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Pastor Rusty George’s Five-Step Friendship Evangelism Plan

cant we be friends
Cartoon by Paco

Recently, Rusty George, pastor of Real Life Church in Valencia, California, wrote a blog post (republished on Charisma News) detailing five things people can do when they want to invite someone to church. His post can also be titled “How to Harass and Stalk Your Non-Christian Neighbors in Five Easy Steps.”

Just for Heaven of it, I thought I would briefly respond to George’s post. My response is indented and italicized.

1. Begin with prayer.

I don’t mean pray as you are walking up to ask them to come to Easter service. I mean pray for that person every single day. Pray for their health; pray for their job; pray for their marriage; and eventually, you’ll wonder how you can pray with even more specificity for them.

This will lead to a great conversation of “Hey, anything I can be praying about for you?” I find that people are very open to this. Then do it; pray for them, and ask them how it’s going in a few weeks.

If all Christians do is privately pray for unbelievers, I would have no objection. Have at it. Pray to the ceiling God to your heart’s content. However, George encourages Evangelicals to ask people what their “needs” are. Remember, Evangelical zealots almost always have ulterior motives. In this case, the motive is to get people to attend your church. More asses in the seats = more money in the offering plate.

Imagine how much different this suggestion might sound if George had said to ask people about their needs and then do everything in your power to meet that need. Instead, George told Christians to literally do the least they could do: pray.

2. Listen to them.

When they talk, don’t just wait to speak. Listen. When they post, don’t just react. Listen.

Why are they saying this? What is going on in their life? What might God be up to that you can join Him in.

Again, if Evangelicals just engaged in non-religious, friendly talk with people, who am I to object? However, there is an ulterior motive lurking behind their banner: attending their church. They are no different from a door-to-door salesman talking you up, looking for an opening to plug their product.

3. Eat with them.

Invite them to dinner before you ever invite them to church. Listen to them. Find out about their lives. Don’t see them as a project, but as a person. They have hopes and dreams. They have hurts and hang ups. They want their kids to be safe and successful. Just like you.

Find commonality in that before you ask about their soul.

Must I say it again? George is encouraging Christians to feign friendship (you know that cheap, shallow, fake friendship I talk about), hoping that their defenses will be lowered and they will be more amenable to being invited to church. The goal is getting the person inside the four walls of the church so the pastor can preach at him and hopefully getting the mark to pray the sinner’s prayer.

4. Serve them.

Now that you know them, find a way to serve them. It might be taking them dinner. It might be helping them get trash out to the corner or their dumpsters back to the house. It might be dropping donuts off at their door.

Just be the kind of neighbor you’d like to have.

I want a neighbor who doesn’t see me as a means to an end. I want a neighbor to buy me donuts without expecting anything in return. How about just being a good person, no strings attached?

5. Share your story.

When a big event at your church comes up, or when they ask about your weekend plans, or when they might even ask why you are so kind, share your story about church. Not what they should think, believe or do. Instead, share how church has helped you, how this service is always fun for your family or how following Jesus has changed your life.

No one can argue with your story, so share it.

In other words, use your story as a means to an end. Not so your neighbor can know more about you. Is there anything more fake than someone sharing their life’s story with you, knowing that their goal is get something from you? (Please see Evangelical Zealot Tries to Evangelize Us with a Picture of Bloody Jesus.)

If George really believes that “no one can argue with your story,” he really needs to get out more. George wrongly thinks that subjective personal testimonies cannot be criticized. They can, and they should be. Why should I accept an Evangelical Christian’s personal testimony as true? Do George and others like him accept my story at face value? Of course not. When people tell us things that can be objectively examined, they can’t expect us to just take their word for it. I can accept that they believe what they are saying is true, but that doesn’t make it true. Granted, I rarely dissect the personal testimonies of Evangelicals. If someone says “I am a Christian,” I accept their profession of faith at face value. However, when they begin to use their testimony as to tool to evangelize me or lure me to church, I will likely object and pick apart their claims.

Notice that in that whole list, we haven’t even mentioned inviting that person to church. But when you do, remember these things:

— Most people don’t even know a Christian, so be a kind one.

Really, Rusty, really? Most people don’t even know a Christian? What data do you have that suggests that most people have never met a Christian? The majority of Americans are Christians. Eighty percent of your tribe voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Trust me when I say, we ALL know a Christian — lots of them.

— Most people don’t know where to go to church, what to wear, if they need to pass an entrance exam … So invite them to watch online first. Share a recent service with them, and ask them what they thought about it.

Again, in what world is the good pastor living? We live in a CHRISTIAN nation. There are CHRISTIAN churches on virtually every street corner in America. Here in rural northwest Ohio, there are hundreds and hundreds of CHRISTIAN churches — many of which are Evangelical.

— Most people are just waiting for an invitation, so just ask! And if they don’t come, no worries. One day they will, and they’ll thank you for being so patient with them.

No, really they are not. Evangelicalism is in numerical decline. The number of NONES, atheists, and agnostics continues to climb. We are not sitting around just waiting for a Christian zealot to show up on our doorstep or on our Facebook wall to invite us to church.

“One day we will come”? Sure, buddy, keep telling yourself that. George is not stupid. He knows that most church growth comes from transfers, and not conversions. Churches are seeing fewer and fewer converts, fewer and fewer baptisms. Their numerical growth comes from megachurches pillaging smaller churches or Christians leaving one church/sect to join another.

George is peddling what is commonly called “friendship evangelism.” I have written extensively on this subject:

fake friends

Sadly, George is encouraging Evangelicals to be fake “boobs.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    William

    I’ve encountered this before, and I was genuinely shocked that this person was not my friend at all but was instead using me to get me to go to their church. I thought this person was supposed to be a good person and seemed that way at first, but behind the mask of friendship was an objective.

    If this person was a representative of Jesus, it made me wonder if Jesus was genuine too, or fake like this person.

  2. Avatar
    Matilda

    Overheard daughter asking fundy friend how her husband was enjoying being a member of a recreational soccer club. She replied that he’d stopped going because ”he’d got as far as he could with the folk there.” Inviting them to church, witnessing to them she meant. She also said the local school where the couple had ”such a good relationship, they took services there, gave out bibles etc” had somehow ceased to invite them any more.” It surprises me now that, mea culpa, I held those attitudes when fundy and am ashamed of the fake ‘friendships’ that we all thought were a normal way of getting converts.

  3. Avatar
    BJW

    Gee. I wonder what would happen if, instead of fake friendship, these Christians would be real friends? Help people who are needy and need things, like food, money, shelter? That would show they are walking in the footsteps of what they claim Jesus is. Oh wait, I guess they prefer Republican Jesus. Anyway, it’s too bad that real, “love your neighbor as yourself” love isn’t happening from these church people. I sent my sons to a local Baptist church on their bus ministry and not ONE. PERSON. ever tried to get to know me at all. Because since I didn’t go to their church it didn’t count.

  4. Avatar
    Obstaclechick

    That kind of behavior is just cringe-worthy.

    That’s so hilarious that the author thinks people don’t know any Christians. Are you f$%&ing kidding me???? Dude, we know Christians of all kinds – and we particularly know and loathe the culture warring evangelical ones. Yuck.

    • Avatar
      Rachel

      Exactly. How many people over the age of say, five, living in the West have never heard of Jesus and Christianity? I think it’s a variation on “If you knew more about X, you’d agree with me completely.” These people REALLY struggle with the idea that different people have different POV.

      “If you knew more about Catholicism, you’d see that it was the way to go” several people have said to me over the years. I was brought up in the Catholic Church, attended Mass every Sunday, lived in one of those families where it was discussed endlessly. I DO know about Catholicism, that’s why I have nothing to do with it, I’ve seen close up what it does to far too many people.

      So this isn’t just an Evangelical thing. It’s a “We can’t cope with other people’s experiences and views” thing. It’s pathetic, really.

  5. Avatar
    Benny S

    Rusty George (the spoken): “Most people are just waiting for an invitation, so just ask! And if they don’t come, no worries.”

    Rusty George (the unspoken): “And when they don’t come, stop wasting your time dropping off Jesus-flavored donuts at their house, move over to the next front door in the neighborhood, and target a new mark, I mean, friend.

  6. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    How can I harm thee…. Let me count the ways! Zealous soul-winners have evicted their critical thinking skills and had their own genuine feelings so crushed by the evangelical virus that they shed their sickness all over the place, hoodwinking and grinning wide. What could be a higher calling than caring for another person? How is it possible that there is a greater love than the human version? What? You say a God is greater love? A God who gave over his son to die? Wait a second…. are they kidding? Daddy kills his progeny because ME? No, no thanks. Leave me out of your sick black book scenarios, if you don’t mind. Don’t buy me lunch or help me with my dustbin, okay? Sheesh…

  7. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    So we start with the pastor saying that the Christian should pray for the person they targeted. So, what do they pray for? That the person will be forced to come to church? Doesn’t speak very well for the idea of free will that many Christians tout.

    Then the Christian is to ask the person “Hey, anything I can be praying about for you?”. Rusty claims people are supposedly “very open to this”. So, if I say “sure, pray for my wife to get recover from cancer” what will the answer be, Rusty? And in a few weeks when you ask how it going and she’s dead? Hmmm, what will the excuses be? That should be fun.

    Of course, I wouldn’t ask that, having no wife. I’d say “How about we go to the VA hospital and you can heal the amputees?” I’d love to see the reaction of Rusty. I suspect he’d red-shift trying to get away.

  8. Avatar
    Kel

    One super devout church friend I had while in college used to disapprove of any friendships we formed outside of our insular group. For him, more time spent with those worldly people meant less time spent within the fellowship of believers. And of course, the only form of friendship allowed with outsiders was “friendship evangelism”.

    As a result, now that I’ve changed my views and probably turn repulsive in their eyes, I can’t really remember any genuine friends I made during that period.
    Oh well, bad luck

  9. Avatar
    Dave

    Rusty probably really believes that most people don’t know a Christian- that is a real Christian just like him. It’s embarrassing for me to admit I understand what he’s referring to since I used to be brainwashed into believing that most people who claimed to be Christian were no such thing. How arrogant. So glad to be free from the cult

  10. Avatar
    theologyarchaeology

    I am just curious, are all you atheists true friends to Christians? if not why would you expect them to be true friends to you?

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      sigh

      First, I don’t speak for all atheists.

      Second, I used to have lots of Christian friends, ministerial colleagues. When it publicly became known that I had left Christianity, all of them (except 2 people) abandoned me and broke off our friendships. The two that didn’t? An Evangelical couple I’ve been friends with for over 50 years. We have a marvelous relationship. We just don’t talk about religion and politics.

      Third, I’m literally surrounded by Christians. I accept people as they are. As long as they don’t try to evangelize me, we get along just fine. You see, David, I’m a tolerant, accepting person. Not of you, of course, because you are an arrogant, self-righteous prick. If you were my neighbor, I would build a ten-foot high fence and take out a restraining order.

      Fourth, I’m having lunch next week with two Protestant ministers. We get together occasionally to break bread and fellowship. Of course, they are liberals. In your book, they are not True Christians. Great guys whom I admire and respect.

      As you can see —- you can see, right? —- I am a live and let live kind of guy. I can be friends with anyone provided our relationship is based on mutual respect. As I showed in this post and numerous others (and you have amply demonstrated), many Evangelicals are pathologically incapable of loving and respecting people as they are. Ulterior motives always lurk in the shadows.

      Conclusion? Most atheists I know are quite accepting and tolerant. All they ask is that you keep your religion to yourself. Let’s focus on the things we have in common: family, grandchildren, good food, travel, sports, etc. Unfortunately, Evangelicals can’t do this. God/Jesus/Bible/Church/Heaven/Hell/Anal sex are what matters to Evangelicals. They can’t bear to have discussions without putting a word in for Jesus, quoting the Bible, or publicizing their church.

      Numerous ex-Evangelical readers who read this blog are ostracized from their families because Christian parents, grandparents, and siblings just can’t accept them as they are. Same goes for LGBTQ readers. And that’s tragic.

    • Avatar
      Grammar Gramma

      My walking partner and I have been friends for seven years. She and her family attend an Evangelical church, although they are less fundamentalist than many. She wears pants and shorts and her hair is cut short. She homeschools her five children, two of whom have already graduated from high school and are going to college (one of them is a young woman who is studying fashion design). On the other hand, I am pretty sure she voted for Trump in 2016, and she is an anti-vaxxer.

      We had known each other for about two years when I told her I am an atheist. She thought about it for a moment and then moved on to other topics of conversation. She has never returned to the subject, and has never tried to evangelize me. The subjects of religion and politics rarely come up. For seven years, we used to walk about three times a week, but that dropped off some during the past year because of COVID-19. We are beginning to pick up again now.

      We are good friends and I value her friendship. I think she feels the same. Why is she my friend? We like each other, and we are united by the goal of walking and always trying to lose weight, and enjoyment of each other’s company. We also respect each other.

    • Avatar
      Benny S

      Well, I can’t speak for all atheists, because we aren’t a club with a spokesperson. But, to answer your question: Yes! I am true friends with Christians. There’s Nanette and Jerry, Barb and Michael, Alfred and Holly, Jane, Patricia, Holly, Deana and Ron, Debbie and Mark, Tina and Randall, Rudy, aaaannnnnd, I think you get my point.

    • Avatar
      Michael Mock

      Good lord, no. I’m a true friend to my friends. I don’t just randomly select people in my neighborhood to treat that way. I’m friends with people I’m drawn to, who reciprocate. Why would I be a true friend to Christians in general? I don’t know them.

      No, you’re conflating behaviors again. I try to be fair — truly fair, and even a bit merciful by way of the benefit of the doubt — to Christians. That’s not being “a true friend to Christians”. That’s basic decency. Friendship is something else. And I try to be as honest as I know how to be — with kindness — which is nothing at all like this directive to befriend people in order to bring them into your church; the comparison you’re trying to make here is apples and dishonest oranges.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      Well, I’m not an atheist but I’m no longer a Christian. And I am actually friends with several Christians. And most of them are pastors/ministers in different denominations. I have to admit, that the Christian friend who is the most conservative and loves Trump has caused tension between us. She has insulted me and accused me of wanted her to be exterminated. This is very interesting, as I am one of the few people who actually helped her. She’s an emotionally ill, physically broken widow who can’t manage life and yet, doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do. I’ve distanced myself from her this year since she is caught up in her conspiratorial thoughts. But if she was truly in need, well, I’d help anyway. I think that makes me a true friend in spite of her behavior.

  11. Avatar
    Davie from Glasgow

    “No one can argue with your story, so share it.” Seriously?? Exactly what NO fundamentalist EVER seems to accept Bruce doing? I’m sorry if others have already picked this up above. I’m a bit behind on posts and catching up. But that one really stuck in the craw.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      Davie, you’re 100% right. I’ve been following Bruce for nearly a decade, and he’s been nothing but open about his beliefs and actions and thoughts regarding his deconversion. Fundies and other super conservative Christians just can’t accept that someone can be convinced there is no god. I know I started following other atheists to understand why, and now I do. (Not an atheist here.) And every sincere atheist is 100% convinced there is no evidence of god. And none of the fundies show any, because instead of manifesting an unconditional love they manifest anger and hatred. They are usually almost gleeful about that burning forever hell they want Bruce to live in for an eternity.

  12. Avatar
    Davie from Glasgow

    Thank for your response BJW. I guess I’m not an absolute atheist either. I AM a professional scientist of sorts but, even though I’m not an astrophysist, I think “a creator god did it” remains a viable answer to the question “How did the universe originally come into being?” because we just don’t have the evidence yet to nail down something more specific yet. The old God of the Gaps (in our knowledge) thing. The god I genuinely don’t believe in is one who has any interest at all in what’s going on on his Earth today. For me it’s down to us and us alone to feel the awe of nature, treat each other with compassion and kindness, and create (Philip Pullman’s) Republic of Heaven on Earth. Have a lovely weekend BJW.

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Bruce Gerencser