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The Great Divide

What is a mature Christian? Assuming that evangelistic concern is a vital part of maturity and discipleship, there was one troubling tendency in the statistics: "older Christians" (believers of eleven or more years) are less committed to evangelism than "newer Christians" (believers of ten years or fewer).

When asked whether respondents agreed with the statement, "I have been more active in telling others about Christ in the past year than ever before," twice as many newer Christians than older strongly agreed (37 to 18 percent). Some might think that doctrinal beliefs would intensify over time. But 88 percent of newer believers strongly agreed with the statement "I believe faith in Christ is the only way to salvation," versus 73 percent of the older group.

Church consultant Bill Hull, author of The Disciple Making Pastor, says, "I think this reflects the deadening effect of much institutional Christianity. When you have a pulpit-centered, institutional church model, where accumulating Bible knowledge and being involved in insulated programming shuts you off from the world, it desensitizes Christians to others' needs. There's an old axiom, 'No contact, no impact.' Redemption and lift eventually cuts off the young believer from the unchurched.

"Also the newer Christians have come to Christ in the more passionate renewal movements of the last ten years. They take the commands of Scripture more literally and are more responsive to them."

Some of the statistics suggest that the idea of evangelistic division of labor takes hold once you cross the great divide. Twice as many newer Christians than older strongly disagreed with "It's possible to be a committed Christian and not be active in telling others about Christ" (42 to 21 percent). At the same time, older Christians are more certain about their spiritual gifts: 67 percent of older believers agreed with the statement "I feel I have a good understanding of my spiritual gifts," versus 49 percent of younger Christians. This may reflect the mentality: "My gift isn't evangelism; I serve God in other ways."

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