Sometimes my dad tells this story about how he met a televangelist, and the guy was praying for him, and then he just kind of pushed him. Like, you know how sometimes someone will just be so overwhelmed by the Spirit or whatever that they just keel over? This guy was trying to…encourage that, I guess.
On the subject of my personal experience with evangelism: Once, in a seventh or eighth grade study hall, I watched a group of girls attempt to convert a boy in our class to Christianity. There are two pertinent things to note here.
1) The boy in question was an immigrant with a very recent family history of death by way of religious persecution, hence the immigration.
2) The girls were quite concerned, and made it clear that they were concerned, about his inevitable eventual placement in Hell, should he not see the light.
To be fair, we were twelve, and they were genuinely concerned about his well-being. I would like to believe that most evangelists are genuinely concerned about the well-being of those they minister to. But a lot of them, even the trained, professional ones who went to Bible school, seem to have missed a majorly important memo: “You are going to Hell” is not an effective method of evangelism.
Let’s take a moment and think about it logically. People are not going to be influenced by the threat of something they don’t believe in, okay? You can’t tell an atheist to shape up or he’s going to hell, anymore than you can tell a thirty five year old to shape up or Santa won’t come this year. It’s the same reason you can’t have a creation-evolution debate with the Bible as your main source of evidence, no matter how much you try, or how much you whine about it. People are not going to be swayed by something they don’t believe exists.
Also (and this one is as much about basic human decency as it is about logic), if you have to resist to scare tactics to push your product, it’s probably not worth having.
The words “You are going to Hell” are, indeed, a dire warning, but they are not functioning in the way you intend. They don’t say “change your ways and accept the Lord.” They say “here comes a total jerk I gotta get out of here.”
Not the message you’re going for, right?
Here’s how you actually reach people: Love. Acceptance. Open-mindedness and a willingness to listen and try to understand. Don’t ever approach someone with the goal of “saving” them. Approach them with the goal of making a new friend, and let things go from there.
If you have to talk about religion, this is how you’re going to do it. You’re going to ask them about the details of what they believe. You’re going to ask them why they believe what they believe. You’re going to offer the same information about yourself, if requested, and do your best to provide an honest, thoughtful answer, something well beyond “because it’s true” or “the Bible says so.” You’re going to offer something personal. You’re going to ask for clarification when something about their belief system doesn’t make sense to you, not as a stern interrogator looking for holes in an argument, but as a friend genuinely seeking to understand an alternate point of view.
You may recall, when Jesus gets to ranking the commandments, his list goes as follows:
1) Love God
2) Love everyone else
Golden Rule, right? So, hey, if you wouldn’t like some random stranger screaming in the street about how wrong you are, try not to be that person, ‘kay?