Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Death of Evangelism.
May 14, 2002 1:02 PM   Subscribe

The Death of Evangelism. Matt Sturges (of Clockwork Storybook fame) writes in his blog about how traditional Christian evanglism turns people off more than it draws them in. Are Fundamentalists actually converting people, or just shooting themselves in the foot? Entertaining and informative reading, whether or not you're Christian.
posted by RylandDotNet (22 comments total)

 
Wow, I suddenly have a desire to drink Christ's blood. It's working!

No but seriously. Great link, and I really quite agree with him: evangelism is a tired, offputting, and offensive cliche. My beef with his discussion of conversion is that I too have had a massive spiritual awakening, much as he describes in his big steamy shower scene. Mine however did not make me more inclined to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, it helped me find Christianity more distasteful (oh, except when eating his ecumenical flesh. Mmm... sacrilicious...).
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:35 PM on May 14, 2002


I have always prefered to follow 1 Peter 3:15 -- "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear".... this is my evangelism -- that I live a life worthy of being emulated.

In-your-face preaching never worked with me, and I don't preach that way, myself.
posted by dwivian at 1:45 PM on May 14, 2002


those two jehovah's witnesses who were just here not only got shot, they bled all over my porch.
posted by quonsar at 1:48 PM on May 14, 2002


well, it's certainly still working for the mormon church, although more outside the US than in. and it's hard to know how many of those people actually believe it or how many are just hoping to get an american husband :D

this is an issue i feel somewhat divided on, since all of my brothers and both my parents went on missions, and i know that they all really believed in what they were doing and that it was a "good thing." but for the most part, i find it annoying for smug people to come up to me uninvited and tell me how to live my life. especially if they won't go away. and especially in the subways when they're yelling at me to find jesue and telling me that i'm going to hell and my train won't come.
posted by witchstone at 2:06 PM on May 14, 2002


An enjoyable read, in part because my research interests involve large quantities of Victorian evangelical and Christian "controversial" fiction. I'm Jewish. My immersion in Protestant writing bothered my parents for a while, until I pointed out that the end result of reading all of this material was the opposite of what the writers intended.

Actually, when I was being swamped by evangelists as an undergraduate, I was far more turned off by their bizarre interpretations of Judaism than I was by the Christianity-as-market-goods sales tactics. I never quite understood why I should convert to Christianity, when the Christians in question didn't understand what they were converting me from.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:17 PM on May 14, 2002


Strike two is that you're far more sophisticated than fifth century peasant. I don't necessarily mean that as a compliment. You're more worldly, certainly more knowledgeable about how the world works, but at the same time, you're also more closed off, less likely to accept new ideas and far more likely to scoff at them.


Genius, absolute genius. I'm not convinced that evangelism is a "bad" or counter-productive thing. But if you're going to do it, you damn well better know who your audience is. I think Matt's methodology can spread beyond just religion; it seems that it's needed in I/P discussions, ANWR debates and common voting practices. Work to accomplish the goal of the many, rather than foster your reasoned and arrogant belief of superiority. Give people what they need to experience instead of telling them what they need to live.

Let them see Christians that laugh at misfortune, love with all their hearts, and live with joyful abandon. It's what Jesus did. And it's what we should be doing, too.

I liked this piece alot!
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:32 PM on May 14, 2002


In-your-face preaching never worked with me, and I don't preach that way, myself.

Is there any other kind of preaching? One of the things I've always found so repulsive about preaching is that it is inherently someone else telling you what to do or think.
posted by jeblis at 3:34 PM on May 14, 2002


As an atheist, I support this wholeheartedly. If Christianity helps people to live better lives and be happier, I have no issue with it. Personally, of course, I think he had the heart all along, even if he believes the wizard gave it to him, but hey, whatever works.

I'm always surprised that people think CS Lewis's arguments are persuasive, but in another recent thread, a christian was surprised people think Joseph Campbell is persuasive, so I guess to some extent you get what you look for.

In any event, whether or not it convinces anyone to change their religion, it may change other people's behavior. We all affect the people around us, probably more than we realize.
posted by mdn at 3:34 PM on May 14, 2002


Let them see Christians that laugh at misfortune

But not when watching Israelis and Palestinians on tv, surely....
posted by rushmc at 4:02 PM on May 14, 2002


Interesting reading. "Evangelism" is one of those words that's acquired some ugly connotations over the years. But anyone who likes to publicize something he believes strongly in, whether it's Jesus Christ, the Grateful Dead or Linux, can either be a great guy doing his fellow humans a great service or merely an annoying pain in the ass. It's all a question of technique and the better preachers of any kind know this:

The basic truth is that spirituality is not a logic-based phenomenon. It is an emotional one.

Very true and well said. I'm not a member of any organized religion and I don't plan to be, but I do know this, the soul is not a math problem, it's more like a joke-somethings make me laugh, some things make me laugh and that's just how it is.
posted by jonmc at 4:22 PM on May 14, 2002


As much as Sturges' essay makes for a good read and a compelling portrait of one person's faith, its central thesis isn't supported by the facts. Evangelical Christianity (including the Church of LDS) is growing much faster than mainline Christianity (consisting mostly of the Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian [U.S.A.] churches), especially in the South, where many sunbelt So. Bap. churches have membership in the thousands and must conduct 4 to 5 services every sunday to accomodate the crowds.

The So.Bap. are now the country's second-biggest denomination. The fastest growing demonination? A Pentecostal denomination known as the Assemblies of God, another group big on the whole evangelism thing. That's according to the National Council of Churches' 2001 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a research organization affiliated w/ the Congregationalist Hartford Seminary, studied more than 14,000 churches from 41 different denominations last summer and found that evangelical Protestant churches accounted for 59 percent of all new church development.

To be sure, a lot of the growth the So. Baptists have been enjoying is due to demographic trends favoring the West and Sunbelt at the expense of cities in the Northeast and Rustbelt. And we'll never know how much more the So. Bap. church would have grown over the past 10 years if it hadn't been hijacked by fundamentalists and right-wing political hacks. But my point is that it's easy for a lot of people to universalize their own religious points of view and not realize that many, many other people have differing viewpoints. It's especially hard for certain people, because of what part of the country they live in, or because of their social or educational background, to realize just how powerful a force conservative Christianity is in America. Just because somebody might be turned off by evangelism doesn't mean it's not very effective in filling the pews on Sunday.
posted by hhc5 at 5:06 PM on May 14, 2002


hhc: that's an interesting point - my only concern would be that I'd like to know how Hartford Institute obtained its figures, how much the figures are in fact influenced by the demographic trends you mentioned, and how much the figures were padded by the churches themselves (whether they're counting children born into the church the same as conversions, for instance).
posted by RylandDotNet at 6:24 PM on May 14, 2002


What Sturges misses — the dismal truth — is that the common run of suckers being evangelized aren't all that much more scientifically sophisticated than a 4th century peasant...
posted by nicwolff at 10:15 PM on May 14, 2002


Thanks for the link Rylandotnet. Great piece. As the official nofundy of mefi I really appreciate what Matt says and I agree with dwivian's sentiments. My preference would be NO FUNDAMENTALISTS. Fundamentalists are those who look at the past through rose colored glasses and imagine there was some "perfect" time of complete bliss. I say today and tomorrow are the "good old days." Live your life like you mean it. You don't get a second chance. Abundant living is real. Just do it.
posted by nofundy at 5:25 AM on May 15, 2002


jeblis: Is there any other kind of preaching? One of the things I've always found so repulsive about preaching is that it is inherently someone else telling you what to do or think.

This is hard to answer -- all persuasive commentary does this same thing. Preaching is really just marketing God to an audience, but there are different styles. As the article mentions, telemarketing is a big turnoff, but subtle marketing techniques still work, and work well. Do you resent Coca Cola Enterprises telling you what to do ("Obey Your Thirst!" -- Sprite), or Nike ("Just Do It!"), or New Hampshire ("Live Free, or Die!")?

The best preaching will still be someone else telling you what to do or think -- it is inherent in the belief that the mystical knowledge held by the preacher is truth. Telling you truth is an attempt to persuade you to shift away from the falsehoods you hold, so any preacher MUST believe that you do or think incorrectly. In Christian teaching this is easy to do, as "all have sinned and fall short...", including the preacher (and they often hate it when you remind them of that fact). This is not an insult, because mankind accepts that it is not "perfect", and thus there is always room for improvement.

No, it is a desire, by the preacher, to better the world. One has to hope that the preacher has a good message, and that the changes envisioned will actually improve the world.
(My story: I believe in the Christian Message, and have told people, to their surprise, that selling your goods and giving to the poor is inherently un-American but pro-Christian. I have no trouble with the socialist/communist overtones of Jesus' message, or with the concept of slavery in Biblical times, or with the struggle to be a strong pacifist in the manner Jesus taught. I recognize that all are difficult positions to take, and had to spend quite a while in research and meditation to understand how I got there. I'm a very conservative person, politically, but liberal, philosophically and spiritually. It often makes the heads of those that listen to me spin a bit, but I preach with the idea that my audience is smart, and wants to learn, instead of stupid, and wants to be told what to do. I think this is the best tactic to take with people I want to be productive evangelists.)
posted by dwivian at 6:06 AM on May 15, 2002


Well, the hellfire-and-brimstone sermons I had to sit through as an impressionable young boy in my mom's Pentecostal church turned me off. The older I got, the more I rejected religion. I called myself an atheist, which makes people angry, then settled for "agnostic."

I sort of envy people who can draw comfort from their faith, but in my own case, as Bob Zimmerman put it, "You say you lost your faith, but that's not where it's at/ you had no faith to lose and you know it"

I won't argue the validity of anyone else's beliefs. I'm just speaking from my own experience with fundamentalism here.
posted by StOne at 7:07 AM on May 15, 2002


StOne: I'm just speaking

Glad to see your post -- and, a great many people have been chased from the faith by such tactics. I am reminded of the words of Christ, which say "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one [of these little ones] to sin" (Lk 17:2).

Sending people out to a life of sin by bad preaching is a terrible reality of being a minister. And, so, one has to go through extra efforts to avoid the waiting millstone by careful study of the members of the faithful, and by redirecting them to others of like mind (if of right mind) rather than let them fall to the wayside. I regret, truly, that you moved to atheism and agnosticsm from a bad fundamentalist christian experience, but I must agree with you stronger sentiment, I won't argue the validity of anyone else's beliefs. It is not appropriate for me to attempt to pressure you, especially not in this forum.

Validity is a dangerous thing, especially for the Christian faithful. How anyone can struggle to evangelize and prostelyze, I may never understand.
posted by dwivian at 7:49 AM on May 15, 2002


Do you resent Coca Cola Enterprises telling you what to do ("Obey Your Thirst!" -- Sprite), or Nike ("Just Do It!"), or New Hampshire ("Live Free, or Die!")?

Are they telling us what to do, or proclaiming a philosophy that one is free to ponder, adopt or reject?
posted by rushmc at 5:37 PM on May 15, 2002


I called myself an atheist, which makes people angry, then settled for "agnostic."

...which makes people think you're just indecisive, and therefore fair game for further evangelization.

I regret, truly, that you moved to atheism and agnosticsm from a bad fundamentalist christian experience

I think you skimmed a key part of his post:

in my own case, as Bob Zimmerman put it, "You say you lost your faith, but that's not where it's at/ you had no faith to lose and you know it"
posted by rushmc at 5:40 PM on May 15, 2002


dwivian: Nice response. Yes I do take offense to anybody telling me what to do. This includes Coca-cola, Nike or New Hampshire. A discussion of ideas is fine: Imperative vs. declarative makes all the difference. If someone wants to change my mind on a subject they better come with a good LOGICAL argument. I don't like to see any of these logical fallacies.
posted by jeblis at 1:48 AM on May 16, 2002


rushmc: Are they telling us what to do, or proclaiming a philosophy that one is free to ponder, adopt or reject?

In marketing, is there ever really a difference? *grin*
posted by dwivian at 6:55 AM on May 16, 2002


Not in THEIR minds, perhaps, but it's all in how you choose to take it!
posted by rushmc at 7:18 AM on May 16, 2002


« Older Price War!...  |  the BBC recreates the stanford... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments