If you are an active Christian in the Western church today, you likely have personally become aware of a disturbing trend in the church firsthand.
What is it?
It's the dropout believer – the disconnected believer who has willfully disconnected him/herself from any meaningful relationship to the Body of Christ - the local church.
Before you even finish this sentence, an image of a family member, friend, neighbor, or work associate likely comes to mind. And doubtless you have prayed and sought the Lord for their restoration to the church. Keep those people in mind throughout this read.
In our affluent western culture, a large percentage of believers who profess faith in Jesus Christ no longer are part of the local church-the body of Christ. What percentage? The nonprofit Barna group survey for 2016 indicates that out of all American adults over 21, only 3 of 10 are in church today. Of the other 7 who are not in church, 4 used to be in church! We have truly reached the tipping point in America! There are now more Christians who are not in church than those who are! The figures for Canada and western Europe are even more dismal!
This is a problem – a major problem – for all of us in the church in the West.
As an active Christian in a local church, you can personally help restore those loved ones in your own sphere of influence that have become dropouts. How? There is a strategy –a biblical strategy – that is highly effective in restoring dropout believers to the body of Christ –the church.
You can become a hunter of the harvest for the dropout believers in your own sphere of influence.
In order to understand our individual role in the harvest it is helpful to see the big picture of the strategy of the latter-day kingdom harvest. If we understand God's strategy in bringing in this harvest, then the preparation that God has been doing in our lives over the years will show us where and how we can fit into His plan in this 21st century hour.
The foundation Scripture for this latter-day harvest is Jeremiah 16:16:
"Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen," declares the Lord, "and they will fish for them; and afterwards I shall send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and from every hill, and from the clefts of the rocks."
This harvest is twofold: the gathering of the lost in the nations (John 21:11), by the fishermen and the net; and the capture and restoration of the dropout believer, by the hunter who tracks down each, one by one. There has been much teaching and development of the fisher's strategy over the years concerning the techniques of evangelism to harvest lost souls. We refer to these as casting the net of the gospel for the lost.
On the other hand, there has been little if any teaching and development of a strategy to restore the dropout believer. Very simply, the dropout believer is the disconnected believer – once actively practicing his Christian faith in a community of believers, but no longer. There are many Christians who have disassociated themselves from the local church for a variety of reasons, none of which are in line with God's will and purpose for them.
Just as God desires the unsaved to turn to the kingdom, He desires the dropout believer to return to the kingdom.
In these latter days in the West, there are as many, or more dropouts than lost, based on church attendance. This has never before been the case in history where the church has not been under persecution. In the latter days it is the norm, primarily in the Western church, for a host of reasons which we cannot here address. But rest assured Jesus will address these – the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. Period.
It's your time
Now it is time for you, as an active Christian, to become a hunter of the harvest of the dropout believers in your sphere of influence. No, this doesn't mean going and preaching the gospel to them. They already know. No, it doesn't mean correcting them scripturally. Holy Spirit conviction is buried in there already. They have rebelled against it. No, it doesn't mean inviting them to church – again. They have already made up their minds on that.
The hunter's strategy for restoration of the dropout believer is different than the fishers' strategy for the lost. Whereas the fisher of men casts the gospel net to reap the harvest of the lost, it is generally not effective in reclaiming the dropout believer. He has already been there, done that. You ask why he/she won't come to church, a revival, or a gospel type event? Try asking - there are all sorts of reasons: they are hypocrites, nature is my church, it's just me and Jesus, they hurt me, ... Every such reason is rooted in a deception of the enemy that they have come to believe – we call them strongholds (2 Co 10:5). They have bought into a false belief or idea that exempts them from obedience to the call of the Holy Spirit to belong to a communion with a fellow group of believers. It's called the church.
Calling the Hunters
God is now calling for hunters of the harvest -- those who have a heart and zeal to see dropout believers restored to God and to the church. One can't happen without the other. It's both or neither. This is a focused ministry of one on one - a relationship of restoration - rather than a Gospel event that is the usual characteristic of fishers of the harvest. Neither strategy is better than the other or more important -- just different.
Fishers fish for the lost.
Hunters hunt for the dropout believer.
The technique of hunters is different from fishers. For this reason, God has a hunter's strategy to seek out, pursue, and capture the dropout believer and restore him or her to the church.
What is this strategy?
Well, it is not an event -- church service, revival, rally, tracts, media, and so on. It is a process. It is so old and simple -- it is simply love. It is a driving, impelling love that causes us to pursue (hunt) the one lost sheep that became disconnected from the flock. "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?"(Matthew 18:12).
This strategy of the hunt for the dropout believer is a biblically based one that God has revealed in these latter days to accomplish His purpose. It is revealed in 1 Sam 30. David's pursuit of his loved ones who were kidnapped by the enemy, and his success in recovering and restoring them, reveals a specific spiritual strategy for restoration of the dropout believer who has been "kidnapped" by the enemy.
Who are dropout believers, and where are they to be found?
Jeremiah 16:16 indicates that they are on the "mountains, hills, and clefts of the rocks". Amos 4 gives us insight into what this means to us today.
"But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities and lack of bread in all your places, yet you have not returned to Me," declares the Lord. And furthermore, I withheld the rain from you while there was still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another city I would not send rain; one part would be rained on, while the part not rained on would dry up. So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water, but would not be satisfied; yet you would not return to Me," declares the Lord. "I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; yet you have not returned to Me ," declares the Lord. "I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, and I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me," declares the Lord. I overthrew you as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand snatched from the blaze; yet you have not returned to Me," declares the Lord. (Amos 4:6-11)
God, speaking to His people Israel who have wandered far from Him, is calling for repentance to all those who have been smitten by afflictions, that they might return to Him and receive mercy.
Dropout believers at some point can be identified by their afflictions. In Amos, six types of adversity that they may experience are identified. These include: famine (v. 6), drought (v. 7,8), the devourer (v. 9), disease (v. 10), violence (v. 10), and disaster (v. 11). In all of these, He says, "Yet, you have [still] not returned to Me."
The key to restoration of dropouts is twofold:
- An open heart in the dropout to be able to hear the call of the Holy Spirit to repent and be restored;
- Prayer to demolish the spiritual strongholds that have deceived the dropout into disconnecting from the church.
Many times, God accomplishes #1 by the tribulations or disciplines He allows into the dropouts' life so that he/she will have another opportunity to "return to Me." And this is the ideal time for the hunter of the harvest to begin to utilize God's restoration strategy with a dropout – because they are now open to it. We have all seen dropouts in our sphere of influence undergo some of the above afflictions. But we many times don't recognize that this is God's open door to you to begin to develop that relationship of restoration with the dropout.
And in passing, let us understand that everyone who is undergoing afflictions is not a dropout believer. However, all dropouts will, at some point, experience afflictions as the Lord's discipline to draw them back. Dropout believers who experience such things will either be hardened and turn further away from God; or be drawn back in love and repentance. This is where the hunters come in. To draw them back in love.
Prayer (#2 above) is an integral part of restoring the dropout to the church. Unless the strongholds are torn down in the dropout's mind by our prayers, they will likely become a dropout again in the future. This is an important part of the hunter's strategy and not to be overlooked.
Who are your dropouts?
In the beginning of this we asked you to be mindful of dropouts in your own sphere of influence.
Some are your relatives; neighbors, friends, and work associates. It's time for you to reap the harvest of the dropout believers you already know and see God's restoring love supernaturally turn their lives around – for good!
Louis Posthauer is the executive director of Hunters of the Harvest Ministry. He has been actively involved in the local church for more than 38 years and currently serves as a lay leader and teacher at Living Word Church of the Nazarene in Houston. For more information, visit huntersoftheharvest.org.