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The A/G: Desperately Seeking Disciplers

September 12, 2006

Back at the first of the year, on January 3, I wrote a post wherein I teased out some trends from the most recent official A/G statistical report published in 2004. I concluded that:

Not only are the new believers outstripping the net change in adherents, they seem to have no impact on the growth trend at all. If the data are accurate, we may be bringing folks to Christ in the A/G, but we’re not keeping them.

–“Examining Assemblies of God statistics on growth

And I illustrated my conclusion with data, specifically, with this chart:

A/G stats: Adherents and Conversions

Note the numbers:

472,704: Conversions
49,533: Net Change in Adherents
10.5%: Percentage of Net Change in Adherents

I posted my entry, and sat back to watch. I received private confirmation of my data from a district officer and a little attention from fellow bloggers, but not much else. I notified the A/G statistician of my entry, just to be safe, and asked her to let me know if there was a flaw in my research. I received a thank-you, and that was it.

Now, eight months later, BING! Charles Crabtree, the assistant general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, has been appointed to a new position: the A/G’s discipleship czar or, rather, “commissioner on Discipleship.”

In a recent news article on the A/G website, culled from a message he preached in the headquarters chapel, he notes that only 25% of new converts follow through to water baptism, and only 20% experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Further, only about 4% actually make it to the Sunday morning worship service.

I noted in my article that George Barna had surveyed A/G adherents about their attitudes toward various church activities such as evangelism, worship, fellowship, and so on. He discovered that only 8% felt that discipleship was the single most important activity.

In short: too few in the A/G champion discipleship.

But now Brother Crabtree is singing my tune. He says:

“I believe that our discipleship, at this point right now, is ineffective. … it’s vital for the spiritual life of that new convert that he or she be in caring, loving hands … because currently, we are losing converts by the millions.”

Amen! (Sadly.)

So, the A/G is now doing something about it. A commission has been established, Crabtree is heading it up, and a handful of other priorities are now on the agenda. Let’s hope it produces some results.

I’m thrilled!

(Note to you my Gentle Readers, despite my chronology of this meme on my blog and my communication with HQ, I take absolutely no credit for this. If anything, I merely noticed what others have noticed as well. I’m just grateful leadership is finally taking action. I wrote the chronology as a matter of amusement and delight at the timing of the thing.)

Catch brother Crabtree’s chapel sermon here:

[audio:ccrabtree_discipleship.mp3]

And read the A/G’s news release, below:

Pentecostal Discipleship — a desperate need in the AG

During the annual Assemblies of God General Presbytery meeting held this past August in Springfield, Missouri, statistics were presented that revealed an alarming trend in the Assemblies of God that brought immediate action.

According to AG Assistant General Superintendent Charles Crabtree, last year only 25 percent of new converts followed Christ in water baptism, with only 20 percent receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

“If we continue this trend,” Crabtree states, “in 10 years, we will have a very small percentage of Pentecostals in the Assemblies of God.”

Another alarming statistic is that of the more than 5.3 million stated decisions for Christ in the AG over the past 10 years, the reflection in Sunday morning service saw an increase of only about 222,000 — just four percent.

“We are failing to retain the people who make decisions for Christ through our ministries,” Crabtree says. “I believe that our discipleship, at this point right now, is ineffective.”

As a result of these findings as well as other studies and preliminary actions, significant changes were proposed to and accepted by the General Presbytery.

First, the Commission on Christian Education and Discipleship was created with Crabtree serving as chair. The current Commission on Discipleship as well as the Sunday School Agency were dissolved.

In addition, a Small Groups and Discipleship Initiatives Department was established. This new department and the Sunday School Department will function under the direction of the newly created commission.

“We have literally thousands of small groups going, but they’re not attached to an overall strategy of discipleship,” Crabtree says.

Those concerned that Sunday School will suffer as a result can set their fears aside. The department is actually broadening its ministry to create curriculum and opportunities for Sunday School-style discipleship outside of the traditional Sunday-morning setting, such as home Bible studies.

Although the statistics revealed some broad, serious issues, Crabtree pinpointed the problem. He says that in the Assemblies of God, discipleship has too often meant the church body expressing love for new converts and perhaps even placing them in a class, but no one taking responsibility or “ownership.”

A new convert is like a new baby, Crabtree explains. Family and friends gather about, expressing support and concern, but the parents are the ones who train and nurture the child — as well as love the child despite his or her shortcomings. Churches need to be prepared for spiritual “babies” by training up spiritual mothers and fathers who understand the significance of their commitment.

“Babies are not convenient,” Crabtree adds. “They don’t go by your time schedule — they’re dependent. Yet, when someone asks, ‘Where’s the baby?,’ it’s vital for the spiritual life of that new convert that he or she be in caring, loving hands … because currently, we are losing converts by the millions.”

“There is no greater need in the Assemblies of God today than for personal, ongoing Pentecostal discipleship of believers,” states AG General Superintendent Thomas E. Trask. “Unless we, as a Fellowship, passionately pursue discipleship, the Assemblies of God will continue to lose millions of converts and, ultimately, our distinctive Pentecostal heritage.”

According to Crabtree, with the Commission members set to be approved by the Executive Presbytery in September, the first meeting to follow in December and a report due to the General Council on the state of discipleship in August of 2007, the following steps are already in progress:

  • Gospel Publishing House is working on curriculum and material for small groups
  • A new Web presence is being developed for discipleship
  • Churches are being identified that have “model small groups” around the country in order to help demonstrate and train other churches
  • Promotion of establishing strategic small groups in the local church
  • Sunday School curriculum for home Bible studies and church Bible studies that provide additional discipleship opportunities

Although Crabtree says these are all strong, positive steps, he believes that the future of the Assemblies of God lies in the hands of each church. “I pray that the Lord will awaken pastors and churches to the crisis,” he says. “We can provide all of the best resources we want, but without spiritual insight in local situations and the willingness to obey the Lord’s command of the Great Commission . . . without quality disciples, we simply aren’t going to have quality churches.”

To listen to or download a discipleship message by Crabtree presented in the Assemblies of God headquarters chapel on Tuesday, August 15, 2006, see http://ag.org/.

—Dan Van Veen (AG NEWS #1306: September 8, 2006)

[tags]BlogRodent, pentecostal, charismatic, Assemblies-of-God, Assembly-of-God, AOG, A/G, church-growth, statistics, demographics, evangelism, discipleship, charles-crabtree, general-council, spiritual-growth, conversions, baptism, water-baptism, baptism-in-the-holy-spirit[/tags]

5 comments

  1. I prefer to keep my name anonymous when conferring with anyone regarding my comments. Let me give you some further fodder for discussion.

    1. Virtually all of the A/G church growth that did take place since 1990 has been among the ethnic minority sector, primarily Hispanics. About 1 in 5 A/G churches are ethnic minority and a few others fall under the category of “no single majority.”

    2. The ratio of water baptisms recorded by churches on the annual church ministry statistical form to church attendance is always much higher for Hispanic and other ethnic minority congregations.

    3. The same as above can be said for reported conversions and reported Holy Spirit baptisms.

    4. Discipleship must be taking place at a phenomenal rate among ethnic minority congregations in the U.S.

    My observation is that both the national office and the geographical do the best they can to try to include ethnic minority pastors in the decision-making process, but they are woefully lacking in cross-cultural communication skills to really and truly understand what the ethnic minority pastoral leadership is trying to say. That’s because our national and geographic leadership are entrenched in the American cultural mechanisms of business design, strategic planning, and other typically American ways of addressing issues and solving problems. That’s not a criticism. It’s just the way it is.


  2. We have been using Bill Hull’s books and Dallas Willard’s books to help us focus our discipleship program at Bella Vista Assembly of God


  3. Clearly the AG is changing from being a true Pentecostal denomination to being more of a Pentecostal/Evangelical hybrid. The term Pentegelical (or Evangelicostal) might very well apply to them.


  4. I don’t see any emphasis on teaching about the baptism in the Holy Spirit or much, if any, effort to get believers to that step. Seems like we are run of the mill evangelicals.


  5. I don’t see much, if any, emphasis on believers actually receiving the Holy Spirit. I don’t know where a seeking believer can go. Where are the weekend retreats, special meetings? And do we actually teach about the Baptism? We seem to be more run-of-the mill Evangelicals and sometime too interested in politics.



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