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Ethics, Morals, Behavior

How Are Your Percentages?
by Ed Vasicek

When I pastored in the midst of Chicago, our small church was very evangelistic. About thirty folks in our church of fifty were saved in the four and a half years I served there. I led many of them to Christ myself.  I also saw more professions that did not materialize into church attendance.

When I came to Kokomo in 1983, I could immediately sense that things were different. Many people professed Christ, but the level of spiritual maturity in the lives of believers was lower than I had been accustomed to seeing. In the Chicago neighborhood, born-again believers were scarce and attending an evangelical church carried a stigma that only the serious were willing to bear.

I wasn't here long before I concluded that this area did not need more evangelism AS MUCH as it needed an approach that would help Christians become more serious about their faith and pace of growth. The statistics of respected Christian pollster, George Barna, confirmed my observations and conclusions.  He claims that about 41% of Americans fit the definition of a born-again Christian.  This is higher in the South (and I believe Kokomo matches the South in this statistic) where 59% are described as those who believe they are going to heaven because they have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. Let's say for purposes of discussion that our area has a 50% born-again rate. However, of that 50%, only 8% fit the definition of being "evangelical." Barna defines an evangelical as one who believes he is responsible to share his faith and holds to a few of the fundamentals of the faith, such as the existence of the Holy Spirit and Satan, the sinlessness of Christ, etc. Absent from his broad definition of an evangelical are important beliefs like the Trinity.

Even with Barna's broad definition of "evangelical, only one fifth of born-again believers hold to all the fundamentals of the faith that he listed.  For example, 53% of born-again people do not believe the Holy Spirit exists; 47% do not believe Satan is an actual being but think he is symbolic of evil; 24% think Jesus sinned; 31% believe you can earn your way to heaven; and 30% do not believe in the literal resurrection of Christ. These percentages are not percentages of Americans, but percentages of born-again believers.

If we add the other fundamentals of the faith, for example, the two natures of Christ, His return to rule, and the Trinity, the level might fall below 5%.  Add to this a minimal level of knowledge—being able to lead someone to Christ, listing the Ten Commandments, having read through the Bible at least once—as well as attending church regularly, and the level might drop to 2%. My guesses might be inaccurate, but I can't be off too far.

The focus of Highland Park Church has been primarily to bring born-again Christians from the 50% into the 2%. Along the way, we surely want to continue to add to the 50% through evangelism, but Christ told us to make disciples, not merely add numbers. Disciples are disciplined followers who are anxious to learn. As a church, we want to emphasize learning, not feeling, discipline, not intensity of experience. We want to be part of the solution.

As a pastor, my priority has always been discipleship. Although the word "discipleship" has become associated with programs or one-on-one meetings, such is not the intent of the word. For centuries, churches made disciples without study guides. Study guides and programs are helpful—often very helpful, but do not limit your understanding of discipleship to them.  Much discipleship can come through group meetings. A good sermon helps to disciple as does a Sunday School class and Awana. Believers ministering together helps to disciple and "apprentice" others. Reading good books, reading through the Bible with LEAP 2000, and listening to WIWC are wonderful avenues of discipleship. 

In a sense, much of Highland Park Church's ministry is one gigantic discipleship program, but it only works if you pour your heart into it. Are you in the process of becoming a member of the 2%?  Do you take your faith seriously, to the point that you are anxious to learn and develop good spiritual habits? Wouldn't it be great if we could see that 2% grow to 3, 4, and 5% in our community? It could happen, but it must begin with us.

Pastor Ed

Reprinted from the November 2000 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.

Highland Park Church   516 W. Sycamore St. Kokomo, Indiana, 46901 USA   (765)452-1779    church@highlandpc.com    Main Service: Sun 10:30 a.m.