A Disturbing Trend in the Church—And How You Can Help Reverse It

According to Barna Group, only 3 out of 10 Americans are church attenders. Of the remaining seven who are not in church, four used to attend church. We call these individuals dropout believers. They have disconnected themselves from any meaningful relationship with the church. They still profess a degree of belief in Jesus Christ, but for the most part, their love has “grown cold.”

We have now reached a tipping point in America: There are more dropout believers than those who are actively engaged in the church today. If all of the dropout believers in the U.S. were restored to the church, the church would double in size. Imagine Easter Sunday-level attendance or more, every week of the year, as the new normal.

The stats are just as bad or worse in Canada and western Europe. This problem is unique in the Western Hemisphere. Outside the West, the church has problems—but they mostly involve persecution, not apathy.

Yes, dropout believers are everywhere—we all know some. Some are family members, friends, neighbors, work associates, etc. And the rest are strangers whom we encounter almost every day.

So, why should we care?

This “falling away” phenomenon in this post-Christian age has greatly exacerbated our cultural and societal problems. For the most part, dropouts “buy in” to the secular culture of today. And we know the direct result of this cultural decay: broken families, divorce, abortion, crime, hatred, racism, increased poverty, greed and a superfluous abundance of laws restricting freedoms in every arena.

Dropout believers shortchange themselves and their families because they are not around to receive the help, support and encouragement the church provides during tough times.

[Six reasons America’s top evangelism churches are reaching the unchurched.]

And dropout believers also shortchanging the church. The local church, the body of Christ, will remain incomplete, lacking vital ministries and gifts, until those missing parts of the body come home again.

So, why not just invite the dropout believer to church?

A great question! After several different people and attempts, you may see that this typically does not work. Why not?

Dropouts have developed strongholds in their minds that respond to church invitations with thoughts like:

  • Already been there, done that.
  • The church is just a bunch of hypocrites—why bother?
  • The church hurt me before—they won’t get another chance.
  • All I need is Jesus. I don’t need to go to church.
  • Nature is my church.
  • I have other priorities.
  • And so on …

Generally speaking, you are not going to get most dropouts back into church just by asking them. It’s the stronghold—the false belief system they have bought into—that is preventing them. This is one of the central elements of Hunters of the Harvest’s strategy: to learn how address strongholds as you begin to engage with dropouts you already know in your own sphere of influence.

Hunters of the Harvest

Hunters of the Harvest is specifically focused on dropout believers and is based on a scriptural strategy for identifying, engaging, restoring and reconnecting dropout believers in the latter days.

The foundation Scripture for this latter days’ harvest is found in Jeremiah 16:16:

“Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will fish for them; and afterwards I shall send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and from every hill, and from the clefts of the rocks.”

This latter days’ harvest is twofold: the gathering of the lost in the nations (John 21:11), by the “fishermen” and the “net”; and the return and restoration of the dropout believer, by the “hunter” who tracks down each, one by one (Matt. 18:12).

Hunters of the Harvest is a biblically sound and effective approach for restoring dropout believers. The Hunters strategy is based on 1 Samuel 30, when David successfully recovered and restored his wives and family from the Amalekites. It was a highly practical and spiritual approach to regain what the Enemy stole—our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Just as God desires the unsaved to turn to the kingdom, he desires the dropout believer to return to the kingdom.

Fishers fish for the lost.

Hunters hunt for the dropout believer.

A Divine Strategy

In 1 Samuel 30, a divine strategy is revealed to David to enable him to restore his wives and children from the Amalekites who had kidnapped them from his camp.

The five steps David took:

  1. Strengthen yourself in the Lord.
  2. Inquire.
  3. Pursue.
  4. Locate the stronghold.
  5. Recover all by warfare.

These steps were not only effective for David—he recovered every last person unharmed—but they are effective today for the church family, the body of Christ. Satan has come into our camp, the body of Christ, and through deceit has taken our brothers and sisters in Christ back to the world. Now they are being held captive in a stronghold of the Enemy.

  • Where are they?
  • How can we find them?
  • What can we do when we find them?
  • Are we strong enough to recover and restore them?

These are the questions we must answer to understand the strategy for restoration of the dropout believer to the church. The Hunters of the Harvest strategy book goes into detail on each of the five steps and describes how they apply to restoring the dropout believer today.

[We have to remember those who have been hurt by the church.]

And that’s only part of the problem—getting them back in church.

Connection to the Local Church

The other critical part of the problem is connecting every believer, including dropouts, to the church. Unless a believer is connected to the church, he or she is likely to become a dropout when the storms of life come.

Connection to the church is the key to closing the “back door.” Connection involves a “three-stranded cord” that is “not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:12). These cords of connection are:

  1. Heart for the pastor and vision of the local church.
  2. Personal relationships in the local church.
  3. Area of ministry in the local church.

Without each of these three “cords” of connectivity, any believer is likely to become disconnected—a dropout believer—when the storms and issues of life come.

Church, you can turn this trend around for good.

Hunters of the Harvest addresses both of the two critical aspects of the dropout-believer crisis in the church in America. By becoming hunters of the harvest of the dropout believer, active believers and the local church can turn this trend around.

If you are an active Christian, you can become a hunter of the harvest. Order the ministry book at HuntersOfTheHarvest.org, begin engaging with dropouts in your own sphere of influence, and see God begin changing their hearts!

If you are a pastor or church leader, go to HuntersOfTheHarvest.org to learn about how your church can incorporate this initiative.

Hunters of the Harvest is a divine strategy, not a program. It is intended to become incorporated as part of the lifestyle of the church and its active members.

We have a desire and a vision of God to see Hunters of the Harvest-type ministries all across America, through active believers who are Spirit-led and through churches that actively promote and deploy this initiative to their congregations. We pray that God will raise up a mighty army of hunters of the harvest who will reach every dropout believer—first in America, then across the West.

Louis Posthauer is the executive director of Hunters of the Harvest. He has been actively involved in the local church for 37-plus years and currently serves as a lay leader and teacher at Living Word Church of the Nazarene in Houston. For more information: HuntersOfTheHarvest.org

Louis Posthauer
Louis Posthauerhttp://huntersoftheharvest.org

Louis Posthauer is executive director of Hunters of the Harvest Ministry.