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Let’s Go Soulwinning

lets go soulwinning
Jack Hyles, Let’s Go Soulwinning

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30

Soulwinning — the art, the endeavor of sharing the gospel with sinners and leading them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. A metaphor for evangelism or witnessing. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

Soulwinner —  a person whose purpose, desire, and motivation is to share the gospel with sinners and lead them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

The Bible makes it clear that every church should be a soulwinning church and every Christian should be a soulwinner.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew 28:19,20 is commonly called the Great Commission. While some may argue that the Great Commission was given ONLY to the eleven disciples, most sects and pastors think the Great Commission is a command given by Christ to every Christian in every generation, until Jesus returns to earth.

Why is it then that most Christians never verbally share the gospel with another person? I am not talking about inviting people to church so the head soulwinner, the pastor, can preach the gospel to them. I am not talking about nonverbal, just let your light shine or any of the other excuses Christians give for not verbalizing the gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why is it that most Christians never, one time, in a clear, concise way, share the good news of the gospel with a lost, hell-bound sinner? Isn’t not doing so a direct repudiation of the Great Commission — a direct command given by Jesus to his followers?

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has turned soulwinning into fine art. Churches hold soulwinning conferences and clinics. These special events are used to light a fire under church members who are not soulwinners. They are also used to train members in the best soulwinning methods and techniques. Technique matters. IFB Evangelist Dennis Corle bragged to me that he could win a soul in five minutes. According to him, all a soulwinner had to do is follow the script. Follow the script, use proper technique, and you too can be a great soulwinner like Dennis Corle.

No one was a bigger promoter of soulwinning than the late Jack Hyles — the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Hyles was famous for telling stories like this:

A few years ago I was in a Bible Conference in Houston, Texas. After a morning service, I returned to my room at one of the large motels on the north side of Houston. To my surprise, the door to my room was open and I heard singing coming from the bathroom. After checking the room number with my key, I realized I was in the right room. Perhaps someone else was in the wrong room.

I hollered through the door, inquiring who was there, only to find it was the Negro maid cleaning out the bathtub. She was actually down in the tub cleaning out the ring.

I asked her if she were a Christian. She said, “Mercy, no! I am as mean as the devil.” I got my Testament out and showed her the plan of salvation. All the time she was in the bathtub. After I showed her how to be saved, she knelt in the tub and received the Saviour.

I have laughed many times about this and have jokingly said, “I guess I am the only preacher in the world who ever won a lady in a bathtub!” This is just another of the many unusual experiences that God gives to soul winners. We should be on the lookout constantly for people who need the Saviour.

I have won people to Christ in train stations, in bus depots, on airplanes, in grocery stores, in barber shops, in shine parlors, in service stations, in garages, in school buildings, on ball diamonds, and in many other places. There are many hungry hearts waiting for someone to tell them the story.

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.

For decades, Hyles and First Baptist Church conducted what they called Pastor’s School — a week-long event used to motivate pastors and church leaders to win more souls. Under the leadership of John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson, the Sword of the Lord held Soulwinning Conferences all over the country. These conferences were used to encourage and motivate pastors and churches that had forgotten Jesus’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

From the 1960s-1980s, countless IFB churches experienced explosive growth as they went into the highway and hedges and compelled (without vampire powers) sinners to put their faith in Jesus. In the 1970s, many of the 100 largest churches in America were IFB churches.

Today? First Baptist Church in Hammond, once the largest church in the world, no longer conducts Pastor’s School, The Sword of the Lord no longer holds soulwinning conferences all over the country. Most of the IFB churches that made the Top 100 list in the 1960s-1980s are shells of what they once were. Some have even closed their doors. What happened?

In 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. Midwestern, a small IFB college, was known for producing preachers who were great soulwinners. Tom Malone, the founder and chancellor of Midwestern, was also the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every student was required to attend Emmanuel.

For many years, thanks to its bus ministry, Emmanuel experienced explosive attendance growth, and was listed as a Top 100 church. Emmanuel saw high attendance days of over 5,000. Soulwinning was the lifeblood of the college and church. Students were required to go out soulwinning at least once a week, and each week they required to account for their soulwinning activities, by filling out a slip that detailed how many doors they knocked on, how many people they witnessed to, and how many people they led to Christ. Many students, myself included, lied about their soulwinning activities. Fake it till you make it, right?

Midwestern held a soulwinning contest while I was student there. Students competed with each other to see who could win the most souls. The winner of the contest usually won a hundred or more souls. Every student was required to participate in the soulwinning contest. One year, the college put up a big banner and a chart that was used to track who was winning the most souls. In the mind of Tom Malone, soulwinning was all that mattered.

Today? Midwestern has sold off its buildings. A developer had turned the main school building into a senior center, and the dorm has been turned into an apartment complex. The handful of students who remain meet for classes at Shalom Baptist Church in Orion Michigan. Emmanuel, a church that once bragged about being a Top 100 church is no more. Its church facilities are up for sale.

What happened? Why is Emmanuel closed, Midwestern a shell of what it once was, and the IFB church movement facing steep numerical decline?

If you ask IFB pastors this question, they will likely tell you that the WORLD is the cause for the attendance decline. People love sin more than they love Jesus. They might even point the finger at Evangelical mega churches and their slick marketing, worship bands, and relational sermons. Where they will never point the finger is at themselves. In their minds, they are the true church, preaching the true gospel. They seem unable to see that it is their theology and methodology that has led to their precipitous decline.

Instead of preaching a transformative, holistic gospel, many IFB pastors preach what is commonly called decisional regeneration — also known as easy-believism or one-two-three, repeat after me. Salvation became a simple transaction between a sinner and God — believe these propositional truths and thou shalt be saved. Sinners were told to pray a prayer:

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Come into my heart and save me from my sins. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. I am trusting you to take me to heaven when I die. Amen.

According to countless IFB churches and pastors, if people pray this prayer, they become, in that moment, born-again Christians. Millions and millions of Americans have prayed a prayer such as the one above. From Billy Graham crusades and Campus Crusade outreaches to Southern Baptist churches and IFB churches, the sinner’s prayer contained the magic words that made one a child of God. This bastardized version of the gospel filled churches with people who had no idea about what it meant to a Christian or a member of a Christian church.

The sin of the soulwinning movement and the IFB church is that they thought that winning souls was just a matter of using the right techniques. Pastors taught church members to use certain formulas such as The Roman’s Road to lead people to saving faith in Christ. Got Questions, a Fundamentalist website explains The Roman’s Road like this:

The Romans Road to salvation is a way of explaining the good news of salvation using verses from the Book of Romans. It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.

The first verse on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who is innocent. Romans 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives.

The second Scripture on the Romans Road to salvation, Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death. Not just physical death, but eternal death!

The third verse on the Romans Road to salvation picks up where Romans 6:23 left off, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ died for us! Jesus’ death paid for the price of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins.

The fourth stop on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins – and we will be saved! Romans 10:13 says it again, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and rescue us from eternal death. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The final aspect of the Romans Road to salvation is the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 has this wonderful message, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship of peace with God. Romans 8:1 teaches us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will never be condemned for our sins. Finally, we have this precious promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Would you like to follow the Romans Road to salvation? If so, here is a simple prayer you can pray to God. Saying this prayer is a way to declare to God that you are relying on Jesus Christ for your salvation. The words themselves will not save you. Only faith in Jesus Christ can provide salvation! “God, I know that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. With your help, I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

Have you made a decision for Christ because of what you have learned through the Romans Road to salvation? If so, please click on the “I have accepted Christ today” button below.

Soulwinners are told to stay on point, reiterating the points in the soulwinning plan. If unsaved sinners ask questions not related to salvation, the questions are to be ignored and sinners steered back to the soulwinning plan. They are to give sinners just enough information to get saved. Their questions would be answered later after they were baptized and became a part of the church.

Think for a moment about what I have written here. Doesn’t all of this sound similar to a sales program used by Amway or some other direct marketer? Work the plan! Stay on point! Press the prospect to make a decision! Don’t let them ask questions! Close the sale!

When I was in college, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. My Dad sold them for many years, and I thought, like father, like son. Every Saturday, the local Kirby office would hold mandatory sales meetings for their salesmen. These meetings were pep rallies meant to motivate salesmen to sell more vacuüm cleaners. They even sang songs with lyrics like There’s power, power wonder-working power in a Kirby, sung to the tune of the There’s Power in the Blood.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    Awesome post! And spot on analysis, as usual! I could write volumes on my experiences with this; Soulwinning was one of my ” specialties”, back in the day 🙂

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    I was a Southern Baptist from birth until I was in my mid-40s. The church I attended during my teen years got a new pastor who determined we hadn’t emphasized soul-winning enough. Every week, the message was how we needed to be witnessing to everyone we met. There was no excuse!

    I was painfully shy and could not/would not take part on Monday night visitation. In fact, not very many people would take part…nobody wanted to knock on the doors of strangers and witness to them! That really pissed this pastor off! He’d say, “Don’t tell me you’re too shy! Don’t tell me you don’t know what to say! Moses was a stutterer and God used him for a mighty work! People are going to Hell! How are you going to feel when someone you should have led to Christ dies in his sins? Don’t worry about what to say, don’t worry about being shy! God will tell you what to say!” Well, I didn’t want to take the chance that he wouldn’t. However, the guilt I carried for not spreading the Good News weighed heavy on me for many years.

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      Me too, Dale. But mine was not “winning enough people” & “not working hard enough”

      Don’t let it, though; be glad now that you don’t lead people into religious madness. I’m glad now I didnt lead any more into it than I did.

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    I used to attend a non-denominational church in Greenville, Texas that is led by a Hyles-Anderson graduate. The assistant pastor graduated from there too. It was funny because they both told stories of how bad it was at the church in Indiana and & how bad Jack Hyles was, but they did everything they learned from him. The whole emphasis was on soulwinning. There was always a soulwinning class going on and you got a pat on the back for going. Then they arranged soulwinning field trips and you had to give a report of how many people you talked to and how many got saved. One lady was questioned for not winning someone to Christ, and had to explain her technique, like she was to blame for the person not saying the prayer. The pastor seemed to have a real pride problem. After I left I heard he was accused of an affair with a lady in the church. I don’t think he stepped down or got in trouble for it. I guess it’s the way it goes with these Hyles-Anderson boys.

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    I was thinking about this posting, since I live fairly close to Pontiac. The abandoned buildings do suggest IFB decline, but they also might just be abandoning of Pontiac or a combination of the two.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      And think that is some of it. Malone was from Alabama and came to Pontiac in the 1940’s (?) The auto plants attracted a large number of workers from the south, and Malone’s style and accent, reminded Christian auto workers of home. The church also had a large bus ministry and they had a hard time paying for it. The buses were junk, many of them unsafe. I drove a bus that had inches of play in the steering wheel and the motor had chains around it to keep it in place.

      In general, the area has faced economic and social decline. The college moving to Orion reflects this.

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    Reverend Greg

    Bruce, since the IFB were the ‘big thing’ back in the seventies and are now passé, for the most part, do you see the same thing happening to the generic evangelical megachurches of today? I’m afraid many of our smaller churches copy the big fish, thinking that’s the thing to do for success, whatever that may mean.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Yes, I think smaller churches are trying to mimic their big brothers, hoping to attract new members or retain the members they already have. Smaller churches rarely have the talent necessary to pull off the choreographed, scripted shows puts on my megachurches. Result? Awful, and at times comedic, worship services. Evangelicals tend to flock after the latest/greatest ____________. This should not surprise us…we Americans tend to chase after the latest/greatest of everything. As with all fads, a few years down the road a new, exciting way of doing church will arise and everyone will jump on board. In the meantime, large churches continue to cannibalize smaller churches and smaller churches continue to age.

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    Steve Petree

    Thursday night. Saturday morning. I went to a few of these. Felt uncomfortable doing it at points. Especially once up on Perry and Walton in the apartment complexs there.

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    Love your perspective on this, Bruce. I too attended Midwestern in the mid 70’s (and lived the ‘dorm’ life). I remember this emphasis and the integrated fabric of soul winning at the college/church. My recollection was that it was required to share the Roman’s Road at least 10 times per week… and failure to do so could be a demerit situation… which meant theorectically you could be expelled from college for not being a dedicated soul winner! Wow. I could get ‘fired’ for not being a good enough ‘salesman’. I did my best, but I remember finding ways to ‘fudge’ the numbers. Alas, another latent cancer of fundamentalism… forcing us into lying to others (and to ourselves) to maintain appearances.

    Two fascinating things about this approach to soul winning: first, the Sinners Prayer never appears in the Bible and when you look at church history, it is really a fairly recent evolvement from about the late 1700’s to 1800’s and the rise of ‘crusades’ (Spurgeon, Wesley, etc). Previously, the Puritans required that someone actually FEEL the depth of being a sinner before asking to be forgiven. That took some time and would pretty much shoot your ‘sales’ all to hell with a soul winning approach. 😉

    Prior to that, how did the early church even become born again if the Sinners Prayer wouldn’t be invented for another thousand years or so? Maybe those poor souls just THOUGHT they were saved, but how could they if they didn’t say the right script? It’s a miracle that God was able to keep the church alive until crusade preachers and then fundamentalist arrived on the scene to finally bring a solid system of conversion to the table. Another of those blessed miracles of the faith. 😉

    Secondly, I believe that the concept of sharing one’s faith with another requires that your faith is actually born out of a true relationship with Christ where you are actually experiencing ongoing transformation as a person… where your faith is actually WORKING in the messy shit of life. So much of modern Christianity is more about the cerebral process of KNOWING about God… getting your theology and belief ‘structure’ RIGHT. It’s the root of all religion and has little to do with being a truly spiritual person (and I even lived in the ‘spiritual’ wing of the dorm at Midwestern!). As has been shared by countless other true believers… religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there. When you’ve lived through hell and your relationship with God is still intact, you don’t have any problem sharing that with another person. And THAT is real soul winning!

    Thanks for the opportunity to share!

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    Robert Drury

    So you evolved to do what you do and soulwinners evolved to do what they do. Yet somehow you have a problem with people doing what they evolved to do: very strange.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      I am not sure what you are asking/implying here.
      Evolution can be good, bad, indifferent. I view IFB soulwinning as a defective, harmful gene — if you want to continue with the evolution analogy. It is clearly established that Fundamentalist religion is harmful to the human race. It’s in our best interest to let that gene die off.

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      Brian Vanderlip

      Mr. Drury, A good number of people who feel redeemed by the blood, write on this blog and reveal themselves in doing so. One of the things that irks me is how rude they often become when challenged about the awful things they share regarding people going to hell, suffering eternally for not being saved and so forth. When challenged about their rude intrusions, they get quite hurt and cry out that God is saying all these things and they are just obeying God by passing on the good news of salvation/eternal suffering. Do you see the problem with this at all? Is it your job to tell people they are doomed but have one last hope in Christ? If it is your job and you speak to people like this, you can get professional help for wanting to harm others/self.

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        Well said. As the excellent Captain Cassidy said over on Patheos, ‘Has anyone here ever heard of someone coming to jesus, getting gloriously saved because a x-tian was gratuitously rude to them?’

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        I treat the more egregiously hell-obsessed “soulwinners” as if they had literally uttered a death threat to my face, and had been charged and convicted in a court of law for that particular crime.

        Under no circumstances do I let them use the feeble excuse that they’re passing along a message from their god. If their god can’t be arsed to come speak to us in person about a matter that involves an eternity of hurt, it ain’t a god worth worshipping.

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    Fortunately, a lot of evangelicals don’t actually go soul winning. Not like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses that seem to corner the market on the door to door gambit.

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      An ex-JW commented on an atheist blog that he now realised that how many conversions he got didn’t matter. It was enough to get your fellow-JWs praise and lots of brownie points on Sundays by recounting how many hours you’d spent doing it.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Fortunately, my preacher dad did not often force the soulwinning on us as young people. He did include the requisite guilting by preaching the need to save others and get them to church but did not embarrass us by forcing us, as is done with sects such as mentioned above by Obstaclechick.
    You know, even wayyyy back then when I was a kid, my body reacted so negatively to the entreaties to preach others into the faith. My body knew that it was not good and rebelled but the sick ideas of this kind of Christianity kept being drilled into me every week in Sunday School and church services. Later, in therapy, my gut feelings were acknowledged and I was encouraged to believe in myself, my own somatic reactions to things, to situations. Fundagelicalism insists that you NOT listen to your own body and that it is evil and fallen. If you are an evangelical, how do you account for the fact that you are encouraged and in fact cajoled into hating your own self? It is such a sick foundation, this personal and collective suppression. Is it any wonder that preachers get away with so much abuse and even when it is uncovered, many of their congregants still praise and support them? Is that a “Hit me again! I’m so bad and deserve it” thing?

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