In college, I worked as a youth leader in my local church. Every school year we would take our students to a few different youth rallies and camps. Part of the purpose of these events was to give the students an opportunity to invite friends to a fun event where they could also hear about Jesus.
I remember one time at one of these events, we had a few students "make decisions for Jesus" after hearing a message from the event's speaker. Upon making their decision (the decision being to ask Jesus into their heart), they were instructed to go to another part of the building for another short gathering to receive additional counseling and instruction. In an effort to be a supportive youth leader, and also out of curiosity as to what they would be told, I followed our students to this gathering.
Once we got to this other part of the building, the students were handed a card and a golf pencil and instructed to sit on the floor. The guy up front in the room told them that this was the best decision they would ever make in their life and then directed their attention to the card. The card read,
Once we checked off our cards and turned them back in, the “additional counseling and instruction session” (aka headcount) was over. I was shocked at what little counseling and instruction actually took place.
However, in that moment, what really got me was the response of one of our students who I followed there. As we were headed back to the rest of our group, once again trying to be a supportive youth leader, but at the same time motivated by curiosity, I enthusiastically asked the student about the decision he just made. His response in no way matched my enthusiasm. He said, “Yeah… I’ve actually done that before. Just thought I would do it again.” Not expecting that at all, I was speechless for the remainder of our walk back to our seats.
As I recount my years in student ministry, that was not the only time I had that experience. Another time at a summer camp, almost my entire cabin went forward in making a decision for Christ. However, one student stayed behind. I asked him why he didn’t go? He said, “Eh… I go up every year. I think I’m gonna sit this one out.”
What both of these moments illustrate is that we can easily create environments and events for students where they come to believe that "making a decision for Jesus" is more significant than actually following Jesus.
If you read my post from last week, I can't help but wonder if this is part of why someone like Nate "drops out of church?"
As Kinnaman said, "the dropout problem is really a disciple-making problem." If a student's capstone experience in their faith development years is going forward to "make a decision," they have very little foundation to carry them forward into their adult years.
I would also suggest that the same is true for adults. While the days of the big stadium crusades and altar calls might be over, or at least waning, church leaders (myself included) can create environments and put on services that have a therapeutic and self-help feel rather than teach people how to wholeheartedly follow Jesus.
The net result is that students grow up in a church culture that's taught them how to make a decision but not actually live it out. And with a decreasing number of fully formed adults who are actually modeling a Christ-centered life, students transition to young adults and become aware of the gap in what people profess to believe and the way they actually live. Therefore, the charge against the church from the younger generation is that we are inauthentic in faith. We say one thing but demonstrate another. The younger generation grows jaded and then leaves.
So to sum it up, the church drop out problem is a disciple-making problem (with people of all ages not just students), in that we've overemphasized making a decision for Jesus at the expense of making disciples of Jesus.
This leaves us with a massive question -- how do you make a disciple?
We'll start to explore this more in the weeks to come, but for now, I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas about how disciples are made.