They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
-1 John 2:19King James Version (KJV)
There is much concern among church leaders today about the very large number of people that are leaving the church. Church attendance and church growth are at an all-time low in the nation. There is a lot of hand-wringing and church programs put in place to stem the exodus with little success.
Most church growth today comes from church hopping; people leaving one congregation or denomination for another. Yet church growth in the New Testament was measured by conversions, not church hopping. I suggest we need to look at this issue from a different perspective.
The Apostle John wrote the above verse regarding people who left the early fellowship of the 1st-century church. He says their leaving indicates that they were “not of us” that is they were not born again or born from above by the Holy Spirit. If they were then the Spirit of the Lord would have wrestled with them to keep them in fellowship with other believers. That they abandoned the faith indicates they were never really ever his.
In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus taught the parable of the wheat and the tares. They grew up together in the same field. Here is what a bible dictionary says about this :
Tares- The bearded darnel, mentioned only in Matthew 13:25-30 . It is the Lolium temulentum, a species of ryegrass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific ( sleep-inducing) poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat till the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine.
Not until they reach a stage to be harvested can you discern between the true wheat and the false tares. And notice that the seeds are POISONOUS! Yet Jesus instructed to let them both grow up together in the field i.e. the church. That on the great day of harvest, that is the judgment day, he would sort them. The tares would be burned and the wheat would be saved.
Part of today’s issues in the church is a smaller population means smaller donations stressing the finances of the traditional church structure. That’s one of the reasons bi-vocational pastor positions are on the rise. The exodus from the church means a large portion of the church world is a having hard time meeting their budgets. Yet I want to propose that the reduction in church population is a GOOD THING.
One of my mentors was a great old Baptist evangelist, Quille Boone. We ministered together in the local county jail for 13 years and he has been there for 43 years when he retired. He was a wonderful soul winner for the Lord. He had a saying that if a new preacher came into a church and preached like he ought to then he would run off about half the congregation. Which was OK by him as the folks who stayed would be the faithful ones he could work with.
I suggest that many of those who are leaving the church today are really poisonous tares. Their absence, while noteworthy, may actually be a blessing to the congregations. They can no longer infect the Lords church with their poison of unbelief which is a very good thing. Those that stay, are most likely the faithful ones a congregation’s leadership can work with to do the work of Gods Kingdom.
The early church did not have today’s traditional church structure. No buildings, no paid clergy, no denominations, no associations, yet as a tiny minority, they turned the Roman world upside down with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ preached and lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even if our current traditional church structure collapses under the stresses of today’s post-Christian culture, we too can still impact our world exactly as our spiritual ancestors did. We have the same message of the love, mercy, forgiveness of sins, goodness and the grace of Jesus Christ proclaimed and lived out in the same power of his spirit to his glory.
May the Lord help us to stop measuring success or failure by numbers and to be focused instead on being faithful to the call he has on all of our lives to serve his kingdom and touch the lives of those around us.
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
In his holy name