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FAQ: Christian Union Leaders Falling Away?

Fifteen years ago I was learning four languages. My first language, English. French. Latin. Spanish. The reason for this was apparently my aptitude for French, leading to me studying the latter two. Today I speak only English. Why is this? It is not because I was learning too many languages but rather that I simply stopped speaking them when I was no longer taught them.

Today I barely remember any Latin. One phrase I know is: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc. This however I learned from The West Wing. It's meaning is: After, therefore because of it. And it's a logical fallacy - to presume that because one thing follows another it is because of it. I studied Latin because I was good at French. One followed the other because of it. Doesn't always work that way.

There is a statistic that floats around at this time of year warning that vast proportions of Christian Union leaders fall away within five or ten years. The claim is spurious since the research has never been done. Indeed the only research I'm aware of was on one Christian Union and the results refute the claim very strongly. Nonetheless it's anecdotally true that some who serve in Christian Unions (as members or leaders) are not going on strongly later in life.

The temptation is to fall into the fallacy. To say it is the fault of the Christian Union. Similar claims could be made against Church Youth Groups for the gapping hole that 18 year olds disappear into on the road to University - never showing up in Church or Christian Unions. The commonality is transition from one place to the next which brings certain perils. In my own case, this disconnect was one of the factors in my conversion and yet not the cause. 'Twas God's grace that saved me not the circumstances.

As I study Hebrews I'm struck by the primary reason why someone is an apparently strong believer one day, and then not sometime later. And it seems to have little to do with the former circumstances and everything to do with the daily state of their heart. We're exported "Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your heart". The logical conclusion being that we are ultimately only ever a day away from hard-heartedness. The warnings in Hebrews are strong and conclude with Esau who though sorrowful was so hardened that he found no opportunity to repent. Warning us that past (and present) knowledge is no guarentee of the future if we become spiritually lazy. Don't rest on history. I remember a charge at the end of my year on Relay to be concerned down the line if my best story of God's work in my life was that year on Relay - I can't live off 2000-2002, I need to live daily from the food of God's word.

That I am a Christian Union Staffworker today is no safeguard on my heart. I must watch that I do not have an evil and unbelieving heart. And I need God's people. I need people who will spur me on, who will stir me to love and good deeds - who will encourage me to hold fast to the hope that I have in the blood of Jesus. That is my hope of going on. That is the only hope any of us have of going on. I need my heart in earshot of God's word about Jesus' blood, and I need my heart in earshot of God's people.

Ask, not do Christian Union leaders fall away...
Instead ask - what about my heart? And what about those around me?

Further thoughts on applying the gospel to my heart: CJ Mahaney - Discerning How to Apply
Three Myths about church dropouts


  1. The state of the heart before God is the most important thing. If we forget that we forget the message of the Bible.

    I remember being given similar statistics about the GAP year I did; I was told of one or two of the folk who had taken a year out in the same way as me and 'don't love Jesus any more'. I think that part of the reason for this (and this probably applies to CU Leaders too) is that the challenges never go away. Somehow I expected the challenges of faith in my heart to disappear once I was doing 'work like that'. I think it causes some people to re-think what they believe when this doesn't happen.

    It's interesting that many of us would be happy to ask the question "how is my church doing at reaching out to unbelievers? How are we doing at keeping them and discipling them?" In my case "how good was such-and-such-a-church at training their young leaders? Could they have done more? Could they have done it better?"

    I think we're allowed, with a grateful and humble heart, to ask those questions for the sake of improving our gospel witness.

    CU leaders undoubtedly fall away (although some would not put it like that: one former president of Sheffield Uni CU maintains that he never believed in the first place). So do leaders in local churches. I think, just as much as we would allow ourselves to ask the question "could the church have done more?" we can just as legitimately ask of mission-teams "could their support have done more?" - why would we be allowed to ask that of churches and not 'mission-teams'?

    Not that it depends on support networks meeting every need and bandaging every wound. And I agree that ultimately the grace of God frees us from the condemnation of 'I should have done more'. The state of a person's soul is their own responsibility ultimately. But when we're seeking to address practical issues, spread better practice and move confidently into the future, I feel questions such as these are allowed to be asked.

  2. good words Bish. i wonder how wise it is of churches to keep people in 'youth groupss' as long as they do. it's no wonder a few fall away when they come to uni if they've been at sunday school all their life and now they're suddenly expected to take an active and challenged role in the life of a local church...

  3. Somebody at UCCF ought to actually do some decent research on this subject.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. would it'd be fair to paraphrase Heb 11:1 as "faith is the PRESENT assurance of PROMISED things hoped for IN THE FUTURE, the conviction of things not YET seen"

    ie faith is believing what God says about the future so that we respond in the present. Faith is a present certainty about an unseen future which shows itself in confident enduring patience.

    if so, faith essentially involves waiting. Faith is all about finishing. Anyone can start a marathon.

    But is faith as waiting/finishing often preached preached?

    if rarely, then it only seems normal that
    "faith" - future => drift.

  6. Peter,

    I'm not sure what doing the research would achieve. Statistics aren't everything (writes the Maths grad).

    The reality is that if we don't watch ourselves and one another then we're pretty much guarenteed to fall... and if we do then there is way Jesus is letting us go.

    My suggestion, as in the article, is that instead of worrying about the stats, we get on with watching ourselves and one another more closely every day.

    Suppose we proved that 100% were still running 5 years down the line - that is no use if they're not 5 years and a day, or 50 years from graduating. And if we found most fell that wouldn't change the need to exhort people to persevere.

    As Packer says the point is not "past conversion but present convertedness" and so wherever someone is at University what matters is where they finish the race. I'd actually love to think that those running some years after University is a number far greater than those involved in CUs, due to many being saved through the church in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s etc..

  7. Thanks Bish. I confess I find it trying when speakers, etc., keep quoting "stats" on CU members & leaders falling away, because 1) each speaker quotes a different "stat", which just goes to show 2) that it's anecdotal (I'm sure they're only passing it on - but nevertheless) and 3) that's not how Scripture motivates us to perseverence! We must be encouraging one another daily, as long as it is Today, that we're not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We must be continuing to meet together to encourage one another as we see the Day approaching. We must warn against presumption on the basis of past experience, that those who failed to reach the Promised Land were those who rebelled & perished. But scaring each other with unsubstantiated stats as if X% falling away were a fait accompli? That's not the way the Holy Spirit urges us to keep going through Scripture.

    And as for anecdotal encouragement, my father still meets with his old CU bods from Trinity, Dublin, for an reunion every year - 40 years on. They can trace how everyone's keeping on keeping on in their local churches, in mission around the world, etc. It's rather encouraging. :) [Disclaimer: this anecdote must not be used to foster presumption!]

  8. I think scare stories are ok but not a normal method - Hebrews terrifyingly cites Esau but also lists a stadium full of heroes to cheer us on.
    Get your eyes on the champion Jesus!

    Any real stats would be a warning - though one wonders how you'd ever do the survey. And if you met someone who had slipped - surely you'd want to get them running again rather than record them as a faller... and of course, Hebrews seems to address those who look ok on the outside... but only the word of God really discerns the heart.

  9. Although I don't have a vested interest in supporting/defending CUs, and certainly not one in attacking them, I felt that I wanted to leave a comment.

    It is easy to talk of CU leaders or members 'falling away' and blaming UCCF or the CUs or individuals within the CU; in fact, somebody who has 'fallen away' will often be all to ready to blame somebody or something else for turning their back on Christ. There are a couple of questions that are on my mind:

    1) How many CU leaders/members then go on to be strong Christians (often involved in all sorts of worthy Church work) compared to those who fall away?

    2) What percentage of 'fallen away' Christians is made up of CU leaders/members make up?

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about the need to look at our own hearts and stop judging others or trying to find people to blame.

    Surely we do need to look at our own hearts and do all we can to stop those around us 'falling away' - which of course has its limits so perhaps the real answer is to pray for all those we know that the Spirit of God would continue to work within their hearts and that their hearts might be open.

  10. PMH said:
    "Somebody at UCCF ought to actually do some decent research on this subject."
    TBF said:
    "I'm not sure what doing the research would achieve."

    You wouldn't know beforehand, that would be why it is called research. But it is easy to imagine that helpful things cuold be learnt.
    E.g. if all the grads of UniA fell away, but all the grads of UniB did not, then it might be worth considering whether the UniB model was 'better'.
    Or if a load of people stayed keen for ten years after graduation, but then many fell away between ten and fifteen years, then it could be that we could schedule especially encouraging/challenging reunions after 9 years.
    You wouldn't know of course unless someone did it. But considering the vast sums of money being spent on UCCF work, then some ways to measure its long-term effectiveness would be helpful.

  11. Appreciating that research naturally entails not knowing in advance, I refer you again to my article.

    My point is that it's not so much about circumstances, biblically, but the responsibility each of us have today to watch own hearts and those around us.

    Whether or not people have successfully done that before is beside the point - I'm not so much interested in "have people fallen away" as "make sure i don't"

    To this end, knowing what factors may or may not circumstantially have been involved is essentially irrelevant - the Bible directs me to watch my heart, to be wise. We already know what can stop people falling away without doing any research at all. God has already told us.

  12. I came across your blog by doing a search for "UCCF and "fall away", looking for that fabled survey which they used to mention at CU back when I was a Christian (or merely pretending to be one, depending on how Calvinist you are, I suppose). I'd already seen another UCCF person say it was apocryphal, but I couldn't find that again as the UCCF seem to have taken down the forum on their website.

    I think the results of such a survey would be interesting. Is "what the Bible says" the only tool you have for finding out about the world? A correctly controlled survey might actually tell Christians something useful, I think.

    Personally, I think that the conviction of evangelicals that way they believe is really true and matters is both their glory and their vulnerability. I recently came across a quotation from a book, talking about the experiences of fellow de-converts, which really struck a chord with me (and sent me searching for the survey I'd been told about all those years ago). I liked it so much that I copied it onto my own blog, over here.
    I've linked to your posting here as evidence that these surveys are apocryphal, but I think my own experience is not uncommon.


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