It has become obvious to the faithful from all walks of life that the Lord’s church has endured growing difficulty in recent years.
Current dangers may not yet be as preeminent or potentially lethal as those withstood by the brave believers who were the body of Christ in the first century, but it is equally evident they are mounting, ever more quickly, and taking a considerable toll on the church. One of the great questions in the minds of many believers is whether the church can mount a comeback.
In his book and recent audiobook, Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church’s Lost Generation – along with co-author Jeff Kinley – Ken Ham examines the causes of the church’s perceptible decline and potential solutions for the faithful.
In the more than four decades since Ham planted his personal and professional flag on the high-risk ridge of apologetics – and gained fame as an unapologetic voice for the Bible as truth – he has repeatedly warned that the biblically predicted “falling away” was indeed happening right in the midst of believers.
Ham uses the metaphor of “lightning strikes and lava flows” to describe the events of life, and their effects. The former are “sudden, immediate and can change life as we know it. But other things in life happen gradually. Their impact is not glaring or obvious, but they nevertheless change things. Like slow-moving lava they creep, bringing radical change to the landscape.
“When it comes to a nation’s spirituality and morality, change is typically more like a lava flow than a lightning strike. These changes largely go unnoticed as they’re small and seemingly insignificant, but then they reach a critical juncture and catastrophic change ensues,” Ham says.
“I believe we are at that point in America, even in the whole western world, and when it comes to morality, change is a critical component of Satan’s evil agenda and, in the absence of moral leadership, there’s virtually no way to impede the infringing flow of godlessness.”
Ham’s stand for biblical truth has yielded remarkable results. He is the cofounder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, which had its gignesthai in 1994 with the purpose of upholding the accuracy and authority of the Bible from its very first verse. He is the driving force behind two of the world’s most popular Christian-based attractions: the acclaimed Creation Museum, and the life-size recreation of the ark Noah built – all 510 feet of it – to save both people and animals, in order that the Earth might be repopulated after the biblical Flood (Genesis 6-7).
The 75,000-square-foot museum stands on 70 acres in Petersburg, Ky., and features extraordinary exhibits, including fossils, animal collections and a planetarium. Bordered by an adjacent zoo and a 2,500-seat auditorium, the Ark Encounter is located in nearby Williamstown.
After spending most of his adult life carrying on the indomitable faith of his parents, and doing the undoable – proving Luke’s quote of the angel Gabriel’s assurance “for with God nothing shall be impossible” – Ham does not shy away from speaking the reality he sees: The church is in a battle for survival. “Our war is not waged out of hatred against people, but rather due to love for them. It is a war to redeem, rescue and deliver them from lies which blind them to the truth and saving grace of Jesus Christ.”
Ham does not speak only from emotion. Building on fact-finding done for his 2009 book, Already Gone, by the respected America’s Research Group, headed by CEO and coauthor Brit Beemer, extensive polling was conducted to gain information and insight for Ready to Return.
“The state of the modern church is decline. Few Americans are aware of the spiritual epidemic that devastated the land of our Christian forefathers,” Ham says, pointing to his own poignant experiences, such as attending services at an impressive 19th century church in London. The building had a capacity of 3,000, yet the ornate pews held only a handful of elderly people.
In less than a half-century, a staggering 1,600 churches in England have closed their doors.
“Even fewer people are aware that the same epidemic has reached our own shores and is spreading like a virus,” Ham says. “Respected pollster George Barna was one of the first to put numbers to this epidemic, finding that six out of 10 of 20-somethings who were involved in a church during their teen years are already gone.”
The trend has only worsened in the years since that first survey. Lifeway research recently reported that about 4,500 churches in the U.S. closed in 2019 with only about 3,000 new churches starting during the same period.
“Young people see through the hypocrisy of those who claim to believe the Bible, just not as it’s written. And when they do, they leave both the church and their trust in God’s Word behind.
The Beemer Report focused on “20- to 29-year-olds who used to attend evangelical churches on a regular basis but have since left it behind. The results were shocking: Those who faithfully attend Sunday school are more likely to leave the church than those who do not.
“Those who regularly attended Sunday school were more likely to believe that the Bible is less true. Those who regularly attend Sunday school are actually more likely to defend that abortion and gay marriage should be legal.
“Having grown up in church, an alarming percentage of people have now traded in the timeless beliefs of Scripture for a more comfortable, postmodern faith and secular worldview. They have waded so deep into the culture that the current has swept them into the pluralism of biblical compromise and materialistic indoctrination,” Ham says.
“There is a time for tolerance, a time to turn the other cheek and a time to be silent, but there is also a time to fight. But it’s not just fighting for fighting’s sake or even just to be right or win an argument. It’s doing battle for the sake of humanity, the Christian faith and the glory of God.
“Unlike other religions that wage holy wars, spilling the blood of their enemies and the innocent, being a soldier of the cross means fighting on your knees before moving forward into the workplace,
the marketplace, the high school and university classroom,” Ham says.
“But the battle must also be fought in our own churches. We must lovingly challenge our leadership to go before us into battle through equipping an army of Christ-followers. The best way to change a society or culture is not to enact laws but to redeem hearts.”
Ham initially traces the line of battle back to the priest who, in 1517, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a Catholic church in Wittenberg, Germany.
“Long concerned and dissatisfied with the state of Christianity, Martin Luther itemized serious grievances he had against the church he had loved and served.”
Ham goes back even further. “There have been other great figures who led important reformations, such as King Hezekiah.” The king’s effort did not go easily. He sent out a message, imploring people to return to the solid principles so long a part of Israel’s faith and history. The Bible says many scoffed, and his couriers were mocked and laughed to scorn.
“The Old Testament records Israel’s failures – God’s people had not been influencing the world for Him, instead they were taking on many pagan ways, including idolatry – eerily predictive of the falling away plaguing God’s people in modern times.”
Ham says “America was once a nation heavily influenced by the church and biblical principles.” But that is changing.
“One, the modern church is not influencing the culture as it once did because many aspects of secular culture have infiltrated the church. In many ways, even the leadership of the church has adopted many of the world’s beliefs and teachings. As a result, Jesus’ bride does not influence the culture as it once did.
“Two, so much of the church has adopted the pagan religion of the day and compromised God’s word. And three, the majority of church leaders have been leading the people astray by not teaching God’s word as they should and by not preparing the church to be equipped to defend the faith.
“Effectively, the church concentrates on the spiritual and moral aspects of Christianity. But the Bible is not some pie in the sky theoretical book. It’s a real book of history connected to the real world. It has everything to do with history, geology, biology, anthropology and sociology. It provides the true history of the world, as opposed to the evolution narrative claiming millions of years and naturalism,” Ham says.
“It only takes one generation to lose a culture. That is happening right now in America, and across the western world.
“Who has the courage to stand up and challenge homes and churches concerning the reality of what has been happening to generations of children, and now the changes are even more dramatic?” Ham asks.
“If Christians in this country don’t act quickly and decisively, American Christianity could, in a sense, become almost extinct in less than two generations.”