Neil Carter recently wrote a post about evangelism that piqued my interest. Neil talked about how most evangelistic efforts do little to reach the “lost,” and are really more about tribal identification than saving sinners from the flames of Hell. Neil illustrated this with a question and answer that was posted on Quora.
Someone asked: “Why do people get angry when I try to share the word of God with them?”
A man by the name of Doug Robertson responded:
The entire process is not what you think it is.
It is specifically designed to be uncomfortable for the other person because it isn’t about converting them to your religion. It is about manipulating you so you can’t leave yours.
If this tactic was about converting people it would be considered a horrible failure. It recruits almost no one who isn’t already willing to join. Bake sales are more effective recruiting tools.
On the other hand, it is extremely effective at creating a deep tribal feeling among its own members.
The rejection they receive is actually more important than the few people they convert. It causes them to feel a level of discomfort around the people they attempt to talk to. These become the “others.” These uncomfortable feelings go away when they come back to their congregation, the “Tribe.”
I pondered, for a moment, my past evangelism efforts, and I concluded that Neil and Doug are right; that my soulwinning efforts and those of the churches I pastored did little to save sinners. The majority of the people converted under my ministry voluntarily came to church, heard me preach, and then walked down the aisle to be saved after I psychologically and emotionally manipulated them, and not through community evangelistic outreaches. (Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles, Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls, and Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One)
I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I attended an IFB college to train for the ministry, and while there I married the daughter of an IFB preacher. IFB churches and preachers are known for their aggressive approaches to evangelism, and I was no exception. The IFB churches I pastored typically had several evangelistic outreaches each week. Year-round, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, we would go door to door — much as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do — and try to evangelize people. On Saturdays, we would also go on bus visitation. While our purpose was primarily to bribe children with candy/toys so they would ride one of our busses the next day, we did have occasional opportunities to “share” the gospel.
Several times a year, I would invite evangelists to come hold meetings at the churches I pastored. These meetings ran five to fifteen days in length. The goal was to “revive” the congregation and “evangelize” the community. When we had an evangelist in town, we went door-knocking every day. These concentrated evangelistic efforts gave the hired guns an opportunity to WOW us with their soulwinning skills. The pressure was on them to birth new babies for Jesus.
In the 1980s and 1990s, IFB evangelist Don Hardman would come to our country church and hold fifteen-day protracted revival meetings. (Please see The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review, Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review, and My Life as a Street Preacher) Don was a street preacher, and it wasn’t long before he turned me into a street preacher too. Instead of going door to door, we would go to nearby communities, stand on a street corner, hand out tracts, and preach as loud as we could. After Don moved on to his next gig, I continued preaching on the street. I tried, without success, to get my colleagues in the ministry to go along with me. To the man, these preachers of the gospel told me that they weren’t “called” to preach on the street. At the time, I saw their refusal as cowardice, an unwillingness to preach like Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul did in the early days of the Christian church.
I stayed in hyper-evangelism mode well into the 1990s. Even after embracing Calvinism, I continued to busy myself evangelizing sinners. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I finally threw in the towel and abandoned my aggressive evangelism tactics. Why did I stop? The short answer is this: knocking on doors and preaching on the street resulted in very few, if any, converts. The overwhelming majority of salvation decisions were made by people who voluntarily attended one of our church services. Every so often, knocking on doors resulted in someone getting saved, but as I look back on these experiences, I have concluded that the only thing these supposed new converts got saved from was us! Not wanting to be seen as impolite, they prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to save them, so we would leave them alone and move on to someone else. Praise Jesus, preacher! I have been delivered . . . from YOU!
For the most part, my evangelistic efforts were failures. Sure, I shared the gospel with hundreds of people, but few of them got saved. My soulwinning techniques were perfect — those I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College. I was passionate and zealous, devoting countless hours to evangelizing the lost. Why, then, did I fail so miserably? The short answer is that people found my methods offensive and wanted nothing to do with me, my church, or what I was peddling. Of course, this played right into my martyr’s complex. You see, as Neil made clear in his post, my soulwinning efforts were never really about saving souls. What knocking on doors and preaching on street corners did was separate me and the churches I pastored from the “world.” Their rejection only reinforced the notion that what we preached was the truth; that our tribe was the one true church. The more sinners rebuffed my soulwinning efforts, the more I felt that I was right. There’s nothing like persecution to “prove” the rightness of your beliefs and practices. When people slammed doors in my face or cursed at me, I felt closer to Jesus. When a man tried to hit me with his truck while I preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio, I felt glad that I was worthy to suffer for the Lord, and even die for him. Mockery and cursing only made me glad that I could “suffer” for Jesus. The Apostle Paul suffered great indignities as he publicly evangelized sinners. (2 Corinthians 11) Suffering in like manner put me in the company of the greatest Christian ever known. What an honor, I thought at the time.
Over the past decade, I have engaged in countless discussions with Evangelical Christians. Many of them came to this site hoping to evangelize me. (Please see IFB Evangelist’s Wife Says She Loves Me, And God Does Too! and Dear Charlie, I’m Only Going to Say This Once) Despite their efforts, I remain an unrepentant, apostate atheist. I have often wondered, did these zealots really think that I was a promising prospect for Heaven? Did they really think their cliché-laden, Bible verse-filled shticks would cause me to drop on my knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save me? Think of all the possible targets for evangelization. Why go after someone like me? There’s no chance in Heaven or Hell that I would ever return to Evangelical Christianity. Yet, they continue to try. Why is that?
Most apologists know deep down that I am not going to repent and return to Christianity. It’s not going to happen . . . However, by trying to evangelize me, they feed their martyr complex; they reinforce their belief that the world hates God, Jesus, the Bible, their church, and them personally. Foundational to Evangelical faith is the belief you are absolutely right, and that all other religions are false. My rejection of their evangelistic overtures reminds them that their tribe is God’s chosen people; that their beliefs and practices are the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The more that the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world turn them away, the more certain they are that their beliefs are the right. Our hostility and dismissal just prove to them that out of all the religions in the world, they chose the right one; that someday soon Jesus is coming again, and then all the people who said NO to their evangelistic efforts will pay the price for rejecting their efforts. Picture in your mind millions of smiling Evangelicals surrounding you as you are cast into the never-ending flames of the Lake of Fire. Their last words to you? See, I told you . . .
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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