John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

When It Stops Working

I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time among the cool churches (you know...Willow Creek and Saddleback and North Point and all their buddies who make fun of churches like yours). I’ve gone to their conferences and listened to their pastors. Some of those guys are my friends even. And, while I have some pretty serious reservations about some of what they’re doing (especially video church), you can’t deny the fact that they do evangelism pretty well. These churches baptize hundreds of people each year by creating a safe place for people to bring their spiritual questions and explore their faith. They've figured out ways of presenting timeless, biblical truths to people in timely and relevant ways.

But I’ve never one time heard anyone in a church that’s really evangelizing the lost say, “It was Vacation Bible School that really put us over the top.”

Can we be honest about something? You may (like Jeff told about in his comment) have gotten saved at a VBS in the 70s, but it rarely works like that anymore. More often than not, (like Iz said in his comment) VBS is just free babysitting for people who already attend church somewhere.

I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad or evil. I’m just saying it’s not outreach. Or, if it is, it ain’t working because these churches have been teaching kids the motions to Father Abraham the whole time while the percentage of Americans who self-identify as “Christian” has steadily declined.

In the past quarter century, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations declined by 10 percent, while the national population increased by nearly 30 percent. In that same time period, the average size of the average church in America dropped 10 people. In an average year, half of all churches do not add one new member through conversion growth. Most churches average one new convert per year for every 85-90 regular adult attendees.

I may never ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery or fly o’er the enemy, but I know the Lord’s army (“Yes, sir!”) isn’t making much progress here at home. At some point, don’t you think we ought to look at this honestly and say, “Maybe we should stop what we’re doing that isn’t working and try something else”?

This is a consistent problem that isn't just limited to VBS. It applies to Sunday School and door knocking and a whole host of other things that used to work but don't anymore. Why do we have such a hard time admitting that something doesn't work anymore? And what do we do when it stops working?