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Robo-evangelism

January 26, 2016

I saw this article the other day where a church in CA named “The Right Way to Follow Christ Worldwide Church and Political Party,” was making a series of robo-calls to people in their town inviting them to “learn why you are going to hell if you are not a member of our church.”  The link to the article goes to the web page of the local TV station and it was interesting to hear the two news anchors discussing if it “is intimidation” or “an innovative way to get people interested in one local Christian church.”

I’m pretty sure that most Christians, including those who consider themselves sold-out evangelists will find the story cringe-worthy.    Yet in a hyper exaggerated way the calls illustrate the core problem with evangelism.  In his funny but telling book I’m OK–You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop progressive Christian John Shore puts his finger on the evangelical problem; there is no easy way to express the idea that “you are going to hell…” and present the salvation message as good news.

This doesn’t stop some evangelism cheerleaders from telling you that it is easy.  I saw an article recently where Tim LaHaye, co-author of those “Left Behind” books, told a story about a women who had bought a used paperback copy of the first book for 25 cents and was saved.  She then passed it to her four brothers, all of whom were saved, her mother, who was also saved, and finally her atheist father who was saved.  It concludes with LaHaye crowing that “seven people were saved for 25 cents.”  Uh-huh.

We evangelicals are full of stories of wildly successful evangelism, tips on how to do it right, and excuses why we fail.  I have a friend who insists that all male unbelievers “think Christians are wimps” and that is why they don’t love Jesus.  His solution is a more “manly” gospel presentation, whatever that is.  Yet, in a recent survey as to what non-Christians say about us, being wimps didn’t even make the list.

The number one response was a question.  They don’t know “why do Christians hate us so much?”  Shore’s book has hundreds of responses that show us that something is wrong.  How is it possible that we’ve taken a message we are sure is the epitome of love and created that impression?  The negative responses were so widespread that we can’t just attribute them to screwy churches like the one above; telling ourselves that we are not like that.  I can’t help but think that there are three basic problems we have to overcome.

  1. We need to love our neighbors like we love ourselves not as an evangelistic message but in truth, whether they accept Christ or not.
  2.  We need to stop implying, intentionally or not, that we are better than non-Christians.  Many non-Christians make a practice of doing good; have a well-developed ethical system, and are devoted to making the world a better place.
  3.  We need to speak in the context of a relationship.  Most methodologies taught as evangelism are only slightly better than the robo-calls.

Phillip Yancey once said that “we attract the people that Jesus repelled and repel the people that Jesus attracted.”  He is right.

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