostles (New York: Doubleday,
12. Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 623.
13. Gingrich and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon, 683 (see chap. 1, n.
10). The term is used in Lk. 17:7 and 1 Cor. 9:7 to refer
literally to watching after sheep.
14. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 392.
15. Gill, “A Study of Church Dropouts,” 45-46 (see chap. 1, no. 2).
17. F. LaGard Smith, Radical Restoration: A Call for Pure and Simple
Christianity (Nashville, TN: Cotswold Publishing, 2001), 182.
18. See, for example, Ralph P. Martin, James (Waco, TX: Word Books,
1988), 198-210; J. A. Motyer, The Message of James (Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, 1985), 189-200; Pheme Perkins, First and Second
Peter, James, and Jude (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1995),
136-138; and Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Epistle of James
(Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1991), 300.
19. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore
Biblical Church Leadership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers,
20. See Daniel R. Hayden, “Calling the Elders to Pray,” Bibliotheca
Sacra 138 (1981): 258-259.
21. Ibid., 259-261.
22. Ibid., 260.
25. Ibid., 261.
27. D. Edmond Hiebert, “Counsel for Christ’s Under-Shepherds: An
Exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-4,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139 (1982): 331.
29. John H. Elliott, “Elders as Leaders in 1 Peter and the Early
Church,” Current in Theology and Mission 28 (2001): 552.
30. Hiebert, “Counsel for Christ’s Under-Shepherds,” 332.
32. Coy D. Roper, “Elders as Shepherds of Suffering Saints: An Exegesis
of 1 Peter 5:1-5” (research paper, Harding University Graduate School
of Religion, 1993), 10.
33. Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI:
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 176.
34. Hiebert, “Counsel for Christ’s Under-Shepherds,” 335.
36. Davids, First Peter, 178.
37. Roper, “Elders as Shepherds,” 12-13.
38. Davids, First Peter, 179.
39. Roper, “Elders as Shepherds,” 13.
40. Hiebert, “Counsel for Christ’s Under-Shepherds,” 337.
41. Ibid., 338.
42. Davids, First Peter, 181.
43. Ibid., 182.
44. Ralph D. Mawdsley, “The Modus Operandi of Church Discipline,”
Fundamentalist Journal 3 (1984): 22.
45. Lynn Buzzard, “Is Church Discipline an Invasion of Privacy?
Recent Court Cases Force the Question,” Christianity Today, November 9,
1984, 37;and Paul J. Cleary, “An Affair for the Church?” The National
Law Journal, April 2, 1984, 6.
46. Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville, 8 Okla. 775 P 2d 766
47. “Shunned Woman Says Elders Betrayed Her,” New York Times,
March 14, 1984, national edition.
48. “Scriptures Required Denouncing Woman in Church, Elders
Testify,” The New York Times, March 15, 1984, national edition; “Woman
Sues Church Elders on Punishment,” The New York Times, March 11, 1984;
Mark Starr and Daniel Shaprio, “Suing Over a Scarlet Letter,” Newsweek,
February 27, 1984, 46; “Marian and the Elders;” and “Oklahoma: Lawsuit
Postponed,” Christian Chronicle, February 1984, 7.
49. “Award in a Church-Privacy Suit,” New York Times, March 16, 1984,
51. Ray Vaughn, Jr., “Collinsville: Appeals Procedures,” Christian
Chronicle, April 1984, 23.
52. Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville.
53. R. Scott Lamascus, “Collinsville Case Leaves Religious Issues
Unsettled,” Christian Chronicle, September 1989, 1.
54. James O. Baird, “Perspectives: Writer Discusses Collinsville in
Retrospect,” Christian Chronicle, March 1989, 18.
55. Tom Price, “Church Discipline and Reconciliation,” Christian
Century, July 29-August 5, 1992, 703.
56. Robert E. Whiddon, Jr., “The Current Status of the Practice of
Church Discipline in the Churches of Christ in America” (PhD diss.,
Trinity Theological Seminary, 1996), 69-70.
57. E.g., see Jon P. Alston, “Social Variables Associated with Church
Attendance, 1965 and 1969: Evidence from National Polls,” Journal for
the Scientific Study of Religion (10): 233-236; Irving E. Bender, “A
Longitudinal Study of Church Attenders and Nonattenders,” Journal for
the Scientific Study of Religion (7): 230-237.
58. Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg
Fortress, 1989), 148-164.
59. Ibid., 154.
60. Mary Ann Tolbert, “How the Gospel of Mark Builds Character,”
Interpretation 47 (1993): 352.
61. Several redaction critics as well as narrative critics also point
out that the main word used to describe Satan’s tempting (peiradzo) is
used three times to describe the Pharisees’ activities (8:11; 10:2;
12:15). See Terence J. Keegan, “The Parable of the Sower and
Mark’s Jewish Leaders,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 56 (1994):
62. Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel, 154-156. Ben Witherington III,
professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological
Seminary further notes, “V. 17 would certainly be appropriate for a
congregation under the Neronian gun and facing persecution,” The Gospel
of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 168.
63. Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel, 154.
64. Tolbert, “How the Gospel of Mark Builds Character,” 353.
65. Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel, 157-158; see also Tolbert, “How the
Gospel of Mark Builds Character,” 354.
66. Keegan also sees the crowds as representative of the thorny
soil. They hear Jesus gladly (12:37), but stirred by the chief
priests they cry out for Jesus’ death. See Keegan, “The Parable
of the Sower,” 510.
67. Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel, 164-172. Keegan disagrees,
however, and sees the good seed waiting “fulfillment in the anticipated
future that is beyond the limits of the story time of the Gospel,”
Keegan, “The Parable of the Sower,” 512.
68. John Frederick Roberts, “Closing the Back Door,” 4 (see chapt. 1, n
69. C. Kirk Hadaway and Wade Clark Roof, “Apostasy in American
Churches: Evidence from National Survey Data,” in Falling from the
Faith: Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy, ed. David G.
Bromley (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1988), 38.
70. Ibid., 84.
71. Dean R. Hoge and Gregory H. Petrillo, “Determinants of Church
Participation and Attitudes Among High School Youth,” Journal for the
Scientific Study of Religion 17 (1978): 359.
72. Roger L. Dudley and Randall L. Wisbey, “The Relationship of
Parenting Styles to Commitment to the Church Among Young Adults,”
Religious Education 95 (2000): 46.
73. David A. Roozen, “Church Dropouts: Changing Patterns of
Disengagement and Re-entry,” Review of Religious Research 21 (1980):
74. Yeakley, Why Churches Grow, 3rd ed. (Broken Arrow, OK: Christian
Communications, 1979), 6.
75. Hoge and Petrillo, “Determinants of Church Participation,” 364.
76. Hoge, Converts, Dropouts, Returnees, 89. In a study of
Seventh Day Adventist youth, the researcher discovered that the youth
“who agreed that the Adventist church is God’s true church were more
likely to be committed and active,” Roger L. Dudley, “Indicators of
Commitment to the Church: A Longitudinal Study of Church-Affiliated
Youth,” Adolescence 28 (1993): 24.
77. Hoge and Petrillo, “Determinants of Church Participation,” 370.
78. Gill, “A Study of Church Dropouts,” 32-33 (see chapt. 1, n. 2).
79. Hoge and Petrillo, “Determinants of Church Participation,” 366.
80. Ibid., 360.
81. Dudley and Wisbey, “Parenting Styles and Commitment,” 47.
82. Bruce Hunsberger, “A Reexamination of the Antecedents of Apostasy,”
Review of Religious Research 21 (1980): 167.
84. Roger L. Dudley and C. Robert Laurent, “Alienation from Religion in
Church-Related Adolescents,” Sociological Analysis 49 (1989): 418.
Roger L. Dudley, “Indicators of Commitment to the Church,” 24.
88. C. Kirk Hadaway, “Identifying American Apostates: A Cluster
Analysis,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 28 (1989).
89. Ibid., 206.
90. Ibid., 208.
92. Ibid., 210.
93. Ibid., 211.
95. Ibid., 212.
98. Flavil Ray Yeakley, Jr., “Persuasion in Religious Conversion,” (Ph.
D. thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1975).
Yeakley’s findings can also be found in his work Why Churches Grow.
99. Yeakley, “Persuasion in Religious Conversion,” 37-38.
100. Ibid., 30, 42.
101. Ibid., 31.
102. Ibid., 53.
103. Ibid., 67-74.
104. Ibid., 79.
105. Ibid., 85.
106. Ibid., 121
107. Ibid., 123.
108. Ibid., 123-124.
109. Ibid., 125.
111. Ibid., 127.
112. Ibid., 142
114. Ibid., 143.
115. Yeakley discussed upward social mobility and its influence upon
evangelism. See his “Persuasion in Religious Conversion,” 74-80.
116. Gill, “A Study of Church Dropouts,” 56.
117. Ibid., 56-57.
118. Roberts, “Closing the Back Door,” 43.
120. Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic Key to the Greek New
Testament, 66 (see chapt. 1, n. 12).
121. J. A. Brooks and C. L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 150.
122. D. A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol.
33B. (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995), 888.
123. Savage, The Apathetic and Bored Church Member, 8-9 (see chapt. 1,
124. Ibid., 56.
125. Ibid. In Gill’s study of the church of Christ in Merkel,
Texas, 59 percent of inactive members said that they gradually lost
interest in the church while only 41 percent could cite a single sudden
cause for their leaving the church. Gill, “A Study of Church
126. Savage, Apathetic and Bored Church Member,56.
127. Ibid., 57.
133. Ibid., 63.
135. Ibid., 64.
136. Ibid., 69.
139. Olson, “Understanding and Ministering to the Inactive Christian.”
(see chapt. 1, n. 5).
140. Ibid., 77.
141. Ibid., 78.
143. Ibid., 79.
144. Roberts, “Closing the Back Door,” 94. However, the data
somewhat beg the question. Did those members leave the church
solely because they faced such crises, or did the church fail to
respond adequately to such crises in showing love and support?
The church may have failed to respond adequately to such crises, for
sixty-seven percent of formerly active members said a weakness of the
congregation under study was ministering “to members dealing with
crises or personal problems,” p. 96.
146. Ibid., 105.
148. Stan L. Albrecht, Marie Cornwall, and Perry H. Cunningham,
“Religious Leave-Taking,” in Falling from Faith, ed. by David G.
Bromley (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1998), 68.
149. Gill, “A Study of Church Dropouts,” 60.
151. Ibid., 69-70.
152. Peter W. Wielhouwer, “The Impact of Church Activities and
Socialization on African-American Religious Commitment,” Social Science
Quarterly 85 (2004): 771, 788.
153. R. Larry Moyer, “Assimilating New Converts into the Local Church,”
Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (1994): 340.
154. Roberts, “Closing the Back Door,” 82-88. The data Roberts
presents do not provide a causal relationship. Did the disparity
in world view lead to inactivity or did the disparity in world view
develop after the inactivity?
155. Ibid., 86-87.
156. Ibid., 87.
157. Ibid., 89-90.
158. Ibid., 90.
159. Gary D. Bouma, “Keeping the Faithful: Patterns of Membership
Retention in the Christian Reformed Church,” Sociological Analysis 41
(1980): 262. Specifically, “former members complained about an
intolerance of differences of opinion, of the burden of the requirement
that they send their children to private Christian schools, and of the
CRC’s restrictive stand on worldly amusements (card playing, theatre
attendance and dancing).”
160. Roberts, “Closing the Back Door,” 92.
161. Gill, “A Study of Church Dropouts,” 65-66.
162. Nicholas Babchuk, Harry J. Crockett, Jr., and John A. Ballweg,
“Change in Religious Affiliation and Family Stability,” Social Forces
45 (1967): 552.
163. Frank Newport, “The Religious Switcher in the United States,”
American Sociological Review 44 (1979): 547.
164. Babchuk, Crockett, and Ballweg, “Change in Religious Affiliation,”
165. Dean R. Hoge and Thomas P. O’Conner, “Denominational Identity from
Age Sixteen to Age Thirty-Eight,” Sociology of Religion 65 (2004): 81.
166. John F. Seggar and Reed H. Blake, “Post-Joining Nonparticipation:
An Exploratory Study of Convert Inactivity,” Review of Religious
Research 11 (1970): 205.
168. Dean R. Hoge, “Why Catholics Drop Out,” Falling from Faith: Causes
and Consequences of Religious Apostasy, ed. David G. Bromley (Newbury
Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1988), 96.
169. John Wilson and Daren E. Sherkat, “Returning to the Fold,” Journal
for the Scientific Study of Religion 33 (1994): 155.
173. Hoge, Converts Dropouts Returnees, 130.
175. Ibid., 139.
176. Ibid., 141.
177. Ibid., 144.
178. Ibid., 145.
179. Ibid., 151.
182. Ibid., 159.
185. Ibid., 158.
186. Ivan Stewart, Go Ye Means Go Me (Oklahoma City, OK: privately
printed, 1988), 293.
187. Bradley, “Restoring Inactive Members of Churches of Christ,” 180
(see chapt. 1, n. 2).
188. Jeff Moore, “An Inreach Ministry to the Inactive Members of the
Regency Park Baptist Church in Moore, Oklahoma” (D. Min. diss.,
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1995), 48.
190. Bradley, “Restoring Inactive Members of Churches of Christ.”, 180.
193. Ibid, 181.
196. Olson, “Understanding and Ministering to the Inactive Member,” 54.
197. Ibid., 55.
198. David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard (Ventura, CA:
Regal Books, 1982), 11.
199. Moore, “An Inreach Ministry,” 53.
202. Ibid., 54.
203. Paul Eric Jones, “A Program to Equip the Laity to Minister to
Inactive Church Members of First Baptist Church, Red Springs, North
Carolina,” (D. Min. diss, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary,
205. John Savage, Listening and Caring Skills (Nashville, TN: Abingdon
206. Ibid., 79.
208. Ibid, 80.
210. Ibid., 80-81.
211. Ibid., 81.
212. Ibid., 82.
213. Ibid., 84.
214. Ibid., 85.
215. Ibid., 89-90.
216. Ibid., 92.
217. Ibid., 94.