By Carl McMurray
A poll by Gallup-Princeton Religion Research Center and reported in the Christian Chronicle showed some interesting results. It seems that according to a re-cent survey, nearly 25 percent of U.S. adults have changed religious affiliation at least once. Switching to a Protestant faith is nine times more common than to Catholicism. Among Protestants the highest percentage of switchers was among Baptists, followed by Methodists and Presbyterians. Are you surprised by this report? What does it say to you?
To me it says, first of all, that one in four adults that I see on the street and in my neighborhood has changed or will change his faith. Doesn’t this contradict the idea we’ve heard or used — “They were raised in the church. They wouldn’t be interested in the gospel.” Obviously one in four is willing to give up the church he was “raised in.” People will change and do change at certain points in their life when they see that either their spiritual needs are not being met, or can be better met somewhere else. Isn’t that “our job,” to make known the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:9-10) and show people that the New Testament church is the only place their spiritual needs can be truly met? For different reasons, one fourth of the population, at some point in their life, is willing to leave one faith for another. I’m wondering why they can’t turn from their denomination to the Lord’s body. Why can’t they turn in their creed for the New Testament? Very quietly the answer comes back — “They could, if they only knew.”
If they could only see past some of the negative attitudes and bad reputations of just a few Christians, they would see how friendly and beautiful the Lord’s church is. If they could see past some of the bickering over inconsequential matters like whether to use class books in Bible class or whether we can read from commentaries, or whether the elders can have a room at the building in which to conduct their business of shepherding, then they would see how much real unity and cooperation there is between Christians. If Christians talked about the church like they talk about basketball, golf, hunting, or guns, etc. — I have a feeling people would know about the church. They would hear of the love and admiration and strong ties of fellowship and zeal which is so addictive to people.
I wonder sometimes if maybe the problem is not a lack of people to convert — 25 percent of them are converting! The problem may be that they haven’t really seen the blessings of the first century church, Christ’s body, in our lives.
They haven’t seen any difference in us that would draw them to glorify God. And even when we do try to manifest Christ in our life by bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit, we keep it to ourselves. We don’t really “sow the seed,” i.e. tell others about the difference Jesus is making in our life. We need to encourage one another in two areas. We need to be living right and sharing that with others. We need to be grounded in truth so that we are ready, and then making ourselves available in some way so that when that 25 percentile is ready to change, we will be there to guide them into the love of God. Isn’t that what 1 Peter 2:12 teaches?
There is a second point observable in these statistics however. Notice the three main groups of “switchers.” What do they have in common that would make people turn to them? They are not similar in doctrine or attitude. They range from biblical emphasis to social emphasis to historical emphasis. What is the common connection? I believe it is simply “size.” These are the three “largest” Protestant denominations. Though their reasons are not always commendable, people are often drawn to large congregations. If they wish, they can “get lost in the crowd.” (I said their reasons weren’t always commendable.) A large group also offers a larger “peer’ incentive. There are more people involved so it “seems” as if this must be “more right.” Let’s face facts. In an age of growing economic slowdown, small congregations are financially at a disadvantage. In an age of urbanization, the small country church image is dying. Many of them already have died, as their next generation moved away to school and to work. And in an age when so much work needs to be done in the Lord’s vineyard, we place ourselves at a disadvantage financially and in the eyes of the world by splintering up and buying more real estate every few miles across the countryside every time we just get large enough to become effective. If we could break that mold, maybe the world would be impressed with the fact that we could work together in peace and harmony instead of being impressed how those church folks can cast blame and sling mud.
In John 4:35 Jesus said, “Do you not say, `There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” The figures in the survey say to me, “Lift up your eyes and take another look.” People are willing to change, but I’ve got to show them the difference so they will make the right choice. May the Lord help each one of us as we individually, and as a family, take his word to a lost world.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 5, p. 14
March 4, 1993