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FIRST-PERSON: Spiritual economics: What’s your grade?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Find a successful business and you’ve probably discovered a company that understands supply and demand. Supply and demand is the economic principle that certain businesses supply or provide the goods and services that consumers demand or want. The greater the demand, the greater the opportunity to supply the desired goods and services and the more likely the company will make a handsome profit. It’s a basic -– but important -– business principle.

For example, take Apple’s iPod. This pocket-sized jukebox has exploded in popularity in the past six months with several million units sold. Its popularity has truly influenced our culture. Owners are never separated from their music collection, with the most advanced models of the easy-to-use iPod holding as many as 15,000 songs.

Ford’s new Mustang falls into the same popularity category. Dealers can’t get them on the lots fast enough before consumers buy them. Both Ford and Apple understand supply and demand. Each has given consumers what they want and have realized exponential revenues.

Evangelicals need a basic business lesson. Research shows that evangelicals are not supplying the Gospel in a manner that matches the public’s demand. As a result, we are missing the opportunity to realize exponential growth in our churches, which of course means exponential Kingdom growth.

A recent MSNBC/Newsweek online survey asked readers the following question: “Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead after the crucifixion?” Eighty-one percent of those who answered responded “yes,” while 13 percent responded “no” and another six percent responded “I don’t know.”

Eighty-one percent is a significant number. It reflects other research showing that the population at large is searching for meaning in life. This has been spotlighted by publicity surrounding Ashley Smith reading Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” to Brian Nichols following his killing of an Atlanta judge and other law enforcement officers. Ironically, Jesus’ resurrection is often the very event that traditionally causes a rub. The resurrection validates everything God said about Jesus in the Old Testament and fulfills all that Christ said about Himself. This includes the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in salvation. He said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, HCSB). Believing in the resurrection is a major hurdle for many people to overcome but it appears they are willing to overcome that hurdle to find out more.

So, applying economic principles, one would think –- given the apparent demand regarding the resurrection and interest in a purposeful life -– that churches would supply a great deal of evangelism that would satisfy people’s desire to know. However, there is an imbalance. Demand is not being met and unfortunately we –- the church –- are not receiving a passing grade. We haven’t for a long time. Remember, Jesus said 2000 years ago: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37, HCSB).

One out of every three adults in America is unchurched, according to a March 28 study released by the Barna Group. The report indicates that the number has held consistent over the past five years but because of population growth, the number of unchurched adults continues to grow annually by nearly a million people. A large percentage of these adults are spiritually active, but of the 56 percent who consider themselves to be Christians, only 15 percent have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.

Sadly, according to a previously released Barna Group study, fewer than half (46 percent) of the Protestant senior pastors surveyed listed evangelism and outreach as a ministry priority. Spiritual development finished No. 1 at 47 percent. (Sixty percent of Southern Baptist pastors place evangelism as their top priority).

Spiritual development is important, but it is not the primary purpose of the church. Spiritual development often becomes egocentric and many churches focus growth inward. We have seen a renewed interest in discipleship –- which is good –- and we thought that if believers were discipled they would be automatically strong witnesses and become more evangelistic. Sadly, this has not proven to be the case. We’ve turned churches into comfortable country clubs for members when, in fact, the purpose of the church is to reach those who are not members. Evangelism is the proper expression of mature, or discipled believers.

The evangelical church in America is losing ground when it comes to effecting change in our culture. Instead of a trend in our nation toward godliness, the trend is toward secularism devoid of anything godly. Western Christianity has retreated from the battle for the souls of men to the hollow pursuit of self-comfort. We have missed the boat because we think Christianity is about getting our needs met. It is not. It’s about God and His Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Supply and demand isn’t just an economic principle; it’s a biblical principle as well. Jesus identified the disparity between the demand and the supply in Matthew 9:37, but we’ve been slow to respond. There’s still time, but we have to wonder: What’s our final grade going to be in spiritual economics?
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • James T. Draper Jr.