Evangelical preachers loved to talk about the number of people saved under their ministries. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, in particular, is fixated on “souls saved.” If IFB churches were McDonald’s restaurants, they would replace the “____ billions served” line with “____ souls saved.”
Evangelists love to humble brag about how many people were saved during the meetings. “Souls saved” is the equivalent of a dick measuring contest. Watch a Billy or Franklin Graham crusade and you will see hundreds of people coming forward during the altar call. What most people don’t know is that many of the people coming forward are counselors, not people getting saved.
In a post titled Scaring Children and Teenagers Into Getting Saved, I wrote:
Some evangelists, using the Billy Graham model, “prime the pump” by having trained Christian altar workers come forward during the invitation time. These altar workers give the unaware the illusion that God is moving and people are being saved. Contrary to Donald Trump saying that he invented the phrase “priming the pump,” Evangelists have been talking about and using this practice since the 1920s. While many evangelists don’t use such a crass phrase as “priming the pump,” and instead use less-offensive phrases such as ‘helping sinners take the first step’, I have heard several notable evangelists utter the phrase. The late Joe Boyd is one evangelist who comes to mind.
A new fad amount Evangelical megachurch pastors is mass baptisms. There was a time when baptism was reserved for new converts (or for church membership in Landmark/Baptist Bride congregations.) Today, churches will mass baptize people who want to recommit themselves to Jesus or have some sort of felt need. Doing so wildly inflates their baptism numbers, hiding the fact that very few new converts are being baptized.
Every day, or so it seems anyway, I read news reports about this or that church/pastor/evangelist having scores of sinners saved. I automatically say “bullshit.” Why? In most Evangelical churches, salvation is little more mental assent to a set of theological propositions. This is especially true in IFB churches that practice “easy believism” or “decisional regeneration.” (Please see The Bankruptcy of the Evangelical Gospel, Let’s Go Soulwinning, and One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style.) Preachers report large numbers of souls saved, yet when asked why their church attendances aren’t growing, these soulwinning machines say “that’s up to God, not me.” Bob Gray, Sr, the retired pastor of an IFB megachurch in Longview, Texas, proudly states thousands and thousands and thousands of people were saved under his ministry — upwards of a 100,000 people — yet most of these new converts were never baptized (the first step of obedience) or became members of the church.
During the First and Second Great Awakenings, thousands and thousands of people were saved. For a time, church attendances grew. By and by, the revival fires died, and many of these new converts went back to their worldly ways. One evangelist of that era (Jonathan Edwards or George Whitfield, I believe) said that revivialists should wait for a year before counting “souls saved.” They believed that this would give an accurate count of those truly saved.
I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio from 1983 to 1994. The church grew from sixteen people at its first service to 206 in 1987. During the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist, over 600 people made public professions of faith. Most of them didn’t become members, often coming for a few weeks or months before returning to their “sinful” ways. While the church did grow in the 1980s, most of the growth came from transfers — people changing churches. I would later see that the gospel I was preaching made people seven-fold children of Hell. I spent the remainder of my time in the ministry trying to get saved people unsaved. This proved much harder than getting them saved. Embracing Calvinism in the mid- to late- 1980s forced me to reorient my approach to preaching and evangelism. I went from being quantity-focused to quality-focused. I went from preaching textual/topical sermons to preaching expositionally. My focus was on building up the church instead of filling the pews with people who had no real interest in following Jesus.
The next time you hear a preaching bragging about how many souls were saved at this or that church/revival meeting, I hope you will quietly mumble under your breath, “bullshit.” 🙂 Or better yet, ask this braggart how many of these new converts were baptized, how many of them joined the church, and how many of them are actively serving Jesus. You will likely see the preacher’s dick shrivel up, and he will probably stammer and stutter as he tries to explain the disconnect between the number of souls saved and the number who are members and actively serving their Savior.
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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