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Defiance Family Fun Fest: Local Evangelicals Use ‘Fun’ to Evangelize Children

children choosing christ tent

If there is one thing I’ve learned about Evangelicals and conservative Christians, it is hard for them to get together and just have fun. Everything is a means to an end. It’s hip now for several local churches to go out in the community and “help” others. Dressed in their matching church advertisement shirts, out in the community they go to do good works for Jesus. Why is there a need to advertise the church or hand out printed materials with the church’s name on it? If it is all about Jesus, why not do these works anonymously? Instead, these social outreach programs are used as a means to evangelize and attract church members. While they certainly do some earthly good, the grand goal is to win souls to Jesus and increase the church roll.

Years ago, the churches I pastored sponsored numerous fun events for local teenagers. From all-nighters at the YMCA to roller skating and bowling, we would design activities sure to draw local teens. During every event we would have a time when we gathered everyone together and preach the gospel. You see, fun was not the objective, salvation was. Teenagers endured the preaching and high pressure evangelism because they knew that fun awaited them just beyond saying the sinner’s prayer.

Last Saturday was the inaugural Defiance Fun Fest. According to the Defiance Crescent-News (behind a paywall):

Several Defiance area churches are partnering with Ravens Care of Defiance to present the first ever Family Fun Fest, Aug. 1 from 4-7 p.m. at Diehl Park in Defiance…

Family Fun Fest is an opportunity for families to spend time together enjoying food, fun and friends, all for free. The event has been underwritten by the Defiance Police Officers Association, First Federal Bank, General Motors Defiance Casting Operations, Johns Manville, Midwest Community Federal Credit Union and The State Bank.

The idea started when Pastor Rick Rufenacht of First Church of God in Defiance talked with other pastors about working together on an event that would minister to people in the Defiance community. His church had done a similar family event the past six years, but he was looking for a greater impact on Defiance.

“I had attempted to get some pastors together to talk about doing ministry together and what that might look like,” said Rufenacht…

…Katye Katterheinrich, director of Ravens Care, loved the idea of a family event.

“There are so many adult events in our area, but this is an event geared toward families, and it’s free,” said Katterheinrich. “There are a lot of families that don’t get to go on vacation, that don’t get to go to the pool, that don’t always have these kind of opportunities. Ravens Care is supported by area churches, so working together on a family event with the churches, is really natural fit.”

Pastor Max Begley of Second Baptist Church in Defiance, is pleased to be a part of this event and the spirit of cooperation that has grown among the churches and with Ravens Care.

“Each individual church may not be able to do a family festival by itself because it may be limited by resources, so by coming together, we can do something better together that has a greater positive impact on the community,” said Begley. “Because Rick and his church had already been doing this, we agreed to work together to build on that, and once we did, it started coming together quickly.”

Several of my grandchildren attended the event.  According to the newspaper, Fun Fest included:

…large inflatable attractions, Zorbs, hot dogs, popcorn, sno cones, cotton candy, games, crafts by Lowes of Defiance, a karate demonstration, a demonstration from Iron Faith Fitness Center of Defiance, a photo booth, Defiance firemen and fire trucks, Defiance policemen and cruisers, Defiance County Sheriff’s Office, DARE and K-9 dogs.

What’s not to like, right? Sounds like a lot of fun and the proceeds went to support Ravens Care, a “Christian Ministry dedicated to meet needs in the community that are not being met by other agencies.”  I am all for any “ministry” or program that helps the least of these, but  works of charity should not be used a means to evangelize non-Christians. While Ravens Care, as far as I know, does not evangelize those they serve, the Family Fun Fest did.

Children were able earn coupons/tickets that could be turned in for rides on the inflatables. Guess what one of ways was that children could earn tickets?  Attending a gospel presentation at the ” ‘Choosing Christ’ tent for kids, (a program) designed to allow kids to learn the gospel message.” Hey kiddies, want to earn some tickets so you can go play on the big, fun rides? Just sit here and let us tell you about Jesus. As any adult who was evangelized like this as a child will tell you, what’s a little preaching and praying when you get to play games and do fun stuff when you are done. Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I know you died on the cross to save me from my sins. Come into my heart and save me. In Jesus name, Amen. Tickets please!

I did a cursory Google search for the Children Choosing Christ tent and I found out that this tent is used to evangelize at NW Ohio fairs and special events. While I was unable to find out what group or person owned the tent, I was told that the preaching in the tent was decidedly Evangelical, geared to evangelizing and converting impressionable children. In any other context we would consider such behavior predatory and harmful.


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    It never ends. Great fun time, but there is a price to pay…
    Just like the food pantries that make you suffer through a service before you get your food. What are you going to do?
    These people are NOT good. They’re slipperier than used car salesmen.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    It’s only predatory when you don’t have the children’s best interests at heart! What could be better for them than bringing them to Jesus?


    The actual effect is so gradual. Jesus here, Jesus there, and kids grow up thinking there is only one legitimate way to be a good person… and even only one kind of good Christianity. It’s so spirit-dampening. And suddenly your life choices are down to Most Excellent Church of the Northeast Corner of the Intersection vs. Exceptional Grace Church of the Southwest Corner of the Intersection. Thankfully, there are kids who rebel and go forth to think. But the really lost ones are those that are stuck forever.

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    Classic religious bait & switch. I used to work in & design these things back in the day. Something I’ll never be proud of anymore.

    I can always see these a mile away. And yes, Bruce is quite right. The “ministry” is simply brainwashing these kids in the name of Jesus. Disgusting. I am so ashamed I used to believe & participate in crap like this

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      Steve, I read many comments like yours – about being ashamed that you once said/did the things you did. I think you ought to be proud of yourself for ‘seeing the light’; it would probably be more helpful to you. Every comment I’ve ever read of yours indicates that you are a great guy. Give yourself a break, buddy. 🙂

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      Steve. You are not alone. (((hugs))) Been there, done that. It’s difficult to live with this and I understand the weight it has on us. Though we got out we are often left with the burden of knowing others have not and we think of our part in it. Like me though I suspect you were sincere in your efforts and thought it was the right thing to do. We just didn’t know enough or better at the time, right?

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      It is a numbering system used by Southern Baptists. For some reason it is important to know which church was the first one in town. Or…the name of the split that left First Baptist 🙂

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    Iron Faith Fitness? Ok.

    Tying free rides for kids to sermons is akin to bullying, if you ask me. Manipulative. Why not GIVE them a ‘free’ ticket or ride voucher and just INVITE them to church?

    How about using kindness as the tool for the ministry…? There’s a thought.

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      I think a case could be made for bullying Tara. The thing is, from their point of you (if you ask many evangelicals) they are not bullying. They believe those children without Christ are headed for hell. And they see filling their church quotas equal to filling heaven. As for kindness, then you get into a conversation regarding kindness. What is kindness when the kindness exhibited is a subtle form of manipulation?

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      Bullyi in sheep’s garb….
      There is much much sickness in the world that wears a very conservative, religious suit and tie. Once in this uniform, it is acceptable to harm children, for their own good, you understand, their own good. Alice Miller wrote a wonderful book by the name. The horrible cruelty of evangelism demonstrates a wider disdain we carry for innocence, for children in general. Or so it seems to me…
      I think your idea about using kindness is apt, Tara. And what would that kindness look like? Maybe it would begin with having an interest in the child, listening to the child, saying yes to the child….. imagine. Instead, it is, You are a viper and without sweet Jesus you are scum and evil and will burn. The holy fuck for Innocence.

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    Hey Steve, you echo my feelings whenever I go back and look at my early life involvement with the way Christianity was spread. Shaming those who resist the loving arms of brainwash is one age-old tool, still much in use. With your perspective nowadays that speaks as truly as you can about religious indoctrination, a bait and switch sport, you are bound to encounter some old feelings.
    I try to give my shame these days to a virtual offering plate. Here, pastor, take what I have carried in me ever since you terrified me and my friends when we just little kids. This is my offering, you sick fuck preacher. Take this shame.
    It kinda feels good to give something to the church, you know? My tithe.

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Bruce Gerencser