Why Has There Been A Decline In Public Responses?

Neal Pollard

While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed.  As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service.  When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred.  Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”

One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers.  One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching.  One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present.  One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.

Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them.  Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations.  The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory.  Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)?  Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.

  • Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
  • On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality.  We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.).  Image replaces integrity.
  • Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships.  We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.

How might this impact public responses?  Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”?  Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”?  There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.

What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start.  We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic.  We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever!  The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37).  Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.

About Neal Pollard

preacher, Bear Valley church of Christ, Denver, Colorado
This entry was posted in confession, media, sin, technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Why Has There Been A Decline In Public Responses?

  1. Shirley Newton says:

    The traditional Invitation seems repetitive. I am not sure there are examples in the Bible of doing this and we have patterned this practice after denominationalism.

  2. Adam Faughn says:

    Neal,

    We are certainly not the only congregation who does this, but at Lebanon Road we have an “unofficial policy” that no one responds alone. The idea is that if someone is willing to walk to the front, they should never sit there alone during such an emotional and important time. While I do not know if it has helped increase the frequency of public responses, it has certainly helped the heart of those who have come forward. I think some feel worried about being alone when they are down front, and this takes that fear away.

    Adam

  3. Ken Bagwell says:

    Neal,I agree with you but for the answer I have no answer for that either. The devil has used so many things through out the ages to distract us from the Word. Back then and especially now there are so many temptations out especially with easy access that everyone has to it these days. One thing I think to add to the list that the devil uses is procrastination. People especially young people think they got forever to change their life thinking like King Agrippa they can wait till a more convenient time but we are warned that life is but a vapor it’s here and then it’s gone. No man knows the hour when this life will be over and we waste so much time chancing dreams rather than seeking the Lord and following Him. Great article. I really enjoy reading yours and your family’s writings. All of keep up the great job that you do and God Bless. Ken

  4. Brian Giselbach says:

    Very well said Neal. Thought provoking. As preachers (beginning with ourselves), let’s start praying for our people/listeners more. Let’s pray over our sermons more. Bottom line: If we are preaching the truth it is imperative to souls that they respond obediently (1 Thess.2:13).

  5. Michael Whisenant says:

    At our congregation responses are on the increase. I am certain it comes from the time we spend together in fellowship as well as worship. We have a fellowship meal every Sunday and every Wednesday. I also remind the brethren that the second way listed to build the church in Acts 2:42 is fellowship and if we want the church to grow we must involve ourselves in each others lives. We often neglect fellowship and in doing so, we loose the ‘family’ bond that God desires. I am convicted that this will create an atmosphere where people really feel like they are cared for and thus the congregation and God are the place to go for help, physically, emotionally and especially spiritually!

    • Thanks for sharing that, Mike. That’s a positive solution and that real-life, real-time connection is huge to keeping “family cohesion” in the church (which builds trust, comfort, and openness to stay real, honest, and help hold each other accountable). Love you, brother.

  6. Have you ever wanted to say something but any way you could think of had the potential to be condescending or arrogant… or worse? My experience is a bit different, but my “experience in life” is a whole lot different. And that has impacted my preaching, I think. The more real I am about my struggles, my walk of faith–and calling people to a standard of treating each other with mercy, grace, and second chances, the more “real” responses we are seeing. In the past, I sometimes felt like we wanted to get public responses so as to get our pound of flesh. But the more we make it safe for people to be real about their failures and struggles… Well, I am probably rambling. Please Neal, if my words in any way sound condescending or arrogant, strike them from your blog–and then help me see how I might have said it better… thanks.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, brother. I think that was where I was coming from in speaking on building community, fellowship, relationships with one another. Each of us are shaped by our own observations and experience. I’ve seen what might have seemed like a browbeating approach, too. That’s certainly key. The church is to be a haven from the ravaging world. I appreciate your weighing in.

  7. Incidentally, I believe that for preachers, we see “response” in ways other than public responses to the invitation (I would not necessarily agree that our practice of the invitation is rooted in denominationalism, but is rather a logical expedient and practical means borne of the persuasive nature of preaching; it isn’t compulsory but neither is it wrong). “Response” is measured over the long haul in changed, transformed lives. It is also seen in private responses (baptisms for years have more often happened outside the service times than during them). There should always be an environment of grace, love and acceptance demonstrated by Jesus’ picture of the Prodigal’s father in Luke 15. That can’t mean that we avoid biblical balance in convicting of sin as well as comforting sinners, but many of us need to grow in our ability to show how Jesus helps and heals–as that we are trying to be tools in His hands to help with that. Yet, there also exists at least an element of refusal to acknowledge we are sinners or that we are in need of help and that element is not always caused by a harsh, unaccepting environment. It has always been that way (as the inspired Stephen and Paul at Lystra would attest).

    I’m always grateful for the good feedback you all give. It helps me and challenges me.

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