General Hospital

Dr. George Barna, a physician attending to the American Church stands over his patient. He looks down at her slender body. She is asleep, not aware that he has just taken a thermometer from her lips. Her face has wrinkles, showing her age, but beneath the lines is an attractive woman. He knows she is not fully aware of her sickness. She only submitted to the tests to prove she was healthy.

The doctor wonders how he can tell her the truth without destroying their relationship.

Perhaps she will reject his prognosis and claim he is only trying to "scare up" business. He looks at the thermometer and shakes his head. The nurse looks at him expectantly - she has relatives in the Church. Her quivering voice breaks the silence, "doctor - is it?"
"Yes nurse - my tests are conclusive. The patient has use of only 10% of her vital organs. Her body is wracked with cancer."

"But how is that possible? She seems healthy. Church attendance is up from last year, 43% of Americans go to church. And 84% of Americans want to be identified as "Christian, so that means that evangelists are doing a good job, doesn't it?"

"Yes nurse, it all looks good on the outside, which makes it all the harder to tell her the truth. Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that 83% of Protestant Pastors describe their congregations as Evangelical and conservative. That looks good on paper. But my tests show conclusively that only 10% of American Protestants really are Evangelical, and that's only 5% of Americans."

"But doctor, what does it all mean?"

"It means we've got a very sick woman on our hands. Not only is she sick, but also, because she thinks she's healthy, she keeps doing the very things that are keeping her sick. It means I need to grab her by the arms, shake her body, wake her up and try to knock some sense into her."

"Doctor, control yourself!"

"I'm sorry, nurse, that's what I'd like to do, but I know I'll have to break it to her gently. But no matter how it happens, she needs to completely change her way of living or she'll never become whole and bear healthy children. "

This scene at General Hospital should have taken place when George Barna released his book, State of The Church 2002.

Barna had been tracking church decline for almost 20 years. His "State Of The Church 2002" was a scathing expose of the church in America. Church leaders have long relied on Barna to provide independent analysis of the health of the American Church. His perspective is the result of empirical data, not subjective analysis. We would do well to heed his "voice in the wilderness."

Here's a snapshot from his book:

It is likely that the vast majority of Americans have responded at least once to an evangelist's plea for them to repeat a salvation prayer. According to a recent poll, 65% of Americans believe they "have made a commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life." 1 ( It sounds like they've repeated a formula "salvation prayer" and consider it still in effect, but by their other answers, it's obvious the majority are lost.)

Notional "Christians"
37% of Americans are considered by Barna to be "Christian" in name only. 2 These "notional Christians" do not see Jesus Christ as the reason they will go to heaven. Of these 37%, most have said a salvation prayer and believed the evangelist when he said they were "saved."

"Born Again Christians"
35% of Americans are considered by Barna to be in the "born again" category. In order to be statistically called "born again," 3 they need to agree with two doctrinal statements.
1) They have made a commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today, and
2) after they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.

Despite their ability to choose the correct doctrinal statements, Barna considers the vast majority of this group to actually be "notional Christians." He gives us the benefit of almost 20 years of objective research when he says, " Our research shows that few "born again" (his quote marks) Christians, despite having some appropriate doctrinal notions and having said the requisite prayer, never experienced the deep spiritual brokenness that enabled them to realize Jesus Christ was, is and will forever be their only hope of experiencing genuine meaning, purpose and salvation.

Instead of broken people eternally grateful for the sacrifice and grace extended to them, we have millions of people who have simply tried to exploit God - people for whom salvation is little more than a fire insurance policy they won't think about until the Devil comes knockin'. In the interim we witness a "born again" (his quote marks) population that is indistinguishable from the rest of the nation - and has very limited credibility when it comes to promoting genuine Christianity." 4

Later in the same chapter, Barna says of this group, " When do we get to the point at which we accept smaller numbers of intensely devoted people rather than feverishly investing in filling auditoriums
and stadiums with massive numbers of the lukewarm "Christians" (his quote marks) that Jesus promised to spew out of His mouth. (Rev 3;16)? What might cause us to acknowledge that, yes, faith in God is good, but even the demons believe in God - and it takes more than a naïve, inch-deep faith in Christ to become part of a Church that truly honors God?" 5.

Evangelical Christians
The only "Christians" we can confidently say are "saved" are the evangelical Christians. 6
Although they make up only 5% of the population of America, they stand out as the Biblical "remnant" that holds back the judgment of God (Genesis 18:32). They are interspersed throughout the churches. Interestingly, most Protestant pastors (83%) 7 describe their church as "evangelical," while the vast majority of their members have no similarity to historical evangelicals. 8

In order to be statistically called an evangelical Christian, they needed to agree with nine doctrinal statements.

1) They have made a commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today.
2) They believe that after they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior
3) They believe in God, as described in the Bible.
4) They believe in Jesus' sinless life.
5) They believe that the Bible is accurate.
6) They believe in the existence of Satan.
7) They believe in salvation by grace alone.
8) They accept personal responsibility for evangelism.
9) They say that their religious faith is very important in their life today.

Just agreeing with these doctrinal statements doesn't mean that a person is saved, but not agreeing with them is a pretty good indication that a person isn't saved. Only 5% of Americans agree with these doctrinal statements, and the numbers are falling. This is the core group who make up American Biblical Christianity.

Of this group Barna warns, "whether you like them or not, the reality is that the declining numbers of evangelicals reflect a deterioration of bible-based faith in America. Say what you will about evangelicals and their goals, their demise signals the rise of postmodernism within the Church itself." 9

The bottom line: Evangelical Christians, only 5% of the American population, are the only group you can confidently say are truly Christian. Most of the 79% of Americans who are not evangelical and think they are saved, are not concerned about their salvation because someone led them in a salvation prayer and told them their names were written in the Lamb's book of life. This is the scandal of modern evangelism. Not only are we not saving the lost, we are telling them they are saved, thus effectively inoculating them from the Gospel.

American Pastors are understandably concerned about the "backsliden" state of the Church. But the greater issue is the millions of precious souls that are being lost to Hell.

The common prognosis is that the Church needs to be taught how to be Christian.
But is the problem with the church a lack of "sanctification," or a lack of Christians?

Go To The Chapter, From The Day Of Penticost To Today

1 State Of The Church 2002, George Barna, pg 66
2 Ibid, pg 98
3 Ibid, pg 97
4 Ibid, pg 127,128
5 Ibid, pg 128
6 Ibid, pg 95-97
7Ibid, pg 114
8 See chapter, "What Is An Evangelical?"
9 State Of The Church 2002, George Barna, pg 125

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