How would your approach to evangelism be different if you knew that up to one-half of the people attending your church were not Christians?
As startling as this idea may appear, recent research indicates it is a hard reality for many churches in the United States. Researcher George Barna has discovered the disturbing fact that “half of all adults who attend Protestant churches on a typical Sunday morning are not Christian.”
He also points out that people who call themselves Christians but are not born again are “a group that constitutes a majority of churchgoers.”
Barna’s findings are similar to those reported by Bill Bright, founder and fifty-year president of Campus Crusade for Christ. According to Bright, “Our surveys suggest that over 50% of the hundred million people in church here in the United States every Sunday are not sure of their salvation.”
In addition to discovering that 50% of people in church are “lost churchgoers,” the Barna Research Group has also revealed that 44% of Americans are “notional Christians.” These 90 million notional Christians are people who describe themselves as Christians but do not believe that their hope for eternal life is based on a personal relationship with Jesus and the belief that He died and rose again from the dead.
According to On Mission magazine, published by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, “notional Christians” do not know “whether they will experience eternal life, eternal damnation or some other outcome.”
In addition to not knowing their eternal destiny, many churchgoers hold to inconsistent beliefs about how people get to heaven. In an October 2003 study, Barna revealed that 50% of professing born again Christians “contend that a person can earn salvation based upon good works.” This clearly contradicts the biblical teaching that salvation is by grace alone, not by works.
The confusion of churchgoers also extends to the way of salvation. Although the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way of salvation, Barna points out that “Many committed born again Christians believe that people have multiple options for gaining entry to Heaven.”
Reaching the “7:21 Church Members”
Barna says that many who attend Protestant churches have been “anesthetized” to the Gospel. Many have mentally accepted correct beliefs but have “lived without a shred of insight into what a relationship with Christ was all about.”
The discovery that there are large numbers of lost churchgoers is not inconsistent with what the Bible says. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He also says that many will cry out, “Lord, Lord,” only to hear Him say, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:22–23). It appears that Jesus’ solemn warning may apply to many who fill the church pews on Sunday mornings.
The staggering numbers of lost churchgoers and notional Christians mean that a wide window for ministry is open—the 7:21 Window. This 7:21 Window includes lost churchgoers as well as notional Christians, who are both part of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21.
Why Churches Need an Evangelism Strategy
Why must intra-evangelism become a top priority for churches?
First, as the research indicates, the need for intra-evangelism is huge. Although some church leaders may believe their church is exempt from having significant numbers of lost people, the evidence strongly indicates otherwise.
The reason why it may be difficult for church leaders to accept that members of their congregation may be lost is because many of these attendees have been involved in church for years. They may be nice people who give and attend church regularly. On the outside they might appear to be genuine Christians, but there is something missing whether it be lack of passion, hesitancy in serving or lack of Bible knowledge.
As disciples of the Great Commission, church leaders must show love and concern for all who are headed to an eternity without Jesus Christ. This includes those with whom we shake hands at church. The lost whom we must reach out to are not just those “out there.” They are also “in here,” within the walls of our churches.