Churches of Christ in Decline: Comparing Ourselves with the Southern Baptists

There are, of course, many similarities between the Churches of Christ and the Southern Baptists. Sadly, one similarity is that both denominations are in numerical decline.

This has been known for a while, but we now see that the rate of decline for the Southern Baptists is accelerating.

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Now, the Churches of Christ have been plateaued since around 1980 or so, and in absolutely decline beginning sometime in the last 10 years. At least the Baptists were growing in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Mathematically inclined readers will recognize the first chart as an inverted parabola, meaning that the rate of change (first differential) is linear. And this second chart demonstrates that the rate of growth has been in a surprising linear decline for decades. It’s rare that the numbers line up that well, because trends are rarely so uniform.

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Not surprisingly, the decline in membership parallels a decline in rate of baptisms.

Ed Stetzer is a consultant to the Southern Baptist Convention on church growth. He recommends,

First, we must rally around … the mission of God and partnership though our theological consensus. We have every advantage of the modernized world to be a multi-dimensional family of churches. Yet, we often find ourselves at odds with one another over issues that fall within our denominational confessional consensus. …

Second, we must engage new leaders. Every week, you and I meet new leaders from differing generations and differing ethnicities. …

Thirdly, we need to reach more people and plant more churches. Southern Baptists love evangelism…as long as someone else is doing it. But “someone else” is not doing it either. Every year, it takes more Southern Baptists to reach one lost person, as the member to baptism ratio shows.

I don’t exactly agree. I’m not a Baptist, but I think Stetzer is missing some key areas that stand in their way.

* The Baptists (and Churches of Christ) need to disassociate themselves from politics. Jesus is only hurt when the Baptists (or any other denomination) allows itself to become a special interest group within a political party. The Baptists are too closely tied to the Republican Party, and it’s hurting them.

* There has to be a reason for the linear decline in evangelism. My theory is that it’s generational — the Baptists are failing to pass their evangelistic zeal down to their children. This would produce exactly the kind of statistics the Baptists are seeing.

Part of this comes from the spirit of age, which affects all denominations. Evangelism comes across as judgmental and intolerant to many. Moreover, many of our teen programs are more about pizza and fellowship — and house painting — than evangelism.

I’m all about benevolence and house painting — but only in conjunction with evangelism. If we don’t tell those we serve about Jesus, then we really don’t love them. Our motivation is something else entirely.

In other words, we’re all guilty, I think, of letting the legitimate need to be more missional become an excuse for being less evangelistic.

* We all need to be more engaged with the world outside our buildings. I see in the Churches of Christ and Baptists a tendency to be more about church league softball than engaging the lost. We retreat into our red-brick monasteries rather than using them as staging areas to engage the lost and hurting outside the church.

The Baptists are not alone in this, but they have become victims of their own success. They grew so much that their churches became large and wealthy — and great places to hang out and make friends — and retreats from the world and the lost people in it.

Now, the Churches of Christ have their own problems. We have no business throwing stones. Indeed, the Baptists have baptized far more than we have and have grown much more than we have. Nonetheless, we can learn from their problems.

* The Churches of Christ have not been nearly as political as some Baptist Churches. Part of that is thanks to the teachings we inherited from David Lipscomb, who taught a radical separation of Christians from civil government — urging Christians not to even vote.

His teachings are nearly forgotten but the culture he established remains. We just aren’t real big on waving the flag or getting involved in elections. But that’s been changing, as the temptation to use the church as a political power base is strong in this country — especially as many politicians are learning how to manipulate churches into helping them get elected.

* I think our evangelistic zeal is also dying a generational death. For us, there are several reasons. One is, of course, Post-modernism. But there’s also the difficulty of transitioning out of some old, very bad habits. In the past, our “evangelism” largely too the form of persuading Baptists of our position on baptism and weekly communion. We were “converting” the saved.

We now, largely, have a more mature, more scriptural understanding of who is and isn’t saved, but that means that old methods no longer work. We can longer pull out tracts on how often to take the Lord’s Supper and win a “convert.” Now, we must learn how to teach the lost about Jesus. And we’re struggling to make the turn.

* Churches of Christ don’t have as many megachurches as the Baptists, but we have also experienced the benefits of urbanization. Many of congregations have experienced rapid growth purely by being in a city where many of our members are moving and looking for a great children’s program. We’ve been able to grow without converting anyone.

Indeed, many a progressive Church has grown simply by peeling off disaffected members from more legalistic congregations. And the rapid growth has misled the leadership into ignoring evangelism as an emphasis. After all, if you provide excellent programs and vibrant worship, the church grows simply by out-competing the other churches in town for members moving into town!

* Stetzer mentions some of the problems with Baptist infighting, but — let’s be honest — those Baptists are rank amateurs when it comes internal disputes. We can out-argue, out-fight, out-split anyone!

And while we’re getting better, the truth of the matter is that the old fights still stain our souls. The worship wars for us are doctrinal. We struggle to leave the old 20th Century legalism behind. And it hurts our evangelism. I mean, how do you explain to a un-church person that we think it’s wrong to worship God with a guitar?

I’m sorry, but the Regulative Principle is not only bad theology, it’s unattractive. It’s hard to explain, because it’s just not true.

* Stetzer didn’t mention the name, but “Southern Baptist” doesn’t have a good sound to it in much of the country, purely because of the “Southern” and the fact that the denomination was birthed in a split over slavery.

But the Churches of Christ have a worse problem with the name. In many parts of the country, “Church of Christ” carries a stigma. In some areas, it’s due to the mistakes of the Boston Movement, but in most places, it’s due to a very negative, very arrogant form of legalism. It’s the attitude that we’re the only one going to heaven. And it’s a serious problem.

So what’s the solution? Well, there’s not one solution. Many changes are needed. But the most essential change is for the leadership to emphasize and emphasize again the need for personal evangelism. You see, when the members begin to think in evangelistic terms — when evangelism fires our souls — then we’ll see why political involvement hurts the church, why infighting over last century’s issues is so destructive, why retreating within our church is so problematic, and why anything that gets in the way of the gospel has to be surrendered — sacrificed — for the sake of Jesus.

Leave a Reply

  1. Jay, unless you are using some delayed-release mechanism… you are up late, and doing some good work with this article. I need to go back and read the prior articles now. Have a good Lord’s Day. Bless and be blessed.

  2. A very fair and open minded post, and for certain, there is not one solution. But what I would hope many would see is that becoming a progressive within the Church of Christ is not a change of mind in which one thinks like a Baptist; and this is what I see. There are many who consider themselves progressive who now simply agree with the Baptist on which side of baptism salvation takes place and the security of the believer. The only difference is usually the desire to partake of the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis.

    What this has to do with decline is that most who have, for all intents and purposes, become Baptist but still cannot break the habit of attending a CoC, still have a harsh and judgemental nature toward those of “the world” and toward those considered to be of the “soicial and political left” . And this is the very thing that poisons evangelism.

    It is not until both churches, and others like them, become a more merciful people and actually practice what I once heard in college, and that is evangelism is “beggars telling other beggars where to find bread”. As it is, it is still, for the most part, telling others “We have the best bread, and if you want any you have to be like us”. When in truth what many on the outside are looking for are those they can confide in that they have a large gaping wound, an emptiness, a hunger they are trying to fill. And what just may be the key to evangelism is giving them the bread and solace of Christ they need, then letting them decide if they want to be one of us.

  3. I feel coming from a Baptist Church just a few years ago that I still have strong ties to, that as long as the members were excited to be going to church there they were inviting everyone they knew. After all if your house is messy or not a fun place to be you just don’t invite people over. The main hurtle I’ve experienced in getting people to show up is denominations. In fact people would show up for a special event like an Easter Play or a concert and start going to church because they were surprised at the positive experience they had. The easiest church group I ever invited people to was nondenominational. That word seemed to take away the come try my brand of Christ feeling some get. I want to share Christ and be able to offer authentic Christian community to people. People just don’t see a denomination as authentic it’s like saying I’m Republican or Democrat. They both make me a little sick when the negatives of each come to mind. It means I have to defend things I don’t believe in. Take away the denomination and it feels like I can seek what is true and live it without offending everyone.

  4. Jay,

    The British writer Gilbert Chesterton said it pretty well: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

    I grew up Baptist. I learned quite a bit of Bible as a kid through Sunday school, vacation Bible school, etc. I knew enough Bible to know that I had never seen anyone *seriously* trying to follow it. I’m not talking about things like acts of worship. Rather, it was the lack of personal evangelism, personal Bible reading, finding something new in the Bible and immediately starting to put it into practice, using the Bible to solve problems… There were lots of “good people” but God was not in the forefront of their lives. At best, it appeared to me that Christianity was a hobby, one of the compartments of their lives. I’m not saying that’s the case in all Baptist churches. But that was my experience.

    The same things could be said for churches of Christ. Declining membership isn’t the root problem, but a symptom of a much deeper problem.

    We have to be willing to call people to a very other-worldly lifestyle. Instead we try to make Christianity seem easy and entertaining. It starts with leadership who thinks their main job is to prepare and deliver sermons, visit the sick, and oversee administration of the church. In contrast, Jesus lived with his disciples. He taught them to evangelize by example. He called them to give up everything in order to follow him. Christianity was not a hobby for them. Our leaders take an easier road, and so they get poorer results.

  5. I believe it was St. Francis of Assisi that said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Telling people about Jesus isn’t just quoting scripture..It’s being a good Samaritan.

    I was involved with a Baptist church of 5 years. Lead Sunday school, President of the Choir, very involved…what I saw as the problem was this… they did “stuff” well. They had great Sunday School programs, they did fellowship meals very well, but they didn’t let God be God.. It was not a “spiritually lead” place. It was an Organization. It was dead.

    Secondly, we hired a group to give us the demographics of the area. Something like 75% of all the singles in the city of Atlanta lived within a 3 mile radius of the church. But, these people were of different ethnicity, different races, some even were homosexual… When the leadership found this out…there wasn’t much evangelism. We wanted to evangelize to people like us, not what THEY were..It was awful. Sad.

    One thing in common in both the Baptist and churches of Christ….the women ruled. Make no mistake, angering the Deacon’s wife at the Baptist church was similar to stirring up a fuss with the Wednesday Ladies Bible study group…You want things done, get the women behind it…It was covert, but it was there, just as it remains today in both organizations.

    The CoC has in it a very different issue however. Most Baptist churches get along with each other. CoC’s are notorious for fighting among themselves. How can one evangelize for a denomination that doesn’t know who it is? The Hatfield’s and McCoys were CoC.. That is the “nature” that has been adopted much more so than the Campbell-Stone folks.

  6. The fastest growth of any church was the Church of Christ when it openly stated you either become as us or go to hell.

    Tent meetings debates raging, public admonishments, all stating we are the only true church and where you go is wrong and you are hell bound.

    How I heard men state this and defend it in barber shops and any where they could.
    There is something to be said for taking a stand instead of being whatever suits your taste in any organization, including church.

    Right or wrong, the difference in then and today was the zeal and fervor presenting the message they believed in. People will follow that. Think of Jim Jones, even to their death.

    Today, all that I know of are wishy washy and take no stand in regard to dress, attitude, belief, obedience, salvation. Whatever floats your boat! No stand taken.

    Anyone on the inside and even worse, outside can see this and don’t want any part of it. They can be more sincerely spiritual in their own homes or in a fishing boat than in that type of church so they avoid churches like that. Especially the younger folks.

    The decline will continue and its even worse than reported since we are in a depression and hard times has always increased attendance and yet churches are still declining. That is doubly bad.

  7. Paul B,

    I do indeed use a delayed release mechanism. I time most articles to post at 6 a.m. CT, as most of the commenters seem to prefer to chat during the morning hours. I am, in fact, an evening person, not a morning person. I’m rarely awake when the article posts!

  8. I believe the most fundamental change comes even before “the evangelistic fire.” I think we need to be pre-occupied with loving others the way Jesus loves us. That changes everything, because it changes everyone.

  9. While Alan is correct in saying that we should call people to an other-worldly lifestyle, the nature of that other world has to be evident in our own lifestyles. Whether we like it or not, to the world, we generally look exactly like them– except we have some strong opinions about something unprovable which we want them to accept.

    Jay has made the point before about the Regulative Principle being unattractive– mainly because it is both inexplicable and wrong. So, when we realized we were unattractive to our communities, we changed– something else. We bought better curriculum, we hired more socially-adept staff to create more marketable programs– ANYTHING but change what the problem really is. We were like the fellow who never bathed, and whose personal, er, aura, radiated for several feet in every direction. When he realized that people were avoiding him, he bought new clothes and splashed his jacket with cologne. What he then found out was that people would now sit next to him on the bus. But only for a few blocks, at which point the underlying aroma broke through and rendered him unpleasant again.

    We cannot effectively call others to an other-worldly lifestyle if that other world stinks of judgment and disdain and death. If that other world is one of love and compassion and self-sacrifice, it is attractive. Not to everyone, of course, but to those God is calling, at least they find a place where they can respond to that call.

  10. Charles, I like your analogy of the person who tries to cover his body odor with new clothes and cologne. I don’t agree with your assessment of the root of the problem. If we don’t repent of sin (specifically, deeply, see 2 Cor 7:10-11) then acts of compassion toward others are just cologne and new clothes. We need to take a bath.

    Too many people who call themselves Christians never made Jesus Lord. He’s more of an advisor to them.

  11. Alan, it is probably true that this knife cuts both ways. We can no more disguise rebellious hearts with hot soup than we can hide hard hearts with sound doctrine. However, I would submit that Jesus himself made loving one another the identifying mark of disciples. That is probably nearer the core of the regenerate believer than is an awareness of sin, in ourselves, or as we speak of FAR more often, in the lives of others.

  12. Wow, tell everyone they are going to hell and we will grow faster. Doesn’t sound like a healthy growth strategy. Scaring people into the arms of a loving God is not the true path to growth. Some cults grow fast by having extreme views but this does not mean they hold the truth. As I heard years ago we can go around smashing everyone else’s light to try to grow or we can simply burn brighter by our love.

  13. Skip, Jesus’ message was to repent. I shouldn’t have to cite the passages, but you might check out Luke 13:1-5. The apostles continued that pattern (Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:30…) Jesus’ messages to the churches in Rev 2-3 was a call to repent (Rev 2:5, Rev 2:16, Rev 2:22, Rev 3:3, Rev 3:19). If your message doesn’t begin with repentance, you are preaching a different gospel.

  14. Alan, Please don’t simply isolate the hellfire scriptures from all the other messages preached to the lost. Also, I am sure you know that your quoted Revelation scriptures to the churches was TO THE CHURCHES and not to the lost. I think I was responding to the comment above about how a negative message makes the church grow fastest. Acts 5:42; 8:12; 8:35; 10:36; 11:20; 13:32; 14:15 etc… are great examples of a novel positive message called “good news”. A hellfire message exclusively could not be construed to be “good news”.

    I do agree that if my message doesn’t always begin with repentance that I am preaching a different gospel than what the CoC is used to preaching. However a more positive message is certainly supported by numerous scriptures.

  15. Jay, do you know which churches are experiencing growth? If so, what do people find appealing about these churches? We can remain true to the message of the gospel but our methods for reaching this generation needs much prayer and serious introspection.

  16. Skip, I am objecting to the notion that preaching repentance hinders the gospel. I cited a few examples of Jesus and the apostles preaching repentance, and you know I could cite many, many more. John the Baptist preached it. Jesus preached it. Peter preached it. Stephen preached it. Paul preached it. James preached it. John (the apostle of love) preached it. You can label that teaching as “hellfire” if you wish. It’s part of my message. And I’m in pretty good company. How about you?

    The central problem between man and God is that we sin. Until a person repents, they cannot come to God. Unless a person repents, he too will perish. IMO the reason churches of Christ aren’t growing is that they don’t insist on repentance from the outset.

  17. Alan, Naturally repentance is necessary. But, I can repent because I don’t want to get in trouble or I can repent because I see how much God loves me and how much he sacrificed for me in the crucifixion of Jesus. Repentance from fear alone is a much inferior repentance than repentance out of love and gratitude. Trust me, I have been in churches that preach both sides of this and the conversions are much deeper and longer lasting when the convert turns to Jesus Christ out of love and gratitude. Not sure what your bent is but you seem to have a jaundiced perspective on whether love or fear is the best motivation. Again, I believe fear is a part of conversion but it is not the foundation for conversion. Love and grace are our single greatest motivators.

  18. It starts with conviction. Unless you are convinced that you need forgiveness, you won’t repent. Love and gratitude may and shall follow, but usually that’s not there at the beginning. It starts with conviction and conviction leads to repentance.

    Joh 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
    Joh 16:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
    Joh 16:10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;
    Joh 16:11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

    Alexander

  19. Skip, you are reading something between the lines of my comments that isn’t there. I haven’t said anything to diminish love and gratitude in the gospel message. I’m pointing out what I believe is missing in the gospel message of many people. People are so eager to get someone in the baptistry that nothing is said about anything challenging or difficult.

    So a significant percentage of the congregation might come to church Sunday morning (often missing the Bible class) but not to any other events / service projects during the week. They don’t read their Bibles on their own time. They have never brought any lost people to Jesus — not even their own children. They spend more time watching TV than they do serving God. They get more excited about their favorite sports team than they do about the Lord’s work. Their hearts are unconverted. They don’t love God with all their hearts, souls, mind, and strength. They are double-minded. They never really made Jesus Lord. And so,the church composed of these people does not grow. It’s not really that hard to understand.

  20. We can be convicted by fear or we can be convicted by love. The woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears was convicted out of love. Peter wept bitterly because he was convicted he had betrayed the Jesus who loved him so much. Paul was convicted on the road to Damascus because in the midst of killing Jews, Jesus spoke to him and gave Paul a new purpose. Jesus did not blast Paul out of the water and tell him he was going to hell. Paul was convicted by love. On the contrary Judas was convicted out of fear and killed himself because he saw no hope for the future. I am afraid some on this blog are confusing conviction with motivation.

  21. Alan, all of those lukewarm Church-of-Christer’s are lukewarm because love and gratitude are not the foundation of their Christian faith. If the consistent message is fear and guilt, then people gradually become enured to the message and don’t care. I have sat in many CoC where this is clearly the problem. What is missing in most Churches of Christ is a true appreciation of grace. Grace hasn’t been a popular topic in CoC circles because the preacher does not understand real grace. Real grace is the most powerful motivation we can embrace.

    Romans 2:4 “… God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

  22. Skip, BTW, going back to your earlier comment that Jesus’ warnings in Rev 2-3 were to churches: Amen. And that same message would be a great way to start turning around a church that is in decline. You won’t reverse the decline until you turn around the lives of the current members.

  23. Grace hasn’t been a popular topic in CoC circles because the preacher does not understand real grace. Real grace is the most powerful motivation we can embrace.

    Romans 2:4 “… God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

    Yes, but the context of Rom 2:4 is a warning to repent in order to escape judgment:

    Rom 2:3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
    Rom 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

    Jesus thought a call to repentance was the right medicine for the churches in Rev 2-3. I think it’s also the right medicine for people in declining churches today. Grace and wonderful promises are also part of that message. But it starts with repentance.

  24. Alan, I don’t disagree completely with you but this thread was started based upon the comment that CoC would grow if we preached about going to hell. Alabama John said, “The fastest growth of any church was the Church of Christ when it openly stated you either become as us or go to hell.” (I categorically disagree with Alabama John’s statement. This may be his personal experience but certainly not mine.)

    One can’t build a great church on a steady diet of fear and insecurity. The church in Laodicea was lukewarm because they did not understand the love and grace of God so Jesus issued the warning. Even then Jesus said he stood at the door and knocked and asked to be let back in. I know from experience with various Churches of Christ what preaching works and what preaching crushes and kills a church. My thoughts here aren’t random. I have witnessed churches growing rapidly with a foundation of love and I have witnessed churches being crushed and dying with a foundation of fear and doctrine only. This is not an intellectual argument for me. I am arguing from experience on both sides of this debate.

  25. Skip,

    Neither is it an intellectual argument for me. I’ll be held accountable by God for how I do this. So I make every effort to do it like the Lord and his select apostles did it.

    Repentance leads to times of refreshing (Acts 3:19). It hurts only for a little while, does no lasting harm, and leaves no regret (2 Cor 7:9-10). When we “wash our hands, purify our hearts, grieve, mourn and wail,” God lifts us up (James 4:8-10). Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

    Bottom line, there is no salvation without repentance. Glossing over that point is not doing anyone a favor.

  26. Alan, I think we are talking past each other. I never said that repentance was not necessary. I believe repentance is always necessary for all sin.

    I am arguing what brings us to lasting repentance better: Fear or Love. I contend that love brings about true and deep change whereas the fear motive, espoused by Alabama John and perhaps you, is far inferior. Fear has it’s place for those that don’t know how to love nor understand God’s love. Alan, you and I believe in repentance but apparently disagree with the motivation for our repentance. I don’t change deeply primarily by fear. People don’t make deep character changes by fear alone. Love brings about lasting and permanent change.

    I am a good husband not because I fear my wife but because I love her. I assume this is the same experience for you.

  27. Skip,
    My comments on this thread have been my attempt to answer Jay’s question regarding what should be done to reverse the decline in churches of Christ:

    So what’s the solution? Well, there’s not one solution. Many changes are needed. But the most essential change is for the leadership to emphasize and emphasize again the need for personal evangelism.

    Mainly, I’m saying that prior to any emphasis on evangelism, there needs to be repentance from a double-minded lifestyle. For some, I think it would be the first time they were really given a clear call to repent. And moving forward, people need to be called to repentance at the time of conversion.

    In Romans 2:3-4 Paul addresses some people who had apparently understood grace but had not allowed grace to have the intended effect. Paul says that grace was intended to lead them to repentance — but they had not repented. So Paul gives them a warning: “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” He was using fear of judgment as a motivator.

    When we discard fear as a legitimate motivation for repentance, we have to discard a lot of scripture along with it. It’s not the only legitimate motivation. But a church in decline, full of half-converted people, needs to be warned about judgment. And non-Christians need someone to call them to face the sin in their lives, to understand the consequences of their sin, and repent. Jesus gave warnings about judgment in those situations. We should too.

    The gospel seems irrelevant until a person realizes the bad news of the predicament they are in. “Jesus saves” is true enough but it doesn’t connect with most people. “Saves from what?” We have to fill in that blank.

  28. Alan, Like I said, we have been talking past each other. My original comments were never addressed to you. I have never discarded fear as one legitimate motivation and I never will. I have studied the Bible with hundreds of non-Christians over the years and fear wakes them up but love draws them into a relationship with God. The ones that don’t get past the primary motivation of fear do not survive.
    Those in the Church of Christ who are lukewarm certainly need to be warned but their problem runs far deeper than a warning. They never truly have understood the God they are trying to serve. I contend that once a person really falls in love with the Lord, backsliding is unthinkeable.

  29. Some random thoughts on why we are losing our evangelistic touch:

    1. We (C/C and SBC and lots more) have been on a program to put our kids in ‘private’ education, a trend that is only accelerating. Why do we think we’re losing our focus with touching the world when we’re hiding our best assets in a community with similar makeup?

    2. In a similar vein, the move to the suburbia surely put’s in a similar situation. We’re moving to area (our homes, our jobs, our church) where people are ‘like us’.

    3. Likewise, we just don’t deal well with culture change(s). How many missionaries are trying to replicate the Church at Hometown, Okla, population 2,000. How many metro church(s) trying to reproduce a similar time/place, i.e. the good old days, which is still embedded in the mind of aging church leaders? How many parents afraid to send their children to public school because of……..

    4. Someone has already mentioned politics. The ‘Christian’ right stands for a lot of things that turn outsiders off from even considering the church to be part of a solution to society’s ills. We need to recover the message of the O.T. prophets…..

  30. Skip,
    I understand what you are saying. I don’t disagree.

    I’m trying to add to the discussion the point about repentance. I think it’s the missing ingredient in many churches. I’m not saying it’s missing in your message or in your church.

  31. Alan and Skip,
    My post, beside preaching hellfire, was to say that when we were excited and taught, preached and believed all our friends, kin and fellow workers were all going to hell, we got off our butts and approached them out of love to save their souls and to be with them in heaven forever.
    WE had the fervor and a fear of losing them. Because of that fear, we used many methods, but each one was to save their soul. It was recognized nationally we are the fastest growing Church in America.
    We have lost that “Got to save them before its too late belief goal”.
    To demonstrate, how many visitors do most churches of Christ have at each service today? How many did we personally invited to come? Not many if any at all is both answers.
    My point is: We are the problem!

  32. I had a driver’s ed student this morning who goes to one of the big Baptist churches in this area. She informed me that they are on the verge of a split over the older generation not liking the type of worship music the younger generation desires . I guess we’re not that different after all!! Maybe we could all learn from each other on what to and what not to do.

  33. Apathy, lethargy, and lukewarmness certainly summarizes the 4 Churches of Christ I had been involved in over the years. The breakdown started when the preachers kept recycling old sermons or simply taught the same themes over and over. They used lots of humanistic illustrations and very few scriptures. The members had heard it all before and emotionally check out.

    I come to church to hear the word of God laid open and explained. No two sermons are ever identical by teaching through the WHOLE Bible in context. I don’t come to see the mesmerizing personality of a preacher nor do I rely on the preacher to provide me my motivation. :-)

  34. Alexander’s post is quite true, although I wonder why he failed to identify who the “He” is who will convict the world of sin. We’ve been trying to do it ourselves for a long time. Jesus seems to be saying that this assignment has been given to Someone else.

  35. Alabama John wrote:

    My point is: We are the problem!

    Absolutely right, AJ. If one of us would convert someone else every year or two, and teach them to do the same, we’d have a rapidly growing church in just a few years. We’re not growing because none of us is doing that.

  36. Chris,

    There are many growing churches. There are very few churches that grow by expanding the Kingdom — that is, by converting the lost.

    Those that do this seem to have at least these elements in common:

    * A passion for Jesus, the gospel, and the lost.
    * Not judgmental — that is, they love sinners and realize that it’s Jesus who changes people, not dirty looks and snide comments.
    * Great preaching. There’s no BCV for great preaching, but there’s a very real correlation here.
    * Non-denominational. They may be part of a denomination, but they wear a non-denominational name. There are exceptions, of course, but the community churches are growing much more rapidly in the US than Christianity or evangelicalism.
    * Contemporary worship style. Again, there are exceptions. But every Protestant megachurch (over 2,000 members) in the country has at least one contemporary worship service. This wasn’t true 10 years ago. But many also have traditional alternative services.

  37. Jay,

    What would you consider a “growing church” in the sense of converting the lost? Would adding 5% newly baptized members every year make the cut? 10%? 20%?

    None of the churches I know of that are growing at 10% or more through baptisms are doing it from an attractional model. Measuring against your criteria:

    * They do have a passion for Jesus, the gospel, and the lost.

    * They treat sinners with dignity and respect but they don’t tiptoe around discussing sin. That might or might not qualify in your mind as being non-judgmental.

    * Great spiritual leadership. The preacher may not be not the best orator. But he’s extraordinarily inspiring one-on-one. He produces leaders and trains them to produce leaders. This is the place to start. One great leader who converts people himself and trains others to do so will build a growing church. Where do you find one? Probably not at the preacher’s college. Find a church where this kind of growth is happening, and hire one of the leaders they are training.

    * The name of the church is irrelevant to the process. I’ve seen churches grow by leaps and bounds with the most whacky names. And with conservative, traditional names.

    * Worship style is also irrelevant. Church growth happens almost entirely outside of the worship service. When a person is converted to Jesus, they naturally connect with the group that led them to that point. They are quite tolerant of any idiosyncrasies as long as the church is striving to follow God.

    I think worship style is a red herring. It’s the wrong thing to focus on. By spending so much time fighting those battles, people are distracted from addressing the really important things that make all the difference.

  38. Jay, although it would be great for everyone to worship together, do you foresee the church ever offering an additional service with instrumental music (even if it’s as simple as a guitar)? I know churches that are not COC who have done this with success (contemporary & traditional). Feel free to respond to my personal e-mail. Thanks.

  39. I don’t believe that worship style is irrelevant to growth. Obviously if the worship is inconsequential then worship can’t influence the lost. At my church the worship is very powerful and awe inspiring and new visitors show up every week and are awe struck in worship and want to return again and again. The church has grown dramatically in numbers in the 5 years we have been involved (perhaps 3000 members now) and the worship style has been a huge factor.

  40. Skip, I’m very strongly not in favor of the attractional model of church growth. I’ve never seen it produce large numbers of real disciples. In my experience, and from my reading of scripture, real disciples are made one-on-one and in small groups — in living rooms, not in church auditoriums. And when you do it that way it really doesn’t matter what kind of music you have in the worship service. It doesn’t matter whether the speaker is eloquent or not. Paul wasn’t eloquent. I don’t think he chose the songs for worship based on the kind of music outsiders liked to hear. And he was pretty effective at building churches

    The attractional model has a flawed underlying principle IMO. It presumes that the individual non-Christian should be the determiner of what worship ought to be. Worship becomes designed to please those with the least insight into spiritual matters. It brings people to the assembly for all the wrong reasons. IMO people use this approach because almost nobody is actually doing personal evangelism.

    First century worship services were not designed for evangelism. They had that effect because visitors saw the power of God on display. But most evangelism happened outside the assembly. Those who were scattered preached the Word wherever they went. Their evangelism wasn’t primarily about getting non-Christians to come to church to hear the preacher. Instead, the individual Christians preached the word themselves. Nowadays, most self-described Christians don’t do that. And so we substitute an attractional approach hoping that the skilled speaker can move the hearts of people who happen to come. It’s a poor substitute.

    If you make the service entertaining enough to outsiders, your attendance might grow. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that is evangelism. It’s not. How much healthier the church would be if we corrected the root problem instead!

  41. The baptist church I come from is growing and baptizing nonbelievers. They have a great core group that are community minded and love one another. My parents go there still and the thing you notice is that they love going there. Imagine loving to go to worship because it moves you to worship God. They invite people because you invite people when you are excited about what your apart of. The point I was making in my earlier post is that sometimes we put our worst foot forward when we put a denomination or brand instead of Christ. What happens to a church that lays aside divisive barriers and just promotes Christ to a world in need of Christ. Maybe then the leadership doesn’t feel handicapped by a label that says if we are this we can’t do that. For example if I’m a Jew I can’t eat with a gentile. If I’m CoC I can’t do mission with a baptist and so on. It just so happens people see this inside and outside the church. So they sometimes decide to go to something more real. Real meaning no brand just Christ. And believe me it is easier to invite someone to something that is real.

  42. Alan, It is not an either-or proposition. Our church also has small groups AND our corporate worship is powerful. We can’t throw out corporate worship as inconsequential just because in our experience it has been. Also we can’t throw out small groups as inconsequential just because in our experience it has been. Why can’t we enjoy both within the same body of Christ?

    That being said, you don’t find much evidence for small groups in the book of Acts or for that matter in any of the epistles, but I certainly believe in them and lead one.

    On another thread… I certainly do believe we should be disciples of Jesus and am one but interestingly the word disciple disappears after Acts 21 and is never mentioned again in the rest of the N.T.. The most prevalent descriptions in the epistles are “family”, and “brothers and sisters”. The early Christians were still disciples but Paul did not address them as such. He chose rather to use family names.

  43. Skip wrote:

    Alan, It is not an either-or proposition. Our church also has small groups AND our corporate worship is powerful.

    I’m not talking about small groups. Organizing in small groups is not the solution, just as dramatic and exciting worship services is not the solution either. Let me try one more time to explain.

    1) It starts with one person who is committed to answering Jesus’ call to make disciples. One would hope that is the minister / “evangelist”. But if not, then you need someone in the church who actually makes disciples, repeatedly. Don’t proceed to step 2 until this is occurring.
    2) That person teaches the new disciples to make disciples. And he teaches those disciples to train the subsequent disciples to make disciples.
    3) The leader trains other leaders to build in this manner. So the cycle continues.

    That’s not the same thing as “small groups.” Lots of churches have small groups. But very few have the process I described above *actually* occurring. It’s very biblical (2 Tim 2:2). A church that does this will grow, guaranteed. It starts with the leader. You don’t learn to do this in preacher colleges. You learn on the job, from someone else who is doing it.

    I certainly do believe we should be disciples of Jesus and am one but interestingly the word disciple disappears after Acts 21 and is never mentioned again in the rest of the N.T.

    2 Tim 2:2 was written significantly later than the time frame of Acts 21. While it does not literally use the word “disciple” it certainly describes the process. Regardless, Jesus’ call to make disciples didn’t expire after Acts 21. It’s still in effect.

  44. Alan, Been there before. I have been in many discipleship focused ministries and have led many over a 34 year period. I have been in churches where the sole focus was making disciples and 70% of those baptized left or fell away. I have seen the failure of an exclusive focus on discipleship. One has to replicate the whole church experience which includes discipleship, worship, great teaching, and small groups. Try reading Kippling’s poem on the blind men and the elephant. It will help explain my perspective.

  45. Skip wrote:

    Alan, Been there before. I have been in many discipleship focused ministries and have led many over a 34 year period.

    I’ve got a few years on you. If that means anything.

    You cite a few failings / flaws with your experience. Attributing those failings to every “discipleship focused” ministry is an unfortunate and illogical step. I’ve seen what I’ve described work marvelously. More to the point, it sounds like you’ve given up on something the Bible clearly teaches. I believe you would be better off to try it anew.

    I’m not advocating that we should ignore all the other aspects of leading a church and focus only on evangelism. Jay asked why churches aren’t growing, and how we can turn that around. So that’s the question I’m answering. If you want to keep doing the same things in the same ways expecting different results, that’s your prerogative. I’m just suggesting that if some people want to see their churches turn around and grow, they might want to try implementing 2 Tim 2:2. It does work.

    Some people build with wood, hay and straw. Others build with gold, silver, and precious stones. I don’t think musical styles are one of those precious building materials. I don’t think dramatic, emotionally exciting worship services are either. If those things were the key to reaching the world, I think Jesus would have said so. He didn’t. Making disciples means changing lives one at a time, one-on-one, face to face. It means teaching them to obey *everything* Jesus commanded. That’s Bible. It’s hard. It takes a lot of time, effort, and love.

    The quality of the work will be tested on the Day. Maybe what you’re building will survive. I hope and pray, for your sake and for theirs, that it does.

  46. In fact, when we look atthe statistics Jay presents, it#s about numbers, not about disciples. After His speech in John 6, our Lord lost many of His followers, yet this seemingly did not trouble Him. Christ wants to gather committed disciples, He is not impressed by numbers. Look at your churches (and my home church): Not all that have been baptized live the life of a disciple – in other words, they are only members of this church below; if they don’t straighten their path, they won’t be with us in eternity. Counting them along with the disciples therefore creates a wrong impression of growth or decline of churches.

    Alexander

  47. Alan, Thanks for your perspective however I wasn’t citing a few failings but pervasive failings in hundreds of churches that I personally know about. I have assiduously studied many books on making disciples for many years. I have been trained by others and have trained many. The reason for the “discipleship” failure was that making disciples became the summon bonum (main focus) of the church to the point where most lessons and activities were focused on discipling. Thus the members became disciples of discipleship rather than disciples of Jesus Christ. In Acts 2 the church did not grow in one day by one-on-one discipling but rather by a very convicting and inspiring message by one man – Peter. As you read through Acts you see another man, Paul, preach to numerous crowds and make many converts in one message. Paul did not move into a city and convert one at a time until the church finally multiplied. Paul converted many in large numbers simultaneously. This is not to say that Paul did not later “disciple” and mature people but Paul launched many Churches bypassing the one-on-one model. I think 2 Tim 2:2 is a great scripture but that one scripture does not summarize everything that we are to do in order to build a church. I will argue that 2 Tim 2:2 is not even teaching the “Master Plan of Evangelism” but rather the need for Timothy to raise up leaders who are reliable who can raise up leaders.
    I haven’t given up on the concept of discipling but rather now view it in the context of the bigger picture. I still welcome “discipling” and still work to help others mature in Christ. Again, our church has grown very rapidly by employing worship, fellowship, great Bible teaching, small groups, and lastly one-on-one relationships. This well rounded approach I believe is balanced and healthy and explains our sustained growth over the years. I can show scriptures to support ALL of these dimensions of Church growth and our church is a demonstration of that.
    I believe the epistles are written by those who properly understood how to interpret Jesus teachings. The sheer lack of mention in the epistles of discipleship and discipling, in order to make converts, is very telling to me.

  48. Skip, my main objection to your position is that Jesus said to go and make disciples. He said we must baptize them and to teach them to obey everything just as Jesus taught. I think your point about the word “disciple” not appearing in the epistles is a red herring. Jesus’ command still stands. Satan will go to great lengths to keep us from doing what Jesus instructed. There certainly have been some cases where a discipling approach has been applied in ungodly ways. That’s not evidence against discipling. It’s evidence that Satan is still at work. We still need to be great disciples of Jesus ourselves, and to make others into great disciples of Jesus.

    I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. I wish you the best in whatever method you apply to build up God’s church.

    I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on this.

  49. Alan, I am very pro discipling and discipleship. However, I can’t craft a whole theology simply on two scriptures: Matthew 28:18-20 and II Timothy 2:2. I look at the whole balance of scriptures with all emphases to hopefully see the bigger picture.
    What is the name of your church that is thriving on a discipling alone model? I would love to check out the website.

  50. Skip, I’ve seen personal evangelism be effective countless times. For a recent example, in our congregation, a single brother with some time on his hands got the conviction that he needed to share his faith. He went out on a local college campus (where he was not a student) and started inviting people to come to a bible study at a certain spot on campus. People came, and he studied with them, and baptized a couple of them. Then he went to a campus evangelism conference and got more conviction. He came back the next week and invited a hundred people to that bible study (and got 100 phone numbers – all by himself, in one week). A big crowd showed up for the bible study. He and the new converts taught them the essentials of the gospel, and several of them were baptized. Then they started bringing their friends, and the single brother helped them teach the gospel to those friends. To make a long story short, in a span of less than two years, the campus ministry is now around 25 disciples, all baptized on that campus as a direct result of this one single brother who decided to start sharing his faith, assisted by the new Christians he has baptized. Several of the students have brought parents and other family members who also considering the gospel, and some of them have already been baptized.

    Nobody told this single brother to do it (other than Jesus, that is…) Our minister did some coaching once he started baptizing a few people but really it was this brother’s initiative and willingness to be used by God that was the key.

    That’s one example.

  51. That’s a great example and inspiring. I especially like “that no one told this brother to do it”. God moved his heart. This isn’t the only way to grow but it is a great way. We do likewise in our church.

  52. Skip,

    Don’t buy Alan’s story for a minute. He’s an elder in the International Churches of Christ. If the doctrines and methods Alan teaches and practiced truly worked to make true disciples of Jesus, then the ICOC would have evangelized the world by now – or be at least be much, much larger than 92,000 or so members worldwide at the moment. Alan’s story (“one guy goes out and works really hard and over a short period of time ends up with a lot of baptisms”) has repeated itself many, many times since the original Crossroads Movement in the late 1960’s. He’s not telling you that most of people leave and most of those don’t want anything to do with Christianity. In fact, the ICOC as a movement still has to baptize at least three people a year to grow by one person!

    The truth is that Alan and the rest of the ICOC wants the doctrines and methods of Kip McKean, but not McKean as its leader. Keep hammering away at his two-scripture theology! You’ll discover that he teaches that the Holy Spirit is not a person, that he teaches Jesus is not fully divine in nature, and that he teaches Pelagianism.

  53. X-ray, I appreciate your support and I enjoy the discussion with Alan. Not sure he will engage any more. I thoroughly understand the International Churches of Christ. I was converted at Crossroads in 1974 before there was an ICOC. My first “bible talk” was with Kip. I know Kip well and after being in several CoC campus ministries and leading in various capacities I became full time in the ICOC. The big attraction was the emphasis on being disciples and making disciples. What I enjoyed most was that we kept seeing new things in scripture and putting them into practice. HOWEVER, over time way to much emphasis was placed upon the discipling process and the movement became very humanistic. The 70% drop out rate was discussed in one of our many conferences. The failed leadership was exposed, Kip was “fired”, and most churches broke away and rethought how to grow a church. The better part of modern ICOC churches have nothing to do with Kip or any of the exaggerated methods he espoused. I just spent time with a dying elder in the Chicago church who subsequently passed away. This elder had great integrity, was very grace based in leadership, and proved to be an elder in the truest sense of the word. I stay close to many in the ICOC and many still consider me their brother in Christ, however we no longer attend. We prefer our current church atmosphere that has phenomenal worship, great teaching, great fellowship, small groups, and lots of conversions. We are seeing things in scripture we never saw before and the atmosphere is electric because God is obviously growing the church. I would much rather see God growing the church by hundreds than a humanistic plan to grow the church in dribs and drabs. Our current growth is exciting and reminds me of the early days but without the overemphasis on human effort.
    I am sure that Alan is growing and learning and his church will find its way forward.

  54. In fact, the ICOC as a movement still has to baptize at least three people a year to grow by one person!

    Well, the same ration is probably true for “traditional” churches of Christ, only that the two thirds remain in their pews adding to the numbers of the congregation without living as disciples of Christ.

    I view the ICoC both critical but also as an encouragement to strive for the best. I don’t trust in methods, but I won’t accept a(ny) status quo as the non-plus-ultra either. There is always room for improvement. The ICoC went through its major crisis, and it was necessary. It cost the Vienna church two thirds of its members, and eventually we merged with the mainline church – a merger from which both “wings” profited a lot. God started adding to our numbers again, but as I said, of the 10 people having been baptized during the last two years, by far not all are living up to their committment of discipleship.

    I think we baptize too fast and sometimes the decisions are immature, based on an insufficient presentation of the Gospel. I am fully convinced that baptism is for the remission of sins, but I cry out NOOOO to a Gospel that is being reduced to the forgiveness of sins. It is about the King and His Kingdom, calling loyal subjects to their inheritance. Forgiveness of sins is just a basic requirement to become a citicen, no more no less, but if we present the Gospel just or mainly as “forgiveness” we have to live with results: large numbers but few disciples.

    So I’d not be upset because of numerical decline, if it means those leave who were just numbers. Yet, strange enough, it’s quite often them who stay (unmoved by anything), while those desiring more leave for congregations that offer more.

    The solution I see is a fuller and more challenging presentation of the Gospel. There is a need for the Kingdom in a time of political chaos and frustration (crisis and so forth)! A desperate need for a King undefiled of corruption and inimpressed by lobbyists. Let us present to a mistreated nation: Christ Jesus, the King appointed by God! Let’s preach this with the full force of Psalm 2.

    Alexander

  55. Alex, are we working to serve the God of psalm 2 the God of fear. a God who gets pisses off realy easily.

  56. The Psalm 2 description of God certainly presents the anger and vengeance side of God. Fortunately many other Psalms present the love and compassion side of God. God’s wrath is only for the deliberate and willful sinners who ignore his offers of love and grace choose their own path. This is why we can’t reduce the gospel down to just a few scriptures. We need to be whole Bible Christians and not just NT Christians.

  57. Thanks Skip.

    For the record, Xray doesn’t know me and doesn’t know anything about how my congregation is led. I can assure you we are not we do not lose two for every three we baptize. (Today in our congregation it’s closer to one fall-away for every ten baptisms). Anyone who wants to know what I teach can click on my name in these comments and read what I’ve written on my blog.

    I want to be able to participate, to learn and to share on forums like this. We come from different backgrounds and so we have different experiences, different strengths, different perspectives. That is healthy dialog, and I think we all benefit from the discussion.

    Xray has apparently chosen to stalk me and others like me online and to speak evil of our churches. That is not healthy dialog. If it continues I’ll have to reconsider my participation.

  58. X-Ray,

    I’ve long stated that ad hominem arguments are not permitted on this site. I welcome your participation, but please desist from personal attacks.

    I’ve known Alan for years. We often meet and speak at ElderLink in Atlanta. We’ve corresponded extensively about the his former life in the ICOC, and I believe you judge him very unfairly.

    I’m no fan of the ICOC and I understand your objections to their errors quite well, but Alan is no longer a part of the ICOC.

  59. Jay, thanks for the vote of confidence. To clarify, the former Atlanta Church of Christ (of the old ICOC) was reorganized into several separate local congregations after elders were appointed in 2003. My congregation is one of those parts. We are now autonomous, meaning that all decisions (finances, hiring, teaching, anything else…) are made within our own congregation by our elders and ministry staff. The old ICOC organization of geographic sector leaders, world sector leaders, etc no longer exists. However, the “ICOC” label is now applied to the family of churches that came out of the 2003 crisis. My congregation does cooperate with the other ICOC churches around the world and support several ICOC missionary works in Africa. So, we are not part of the ICOC in one sense, but we are in another.

    Some very harmful practices were adopted in the late 1980’s and 1990’s in the ICOC, and that was evidenced by the fall-away pattern that X-Ray cited. I’ve blogged about that myself. Growth came to a standstill for a few years after 2003. But in the past couple of years my congregation has grown by over 20% through baptisms. And in that time, there have been fewer than 1 fall-away for every 10 baptisms. So the rate of baptisms has slowed, but the retention has dramatically improved. Obviously we are doing something better.

    If you were to spend a few weeks at our church, you’d find a lot to like. You’d obviously find the worship band different, and the general style of music. You’d probably find the racial mix different. The preaching style of our African-born minister would surely be different. You’d find our Bible classes are actually classes on the Bible — something that was missing ten years ago. You’d like the fact that almost all our members show up for midweek services. You’d find the people to be happy. Today they have choices in where they go to church, and they have chosen to be part of our congregation.

    Of course I’m an elder in that church so you might not want to take my word for it. If that ‘s the case, I invite you to come and see.

  60. What I like about Psalm 2 is the no-compromise-message: “I have appointed my King!” Face it and submit! That’s the core of the message.
    Even Psalm 2 offers reconciliation, but on God’s terms: Surrender!

    Psa 2:1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
    Psa 2:2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
    Psa 2:3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
    Psa 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
    Psa 2:5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
    Psa 2:6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
    Psa 2:7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
    Psa 2:8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
    Psa 2:9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
    Psa 2:10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
    Psa 2:11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
    Psa 2:12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

    He is the King of Kings, the one to whom all power is given in Heaven and on earth. And we go and preach “Forgiveness for free! Does anyone want to have forgiveness of his sins? A Place in Heaven for free! Come and be forgiven!” How unfitting! How fragmentary! Yes, there is forgiveness, but what’s the reason, the purpose behind it? To enter the Kingdom of God and to serve the Son with fear and “joyful trembling”! Here MUST all debates on legalism come to an end, because we don’t argue about the King’s orders, do we?

    This is a New Covenant Psalm, anticipating Christ’s crucifiction at the hands of these rebelling kings, anticipating His ascension to the Right hand of His Father (see also Psam 110) and the begin of His worldwide reign. The language of this Psalm is VERY passionate, but fitting to the theme.

    Alexander

  61. Alexander,

    Psalm 2 is unquestionably a New Covenant Psalm. It’s frequently quoted in Acts and the Epistles. And it gives us much of the vocabulary of the NT. This is where we find “Son of God.” It’s why the Scriptures refer to Jesus as “begotten.” Yes, the virgin birth is true, but the begottenness usually in mind is Jesus’ Kingship. V. 2 gives us “his anointed” and hence “Messiah” and “Christ.”

    If Jesus is God’s “only begotten Son,” well, what does that mean in light of Psalm 2?

    When we read the NT in light of the Prophets — including this psalm especially — the text is transformed, enriched, and deepened.

  62. PS — I don’t much care for the beard (too ZZ Top), but don’t you wish you could also go to work in your bathrobe?