I have just begun reading Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts by Thom S. Ranier and Sam S. Rainer III. Actually, I started it about two weeks ago. But I just finished the first chapter tonight. I got stuck in opening paragraphs of the first chapter. I am not big on statistics. And when writers, particularly Christian writers, start building arguments on statistical studies, I get turned off. But this sentence gripped me: “More than two-thirds of young churchgoing adults in America drop out of church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two!” (p. 2)

For some reason, I believe this statement. From my observations, which are admittedly limited, the church in America is not going a succeeding in winning and discipling the next generation. And this does not just refer to outright pagans, who have no knowledge of the things of Christ. Unfortunately, we are also losing many young people who grow up in our homes and are raised in the church.

Why are we losing the next generation? Or to put it in more positive terms, what must we do to reach and keep the next generation? The Rainers answer: “Young adults are likely to stay in the church if they see church as essential to their lives.” (p. 5) Thus, the call for “the essential church.” They argue that the essential church focuses on four critical areas: (1) simplifying the structure of the church, (2) deepening the congregations understanding of what we believe and why, (3), nurturing high expectations of commitment in the local church, and (4) multiplying ourselves through evangelism, missions, and church planting.

Toward the end of the introductory chapter, the Rainers list “seven sins of dying churches.” Here they are:

    Sin 1. Doctrinal dilution
   
    Sin 2. Loss of evangelistic passion

    Sin 3. Failure to be relevant

    Sin 4. Few outwardly focused ministries

    Sin 5 conflict over personal preferences

    Sin 6. The priority of comfort

    Sin 7. Biblical illiteracy

After I read about these things, I began to pray about them, asking the Lord that these things would not be true of the church I serve. And that, to the degree they are, God would send us a revival so that we may spiritually impact Jacksonville and the world to the glory of God.

May the Lord do it for SMBC… and for your church, as well… in 2009.