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Review of the Literature

        Since 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.[1]  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).[2]

        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.[3]  Those refusing to offer such sacrifices faced death, and “a commission was appointed in each city to enforce the emperor’s decree.”[4]  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.[5]  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 not.[6]          

        Decius’ persecution did not last long; he only reigned from 249 to 251.[7]  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.[8]  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.”[9]  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, who beseeches.[10]
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

        All 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

        When he knew 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.[11]
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).
        Paul’s 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).[12]  Paul exhorted the elders of Ephesus to shepherd the church of God.  The Greek term Paul employed (poimaino) refers to shepherds tending flocks.[13]  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.”[14]

        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.[15]  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 this category.[16]

        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?”[17]  Elders must know the sheep in their flock.

        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 the church.

James’ Instructions to the Elders

    James 5:13-20 deserves special attention in writing about the eldership.  James, the Lord’s brother, wrote:
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.
        How should 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.[18]  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.”[19]

        However, such a view ignores the context in Scripture concerning healing of sickness.[20]  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.[21]  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).[22]  Paul often used the word to refer to spiritual weakness (e.g., Rom 14:1-2; 1 Cor 8:11-12).[23]  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:[24] “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 physically ill.

        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.[25]  The Greek word (iaomai) does refer to the healing of the physically ill in the New Testament.[26]  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

        Peter also 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 5:1-4).
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.”[27]  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.”[28]  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.[29]

        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.[30]  However, why would a pseudopigraphical author not stress apostolic authority in this passage?  Surely such would have added more to his argument.[31]  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.[32]  “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.”[33]

        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.”[34]  In encouraging these elders to oversee the flock, Peter encouraged these elders to look after the spiritual condition of the sheep they oversaw.[35]  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.”[36]

        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.[37]  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.”[38]  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 financial gain.[39]

        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.”[40]  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 charge.[41]

        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.[42]  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 end.[43]

        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

        Among 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.[44]  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.[45]  The elders met with Guinn on at least three occasions and urged her repentance.[46]  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.[47]

        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.[48]  After the week-long trial, the jury deliberated five hours and awarded the plaintiff $390,000.[49]  Jurors interviewed later “said their verdict was intended to show that there were limits to the length churches could go to discipline their members.”[50]  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.[51]  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.[52]  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.[53]

        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.”[54]  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.”[55]  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 church discipline.[56]
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

        Numerous 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.[57]  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 congregations?

The Parable of the Sower

        Mark 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.[58]  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.[59]  “What is important to the author about these opponents, and thus what is stressed in their characterization, is their monolithically negative response to Jesus.”[60]  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 death.[61]

        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.[62]  When Mark discussed the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, he emphasized the quickness of their response.[63]  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 14:66-72).
Throughout the Gospel, the disciples reacted in a manner consistent with the rocky ground Jesus described.[64]  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.[65]  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.[66]

        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.[67]  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.”[68]  Therefore the research discussed below explores multiple factors.

Demographical Description of Inactive Christians

        Before 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 their opinion:
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 morality.[69]
Thus, societal pressures affect males and females differently, causing more males to leave the church.

        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.[70]  Research conducted in 1975 demonstrated a 60 percent decline in Sunday school enrollment in the Presbyterian Church from the sixth to the tenth grade.[71]  Two researchers estimate that around 40 percent of Seventh Day Adventist youth leave the church of their youth by their mid-twenties.[72]  Other research shows that 83.7 percent of drop-outs left church participation before they turned thirty-five.[73]  Yeakley estimates that half of all the children of adult members baptized in churches of Christ drop out.[74]

        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.”[75]  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.[76]  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 do not.”[77]

        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.[78]  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.[79]

        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. [80]  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.[81]  Youth may, through no fault of the parents, consistently doubt their childhood religious training; many such youth leave the church.[82]

        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.[83]  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.[84]  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.”[85]

        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.[86]  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.[87]

        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.[88]  Hadaway termed the first cluster in his analysis the “Successful Swinging Singles.”[89]  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.[90]  Hadaway summarized this group by saying, “They have been shunted to the side-track, watching the good life pass them by.”[91]  The third cluster, “Young Settled Liberals,” come largely from youth, have spouses, and have happiness and well-being.[92]  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.[93]  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.”[94]  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.[95]  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.[96]  Second, they have largely moved to different states, which other studies have demonstrated to free individuals from previous religious constraints.[97]

Causes Prior to Initial Conversion

        Yeakley examined the characteristics of prospects for religious conversion.[98]  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.[99]  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.[100]   Yeakley asked the subjects about their dissatisfaction with their previous church or non-religious life before religious persuasion.[101]  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 Christ.[102]

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.[103]  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.[104]  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.[105]  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 drop out.”[106]

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.[107]  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.[108]  The similarity in educational level between persuaders and prospects “was an important factor” in Yeakley’s study.[109]  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.[110]  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.[111]

        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.[112]  Eight-five percent of the drop-outs in Yeakley’s study saw their teachers as salesmen.[113]  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 manipulate.”[114]

        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.[115]  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.[116]  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 persuaded.[117]

Causes Following Initial Conversion


        The amount 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.[118]  Far fewer active members than the researcher expected said they had received no instruction following conversion.[119]  This demonstrates the importance of continuing teaching individuals after their baptism.

        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 said:
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 (Mt 28:18-20).
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.[120]  Participles of manner, also known as modal participles, indicate “the manner in which the action of the main verb takes place.”[121]  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.[122]  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.

Anxiety-Provoking Events

        Anxiety causes many individuals to drop from active service.  Savage studied active, less active, and inactive members in four suburban United Methodist Churches.[123]  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).[124]  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.[125]  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.[126]

        Anxious individuals attempt to resolve the anxiety.[127]  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.[128]  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.[129]  For example, Savage found 95 percent of active members serving on a committee but no inactive members serving on committees.

        The failure of individuals from the congregation to contact inactive members reinforces their belief that no one in the congregation cares for them.[130]  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.”[131]  Savage reports that a third of the inactive members cried in the interview, revealing the intensity of their anxiety and anger.[132]

        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.[133]  Fifty-seven percent of the inactive members in Savage’s work did not call upon the church for her services.[134]  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.[135]

        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.[136]  “If no one from the church attends to their needs, they will re-engage their time and energy in other pursuits.”[137]  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.[138]  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 reconciliation.

        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.[139]  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.”[140]  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.”[141]  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.[142]  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.”[143]

        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.[144]  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.[145]

Changes in Motivation

            Sometimes a change in motivation leads individuals toward inactivity.  In his study, Hoge termed the largest group of drop-outs “weary dropouts.”[146]  These individuals lost motivation to attend Mass and soon ceased their presence.  Subjects provided six distinct reasons for their loss of motivation.[147]  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.[148]  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.


        How well the 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.[149]  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 unimportant.”[150]

        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.[151]  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 ministries.[152]

        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.”[153]  However, elders can and should take an active lead in the assimilation process as part of their pastoral role discussed above.


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.[154]  For example, active members were significantly more likely to view maturity as defined by following the Bible as were inactive members.[155]  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.[156]

Doctrinal Disparity

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.[157]  When asked whether the Bible was inspired and infallible, active members greatly supported the statement while inactive members showed some ambiguity.[158]  In a study of the Christian Reformed Church, a conservative Calvinist denomination, members left because they found the church “confining, too demanding and intolerant.”[159]

Supportive Relationships

            In his study, Roberts found the absence of supportive relationships to be the most significant factor related to leaving the church.[160]  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.[161]


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.[162]
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.[163]  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.[164]  In yet another study, thirty-three percent of those who switched denominations said the most important reason for doing so was their spouse’s influence.[165]

Change in Perception

        Differences 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.[166]  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.[167]

Returning to Church

        Because the 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 later.”[168]

        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.[169]  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.[170]  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.[171]  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.[172]  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.[173]  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.”[174]  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.[175]  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.[176]  The second type of returnees, Family Life Returnees, returned to active church participation out of concern for their children’s religious training.[177]  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.[178]  Guilt-Feeling Returnees, the third type of returnee, “experienced a sense of need or void in their feelings about life.”[179]  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.[180]  Friends, priests, children, or relatives, in that order, had influenced them to return to the church.[181]  Seeker returnees, the final returnee type in Hoge’s study, often had adjustments recently that caused them to fill a void in their lives.[182]  Many had recently divorced or lost a spouse, suggesting that “the return to Mass attendance was probably part of the readjustments” to life.[183]  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.”[184]  Interestingly, this group tells “of the importance of priests in their decisions to change.”[185]

Practical Restoration

            Elders 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 Member

        Ivan 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.”[186]  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.’”[187]  Granted, “a phone call might eliminate the opportunity of a caring confrontation with an inactive church member;”[188] however, those who refuse a meeting when called would not likely receive unannounced visitors well anyway.[189]

        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.[190]  Callers then make clear that they desire to visit with the inactive member because he or she has been absent from church activity.[191]  In calling, restorers give the name of the individual who will be accompanying him or her.[192]  To deal with resistance, restorers give the inactive Christian a choice as to which day would work best for him or her.[193]  Restorers then want to gather information about the household so that they will know who will be at the home when they arrive.[194]  Finally, restorers want to set a specific time to meet with the inactive Christian and repeat the time back to him or her.[195]

Making the Visit

        When workers 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.”[196]  Bored members, on the other hand, place blame inwardly and therefore need much confirmation and affirmation.[197]  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 indistinguishable.”[198]

        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.[199]  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.[200]  In order to understand where the speaker is, the listener suspends judgment or evaluation as he listens.[201]  Good speakers additionally commit themselves to listen patiently to the speaker as he or she expresses his or her own thoughts and feelings.[202]     

        Hearing the inactive Christians also means restorers allow for emotion.[203]  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.”[204]

        When visiting inactive Christians, restorers shall hear numerous stories, and they will find in these stories deeper truths.[205]  Savage describes four levels of storytelling.  He refers to the first level as “data back then.”[206]  This level generally begins with statements such as “When I was a kid, I . . . .” or “Back when I was in . . . .”[207]  These stories seek to reduce one’s exposure and put one’s life in distant context.[208]  The second level, “feelings back then,” brings about more exposure and begins to discuss emotions one felt at a previous time.[209]  When telling stories at the third level, “feelings now,” speakers become more direct and their language loses much abstraction.[210]  The fourth level, “self-disclosure” brings “to conscious awareness the meaning” of one’s life story.[211]

        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.[212]  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.[213]  Savage provides an excellent illustration.

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?”[214]
        The third 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. . . .”[215]  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.[216]  The final story type, the transition story, informs carefully listeners about transitions taking place in the speaker’s life.[217]


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.

7. Ibid.

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, 1998), 674

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).

16. Ibid.

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, 1995), 254.

20. See Daniel R. Hayden, “Calling the Elders to Pray,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981): 258-259.

21. Ibid., 259-261.

22. Ibid., 260.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., 261.

26. Ibid.

27. D. Edmond Hiebert, “Counsel for Christ’s Under-Shepherds: An Exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-4,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139 (1982): 331.

28. Ibid.

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.

31. Ibid.

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.

35. Ibid.

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 (1989).

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, national edition.

50. Ibid.

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): 509.

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 2).

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): 434.

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.

83. Ibid.

84. Roger L. Dudley and C. Robert Laurent, “Alienation from Religion in Church-Related Adolescents,” Sociological Analysis 49 (1989): 418.

85. Ibid.

Roger L. Dudley, “Indicators of Commitment to the Church,” 24.

87. Ibid.

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.

91. Ibid.

92. Ibid., 210.

93. Ibid., 211.

94. Ibid.

95. Ibid., 212.

96. Ibid.

97. Ibid.

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.

110. Ibid.

111. Ibid., 127.

112. Ibid., 142

113. Ibid.

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.

119. Ibid.

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, n. 20).

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 Dropouts,” 38-39.

126. Savage, Apathetic and Bored Church Member,56.

127. Ibid., 57.

128. Ibid.

129. Ibid.

130. Ibid.

131. Ibid.

132. Ibid.

133. Ibid., 63.

134. Ibid.

135. Ibid., 64.

136. Ibid., 69.

137. Ibid.

138. Ibid.

139. Olson, “Understanding and Ministering to the Inactive Christian.” (see chapt. 1, n. 5).

140. Ibid., 77.

141. Ibid., 78.

142. Ibid.

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.

145. Ibid.

146. Ibid., 105.

147. Ibid.

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.

150. Ibid.

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,” 553.

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.

167. Ibid.

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.

170. Ibid.

171. Ibid.

172. Ibid.

173. Hoge, Converts Dropouts Returnees, 130.

174. Ibid.

175. Ibid., 139.

176. Ibid., 141.

177. Ibid., 144.

178. Ibid., 145.

179. Ibid., 151.

180. Ibid.

181. Ibid.

182. Ibid., 159.

183. Ibid.

184. Ibid.

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.

189. Ibid.

190. Bradley, “Restoring Inactive Members of Churches of Christ.”, 180.

191. Ibid.

192. Ibid.

193. Ibid, 181.

194. Ibid.

195. Ibid.

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.

200. Ibid.

201. Ibid.

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, 2001), 19.

204. Ibid.

205. John Savage, Listening and Caring Skills (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996).

206. Ibid., 79.

207. Ibid.

208. Ibid, 80.

209. Ibid.

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. Copyright © Dr. Justin Imel