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Trolling for Souls


Several years ago, Paul Chappell, pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church and president of West Coast Baptist College, wrote a blog post titled Six Places to Find Soulwinning Prospects. Chappell, a hardcore Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), gave six places like-minded Fundamentalists could troll for souls:

  1. Door-to-door witness — This week our church family is working to knock on the door of each of the 80,000 homes in our community with a gospel invitation. We’re doing it in preparation for Open House Sunday (see #3 below), but even after this Sunday, we’ll start over again. Our goal is to saturate our valley with the gospel by strategically, systematically, and persistently reaching out to our community one home at a time. Many of the people in our church today were reached through door-to-door soulwinning.
  2. Community service — Look for ways to engage your community through service. Whether it be hosting a “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” or a community-wide Love Works campaign, let people in your area know you care. This is important not only on large, church-wide scale, but also on a next-door neighbor scale. (You don’t need a church-wide event to keep your grass mowed or bring your neighbors a plate of brownies.)
  3. Special days — Days such as Christmas, Easter, and even events you create (such as “Open House Sunday”) can be tremendous opportunities to invite people to come hear the gospel in an evangelically-themed service at church. Because there is a particular date on these events, it helps encourage the people who ordinarily say “someday” to actually come.
  4. Friends and neighbors — Gospel-conscious Christians should cultivate relationships with lost people. Neighbors, coworkers, classmates, baristas—you should know the names of and develop an interest in the people who you see on a regular basis. And you should look for opportunities to share the gospel with them.
  5. Guest follow up — Every Monday morning, our outreach pastor collects the guest cards from Sunday services and assigns these as visits to adult Bible class leaders and faithful soulwinners. These are people whose hearts God is already working in, and they are contacts to be stewarded faithfully and followed up on tenaciously.
  6. Everywhere — Aside from depending on the filling of the Holy Spirit, the most fruitful habit a soulwinner can develop is a consciousness that every person to whom they speak has an eternal soul. Learn to see people as Jesus did—not just through the lens of the immediate interaction you have with them (or the irritation they may bring), but as a person with a soul that will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. A soul-conscious Christian will not only set time aside specifically for gospel outreach, but will find opportunities all week long to witness to the barber, mechanic, grocery clerk, seatmate on the commute, and others.

In other words, Chappell is encouraging Evangelical Christians to deliberately seek out non-Christians and bug the hell out of them. Chappell is not interested in building friendships or accepting people at face value. Death is sure, hell is hot, and Jesus is coming soon, right? Chappell has no time for being a decent human being. Believing God has commissioned Christians to verbally and confrontationally harass unbelievers, Chappell implores his church and other like-minded churches to use classic bait-and-switch methodologies to get the job done. (Please see The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals and Pastor Bruce Goddard and His Bait and Switch Tactics.) Hold a Law Enforcement Day service, bake brownies for the neighbors, or rake leaves for widows, but remember these acts of “love” are just a means to an end — getting people saved. That’s what it is all about, right?  Yes, but even here Fundamentalist evangelizers have ulterior motives. The IFB formula for church growth goes something like this:

  • Win them (get them saved)
  • Wet them (get them baptized)
  • Work them (encourage them to read the Bible, pray, tithe, give offerings, go soulwinning, attend church every time the doors are open)
  • Waste them (burn them out)

Please see The Four Ws of the IFB.

Many Evangelical churches use a front door/back door plan for numerical and monetary growth. The key is to always have more new people (either newly saved or transfers from other Christian churches) coming through the front door than old people going out the back door. (Please see The Pastor Called us Fresh Meat.) The methodology used by the Paul Chappells of the religious world is no different from that which is used by secular businesses. The cardinal rule is one and the same: do something nice for people and they are more likely to buy what you are selling. Chappell knows that making personal contact with people is the first step in getting them to buy his Jesus. This is why many Evangelical churches have special services and contests that are used to motivate congregants to invite their family, friends, and neighbors to church. Think Mother’s Day at an IFB church is all about mothers? Think again. Mother’s Day is just a pretext for getting sinners in the pews so they can be preached at. Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day? All opportunities to troll for souls. Unwitting people who are promised food, trinkets, or some other inducement, agree to come to church. Little do they know that they have big fat UNSAVED targets on their backs.

I have no problem with Christians preaching the gospel to people who WANT to hear it. However, Chappell is encouraging the use of subversive (unethical?) methods to entice and manipulate people into coming to church and/or getting saved. Have you ever watched a Billy Graham Crusade on TV? Remember come invitation time all the people streaming out of the seats and coming down to the front so they could get saved? I thought, at the time, look at all those people getting saved! Why I bet they couldn’t wait to walk the aisle! Praise God! Years later, I found out that Graham, along with many other notable evangelists, used a method called “priming the pump.” Knowing that it is hard to get unbelievers to take that first step towards the front, Graham would have saved counselors positioned throughout the stadium come forward on the first note of the first verse of the invitational hymn (Just As I Am). Unbelievers, filled with preacher-induced guilt, would see this and be more likely to join the throng at the front. Unbelievers who were still hesitant would then be singled out by roving salesmen and not-so-gently encouraged to quickly move to the front so they too could complete their salvation transaction.

Just remember this the next time a kind, loving, compassionate Evangelical sidles up next to you and wants to give you something or be your “friend.” More than likely, they have an ulterior motive — wanting, above all, to usher you through the front door of their church. These gunslingers for Jesus are interested in one thing, putting another notch on their gospel gun.

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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    This post, along with the repost from the archives “The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals”, offers some valid points. I’ve attended evangelical churches my entire life (although I don’t really identify so much as Evangelical) and can attest to their broad accuracy. Engage the community for the cause of Christ is a common rallying cry. This methodology is unconvincing to me for precisely the reasons given in these posts. What I take from the biblical account is that Jesus himself engaged the masses because he saw their suffering, and had compassion on them. I don’t get the sense that he saw them as a path to position/power/financial gain, or had some hidden agenda. So I feel that this is where the church errs in their intentions.

    My views on this are shaped by my own experiences with those outside the church. Throughout high school and college I was heavily involved in the gaming sub-culture. As such, many of the friends that I spent large amounts of time with were not religious. They all knew about my beliefs and that I attended church. And I knew about their beliefs. We had a mutual respect for each other’s position, and understood that our friendship was based not on gaining their trust so I could evangelize them, but simply on shared interests and camaraderie. If they wanted to know something about my faith they would just ask. We were able to have comfortable discussions on all kinds of philosophical topics and worldviews because they knew they weren’t my “spiritual project”. This also exposed me to the wider perspectives and feelings on the issue of faith. I’ve definitely benefited from this exposure, and gained a much better understanding of those with differing beliefs.

    About 5 years ago a few of my church friends abandoned their faith and began to self-identify as atheists, skeptics, agnostics, anti-theists, etc. Most of their other Christian friends abandoned them in return. To me they just kept on being my friends. They knew the gospel message and what the bible says, so continuing to repeat it to them would be unnecessary, condemning and offensive. They could see that I understood this and invited me into their extended community of skeptics. I discovered that they really didn’t mind having me join in as long as I was engaging in rational discourse with honest inquiry. I gained even more insight into their perspectives from reading their suggested blogs and literature. But hearing about their personal experiences with people of faith (and the church) is what has taught me the most.

    I’ve come to realize that most people are just looking for answers. Many may be relatively settled in their convictions, but are still open to exploring life’s basic questions. We instinctively understand that what we don’t know will always vastly outweigh what we do know. If people of all faiths (especially Christians) would practice accordingly I believe we could make life a bit more pleasant as we inhabit this rock together.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joel. I enjoy coffee bar, dinner, pub discussions where everyone can enjoy each others company, disagree, and remain friends. Unfortunately, it has been a long time since I have had such discussions. I have had more than a few Evangelicals feign friendship in hopes of winning me back to Jesus. I can spot these fakes a mile away. I have one Christian friend, that’s it. He knows that I am settled in my beliefs and that I do not make rash life changes, so we focus on the things we have in common and not the small number of things we don’t. We’ve been friends for fifty years.

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    Something I have often wondered: What do Christians get out of trolling for souls?

    Do pastors pressure congregants to evangelize? If the size of the congregation increases, the church gets more people to fill the collection plate—does this translate to an increase in the pastor’s salary? Maybe the pastor gets a promotion to a nicer church?

    Do individual Christians just get the pleasure of bragging to their church mates? Perhaps a mention in the church gazette? Maybe they’re named “congregant of the month”? Or does a free thanksgiving turkey go to the person who brings in the most converts?

    Usually, people don’t go too far out of their way out of simple altruism, yet many Christians give up good portions of their time (e.g., to chat up their “spiritual project” or “mark”).

    (When the cashier at my grocery store asks me if I would like to donate a dollar to the children’s hospital, she’s trying to win a paid day off. In order to be able to pay the cashier who brings in the most donations, the grocery store must either get some portion of the donations as a kickback, or maybe a just the charitable donation tax credit).

    What motivates Christians to evangelize?

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      Many Christian’s are motivated to proselytize because they want to do their part in fulfilling the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20; some out of blind duty, and others out of a desire to serve. Others simply desire to share the grace and love they have themselves experienced. Some purely because it makes them feel good. Still others may believe that they must “earn” their way into heaven with good works (such as sharing their faith), which is a motivation based in fear. This list is obviously not comprehensive, and honestly a lot of Christians would rather just sit on the couch in front of the TV instead.

      Now while the motivations of pastors and church leadership may include those above, as you stated there are additional incentives that might drive them to “encourage” their congregants in this area.

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    I think the pressure to evangelize was the main thing I hated about being a Christian. Had I been in a denomination that didn’t put pressure on me to evangelize, I might still be a Christian.

    I had to go door to door doing fund raising when I was a kid for things like school trips, Boy Scouts, my soccer team, etc. and I always hated having to do that as well.

    In college I was in a group called Chi Alpha which is an Assemblies of God sponsored campus fellowship. They showed me a graphic of a pyramid, where if I convert two people, and those two people convert two people, then it goes on down exponentially, so they kind of admitted to me that it’s intended to be a pyramid scheme.

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    I’m one of those naïve people who thought that all preachers loved us, and that my fellow church members really loved God and really cared about me. And yet, I could see that my ideas weren’t so, I just had a hard time giving them up. Much easier to believe that most Christians are just going along to go along. I do have some lovely caring Christian friends, but I suspect they would be caring if they weren’t Christian. And yet, too many Christian ministers seem to be power-hungry, greedy and worthless, and not caring.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Chikrin–Ah, the pyramid. Just like Shaklee, Mary Kay and Amway–the latter of which, surprise, surprise, was founded and continues to be run by fundamentalist Christians.

    One of Amway’s founders was Richard deVos Sr, father of Richrd Jr (a.k.a. Mr. Betsy DeVos).

    BJW–You make a great observation: “Much easier to believe that most Christians are just going along to go along.” How many people would be Christians if there wasn’t overt or covert pressure from their families, communities or societies?

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      MJ, it could be pressure. It could be what they are used to, and can’t imagine a life outside of church. Of course, with all this internet the number of unchurched is only going up and up every year. People do read things that the churches can’t censor.

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    Sounds like he is training people to be stalkers.

    Personally, I think witnessing to a barber is dangerous, you could have a very bad hair day.

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    I was a solid street preacher, not clumsy like some, but if I may say I was apparently quite good at it. Apart from leaflets through doors, I would not intrude on people’s houses and so forth. I tried to keep it out of friendships. Of course as a Christian my friends would eventually know as they learned more about me. I remember being sad if it meant we could no longer be friends, as over time it created a gulf with decent people who and quite rightly enjoyed the freedom of cussing and getting drunk.

    I would also help homeless people. I would tell them I was a Christian. As much as Christians get beaten up here, I have had homeless people tell me that Christians are great because they have been so helpful. You don’t need to be a Christian to help someone, but someone down on their luck do appreciate you taking the time to listen to them, give them a meal, some cash, clothes and a tract.

    Well, where I was also going with this, my own opinion on the above preachers advice is that it was for people who were too lazy to practice their faith. No one needs to be lectured about your faith at the water cooler at work and so forth or harassing people relaxing watching the TV in their homes.

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    ... Zoe ~

    Linda: “Something I have often wondered: What do Christians get out of trolling for souls?”

    Zoe: I like Linda’s question.

    As an evangelistic Christian it never occurred to me that I was trolling. I was evangelizing . . . sharing the good news . . . going into the world to preach the gospel. Rarely did I use words. I never had too. Inevitably I would be asked: Why are you different? Usually, I would just respond with, “Jesus.” Or someone would say: You must have a lot of faith? Usually I would respond by nodding my head affirmatively or simply saying, Yes.

    Generally speaking, the average born-againer, especially the newly-born, don’t know any different. We are so relieved to have been saved from the flames of hell, we can’t wait to save others from the sulphur. Though newly saved, we are still so full of the fear of hell that we are highly motivated to follow the great commission.

    I suppose what I got out of evangelism and seeing people saved as a direct or indirect association with me and my gospel as I understood it and lived it, was knowing a soul would not burn for eternity in hell.

    Hell motivated me. It was a hellish existence living every day charged with spreading the gospel.

    Jesus saves. Oh really?

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    ... Zoe ~

    Linda: “Do pastors pressure congregants to evangelize?”

    Zoe: Yes. Why wouldn’t they? We are suppose to go out into the world and preach the gospel.

    Bring them in, get them saved, give them a bath, pass the plate and that is that . . . well, sort of.

    There is a rinse and repeat cycle that never ends. One saved soul is not enough. The more souls the better.

    Yes, the pastor may get a raise. He might be able to even hire a youth pastor (watch the numbers climb here) and if really “blessed” by the soul winner’s efforts, a pastor for the seniors could by hired too and this is very very beneficial because seniors love to donate funds for all sorts of causes. The new church sign outside the church (that will one day be torn down for something more contemporary years after the seniors are buried). A new baby grand piano that shines so brightly. A new T.V. ministry and tons of expensive equipment (only to be sold and given up after the news of the pastoral scandal and the membership exodus – never mind the tithes and gifts of money of the faithful who bought all that stuff.) How about a new church?! Padded pew seats.

    The earthly rewards are many as the number of souls are saved.

    Naturally though, that shouldn’t be our focus, right. Hell is our focus. Get with the program. We need to preach the good news.
    Here’s the good news. There is a place called hell. You can get out of it.

    Pressure? Hell yes.

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    ... Zoe ~

    Linda: “Do individual Christians just get the pleasure of bragging to their church mates? ”

    Zoe: I really appreciate Linda’s questions.

    Bragging? Hell no. 😉

    We’d never really call it bragging . . . but sure, it’s bragging.

    Bragging was done on a regular basis and often from the pulpit. The numbers game. But oh watch out if the numbers slip.

    A mention in the church bulletin. Yes. I could go on and on about the bragging platform. Naturally though, we’re just humbly bragging so-to-speak. After all, it’s really only Jesus that saves, right?

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    ... Zoe ~

    Linda: “What motivates Christians to evangelize?”

    Zoe: For most of us, we simply don’t know any better.

    Some will say “hell.” This falls under the great commission that is suppose to be all about love. Well hell yeah, who wants anyone to end up in hell? Good question to ask God. Oh oh, here we go down the slippery slope. 🙂

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    ... Zoe ~

    Bruce wrote: “In other words, Chappell is encouraging Evangelical Christians to deliberately seek out non-Christians and bug the hell out of them. ”

    Zoe: Yup. 🙂

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    Ian for a long time

    The last church I attended was a sovereign grace/Calvinistic church. That meant that we didn’t have to have any active outreach, God would send them to us. We had a newsletter, and a dedicated telephone line, that was it, as far as outside contact went. We would also send out cassette tapes of sermons to people who wanted them. Those pretty much went to other churches and missionaries, I don’t ever remember sending one to a visitor (of which there were very few) or someone contacting us and asking for one.

    As my deconversion progressed, I became more social in my religious leanings. I imagine I was in a similar state of mind to Bruce Almighty. I began to think about idea #2 mentioned above. But, I wanted to do good for good’s sake, because good the right thing to do. Doing good, versus doing well, is an active process. If we couldn’t do good, how would people know who we were and know that could trust us. Romans 12 tells Christians to do good and let God sort everything else out.
    -I publicly asked why we didn’t pay taxes, Jesus did. I told the congregation it would set us apart from all of the pother churches and help make us blameless in the sight of the world.
    -I proposed having a pizza/game night for the neighborhood we were in.
    -When people asked for prayer for friends, I proposed sending money to help with the tangible need.

    Everything was rejected. We can’t spend the money on that stuff, it’s to help the church continue. Yet, we continued to send money to missionaries who were personal friends of the pastor and he continued to draw a fat salary (based on the number of out members) and get a car allowance.

    It seemed that, if there was no immediate return on investment, there was no need to help anyone.

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    Barbara L. Jackson

    For some reason, my brother has gone into a right wing christian group. He was trying to convince me of the heaven/hell, that our current climate change was a
    NATURAL CYCLE and that humans played no part in it did, or if humans did it didn’t matter.

    He has been right wing before but without shoving the religion down my throat before. I said that the Bible is a collection of myths and not science.

    He is my brother so I told him, as he knows, I took Physics in college and can explain some of these things to him. Except for the asteroid which hit the earth and killed the dinosaurs climate change has not occurred this quickly before and is caused by humans and that he could see that by reading scientific papers and looking at comments from climate scientists, and look at the observations currently being made.

    He also let his whole family get Covid including his mother in law who is in her nineties. They survived but I am furious with him for endangering them.

    All this hurts because he is my brother. He is rejecting me. I found a neighbor to talk with and this helped some.

    Is there some chat group or something for people like me who have been hurt by their family?

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Bruce Gerencser