James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.

Applying theology in the real world is simultaneously the great need and the great challenge for the church. When Jesus called for the church to be "in the world, but not of the world," He envisioned that what the church believed would be lived out in how its members acted.

Thus, Jesus' measurement for discipleship is based more on the attitudes that exist between church members than on theological orthodoxy - "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). This is not a call, however, for poor theology. Rather it is an invitation command if you will -to demonstrate theological orthodoxy in the crucible of the real world and in daily living.

We must also understand that living in today's "real" world calls for strategies that meet today's real needs. George Barna says: "Clearly, the Christian Body cannot hope to have much of an impact if we respond in the same ways we have in the past. These are new challenges, demanding creative, unique responses. The solutions that worked ten or even five years ago will fail in the coming decade. We are being confronted with a new wave of obstacles and opportunities. After careful study of our options, and discerning the mind of God, we must tailor new strategies to address this new environment." 1

Demographic changes demand strategy changes. The great demographic phenomena today is the baby boomer generation's passing mid-life and the essential changes in society this has brought. For example, only 15 percent of today's families fit the traditional model of the nuclear family; 70 percent of mothers with young children now work outside the home; 45 percent of all households are headed by a single adult; 25 percent of parents have only one child; and another 25 percent of couples will have no children at all. "Church ministries designed for the needs of the sixties will not work in the eighties and nineties. While the church's message should never change, her methods must do so frequently. We must deal with society as it is, not as we hoped it might be." 2 Especially as we move into the new century, we must learn to meet the real-life challenges of today's society with new and invigorating strategies, rather than relying on assumptions and methods of the past.

One of the greatest challenges facing the church in dealing with reality is our own self-image. Frank Tillapaugh says, "We are heir to a mentality that is basically defensive. In fact, it's not too strong to say that we have retreated to our fortresses with a disabling, deep-seated inferiority complex. Subtly the message has come through that the world out there is modern while we are old-fashioned. The world is seen as moving too quickly; it's too affluent, too educated, too sophisticated to be interested in biblical Christianity. In effect, we are ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not believe that the world could possibly want or need what we have . . . (The) average local church with its modest facilities needs to get the message loud and clear. 'Believe it or not, they really do need us out there.'" 3

Further we shall view three long-understood essentials that new members need from the church as they begin the Christian life and see how these essentials are interdependent and build upon each other. These principles may be timeless, but their implementation demands appropriate applications for today's "real world." Thus, a correct understanding of these essentials should drive strategies which will impact what the church does to, for, and with new members.

The ultimate benefit for the new believers would be for a congregation to utilize these strategies to develop a wide smorgasbord of options which they would then apply and offer as needed in the individual situation. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, the church would then "become all things to all people that by all means some might be preserved." This means appropriate approaches to today's predominant group both baby boomers plus generation X. We must find ways to attract the newest generations without alienating the graying ones. "If we want to minister to today's society, we must speak to baby boomers in ways and words they can both accept and understand. We must be willing to 'become all things to all men' in this case, all 76 million of them." 4

Sharon Cress underlines three essential ingredients that are necessary for new members both to remain and to thrive within the church family:

"1. He/she must be able to articulate the doctrines of his/her faith.
"2. He/she must have friends (church growth studies are showing the necessary number to be six to eight) within the congregation.
"3. He/she must become involved in meaningful group activities." 5

While theoretically it is possible to have a modicum of adherence with only two of these three ingredients functioning in the life of new members, reducing the experience of the new believers to only one of these three essential factors almost guarantees that they will depart.

We will expand in the next article these three essentials of articulating beliefs, having friends, and being involved in meaningful activities as the basis for developing more effective strategies aimed at keeping new members.

Although the primary emphasis will be on keeping new believers, another benefit will be in developing strategies that integrate new transfer members into the life of their newly chosen congregation. After all, even though the new transferees may be well able to articulate their beliefs, initially they most surely will be without friends and may never become involved in meaningful group activities unless the church has developed intentional strategies toward this accomplishment.

lames A. Cress writes from Silver Spring, Maryland. He is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


1. George Barna, The Frog in the Kettle, p. 223.
2. Mike Belan, Baby Boom Believers, p. 132.
3. Frank R. Tillapaugh, Unleashing the Church, p. 60-61.
4. Ibid, p. 130.
5. Sharon M. Cress "Why Members Leave," PRAXIS (Summer, 1987), p. 13

James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.