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Scores of Sinners Saved, Evangelical Preachers Say, But Let’s Look Behind the Numbers

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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    I love reading your stuff because you know where the bodies are buried. I remember when I was growing up John R Rice of Sword of the Lord fame said that if you didn’t baptize 200 a year in your church you had no right to call yourself a pastor. Every year the would publish a list of people who baptized the 200 plus so that they could get the John R Seal of Approval. And of course Jack Hyles led the way every year. And Bob Gray is full of crap on general principle but especially his soul winning numbers. I’m sitting here looking at the advertising piece and those numbers are full of crap as well. A little bit of basic math would tell you that. And he wasn’t even banging a secretary (that we know of.) The only thing I can say good about him is that he isn’t as big a liar as Jack Hyles. And that’s not saying much.

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    Jeff Brown

    Bruce, can you explain what this means? I was in IFB for 30 years but it’s new to me: “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.”

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    Merle Hertzler

    I spent four years of my life at Longview Baptist Temple (1975-1979). In those days Terry Smith was the pastor. We were all about numbers. Every Sunday we sang “Just as I am” multiple times. First people came forward to prime the pump, then others followed. We kept on singing until all the people that had come forward had time to quickly “get saved”. Then “Brother Terry” would start calling out the names of people that had come forward and had them stand along the front of church. These were our trophies for the day. I suspect many of the people coming forward had just been caught up in the moment, had heard the sad tone of the song with people coming forward, and had themselves come forward. They said a quick prayer, and now they were standing up in the front of the church, proudly on our trophy rack. They were probably up there totally confused at what had just happened.

    Some of them were even quickly baptized that same day. Some of them came forward on multiple Sundays and got baptized multiple times. Each time it was one more notch in our belt.

    At the time I was thrilled to be involved with the church. But it seemed that the more people we lined up on Sunday, the worse I would feel on Monday. I didn’t understand why back then. One would have thought the thrill of it all would put a bounce in my step and a smile on my face the next day. It didn’t. Now I know why. I now have Sundays that make me feel good even on the next day. See

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    The Christian god is really a gullible rube who is easily duped into letting just about anybody into heaven despite their obviously phone I.D.

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    What I remember from altar calls at Southern Baptist church during the 80s and early 90s was that the people coming down front fell into these categories:

    1) people who moved to the community who were “moving their letter” from the church where they used to live to the church where they had just moved.
    2) teens and kids (usually after a retreat or some other emotional pressure to “get saved”)
    3) people “getting right with God” or “rededicating their life to Christ”

    I don’t remember ever hearing of any converts – people who were not Christian who became Christian. There were some people who were formerly members of one Christian denomination who switched to Southern Baptist, like my stepdad who was baptized as an infant in Lutheran church and who had to get baptized as an adult in order to become a member of our Southern Baptist church when he and my mom got married.

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    My experience is similar and relates to Vacation Bible School. The last night was for the kids who had seen the light to get saved. The church bragged (not humbly, either, lol) that they had blank number of souls saved at VBS and would report the numbers at the next Sunday service. We never saw those kids again!

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    Brocken This website from some “church” in South Carolina made reference to Jack Hyles and what the website referred to as his ” 15,000 empty converts.” The website Way of Life Literature by David Cloud( some people refer to his website as Way of Strife because of his many criticisms of just about everyone who doesn’t subscribe to his belief system) also questioned the long lasting effects of Jack Hyles “conversions”.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    This sounds like any other enterprise in which people’s performance is measured by numbers. People feel the pressure to inflate or game those numbers, whether to show their “superiority” to someone else or simply to meet a quota.

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Bruce Gerencser