Beware the Drift

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

Hebrews 2:1-3

The writer of Hebrews was on to something evident in the first-century church: Christians tend to drift. It happens ever so slightly, but just like a current on a river, soon you find far away from where you want to be. It can start in so many ways. An illness, a vacation, or somewhere you need to be on a Sunday morning all contribute to a Christian’s drift. What started as a couple of Sundays over the summer soon turned into a fall season that barely has you darkening the door of the church, and before you know it, it is Christmas Eve, and you feel guilty like all the rest of the two-timers.

Thom Rainer recently did a study that found that for every one hundred people a church has, they need to replace thirty-two each year. On average, one person dies, seven move away, nine move to other churches, and fifteen drift off and stop attending. That is a lot of people to replace each year! Most churches are falling behind, and the Great Excuse (COVID) exacerbated it even more. The Press paints a Church in decline. Is it really?

Of the four categories of churches that analysts follow: Catholic, Mainline, Evangelical, and None, the Evangelical church is the only one not in decline. It has remained stagnant. Nones, those who would check no religious affiliation on a survey, is increasing only slightly. So, where is the disconnect? Obviously, fewer people are coming to church, and if the Evangelical church keeps the same numbers, where are all the people departing from?

Let me take you back to the words of the writer of Hebrews; they are drifting away. They still say they are evangelical if asked on a survey. They just don’t attend church or have a vibrant faith. You could argue they were never saved in the first place, not part of the chosen few. The writer of Hebrews makes the exact opposite point. He says their faith was vibrant, experienced the power of the Spirit, and tasted salvation. What happened is that they got discouraged or distracted and ended up drifting away.

I would venture a guess that the drift happened sooner than their disappearance from a church. It happened in their heart. Their devotional life dried up, they stopped fellowshipping, and more than likely dropped out of serving. It is found that when a believer has regular church attendance, is active in a small group, and serves, their engagement is eighty percent higher than that of an occasional attender. Even more studies find that people are happier, more satisfied in their marriage, and more successful in their jobs. There is a reason Satan works at getting Christians to drift away from their faith.

How can the church combat spiritual drift? One word: Discipleship. There needs to be a clear pathway of discipleship at the church. It starts with church attendance, but the next step is joining a small group and then using one’s gifts to serve the local church. This is not Christian busyness. It is a focused plan of action to develop and mature the believers currently in the church. Without a plan, people will wander just like the old classic hymn Come Thou Fount says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love: Take my heart, oh, take and seal it With Thy Spirit from above.”


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