Friday, November 20, 2009

Bait-and-Switch Evangelism or Do-able Evangelism

I'm addicted to the podcast of This American Life, the stories and themes are fascinating. One of the more recent podcasts was on the theme of "bait and switch." Held up as a classic example of this tactic was the efforts of evangelical Christians to convert nonbelievers. The segment ended with an interview with Jim Henderson. I posted the interview on TFC's website here.

His websites are and and his book, Evangelism without Additives can be ordered here.

Here are some excerpts from this interview:

From interviewer, "Jim's 5 years of pastoring taught him that sinners like Jesus but they don't like Jesus' people, causing him to rethink how he was approaching nonbelievers."

Jim, "I was tired of thinking of you as a project and not you as a person."

"Most of the ways [we] observe evangelism being done, as it's being marketed - the large rallies, all that stuff - the statistics are just abysmal about the number of converts that actually stick. It does not result in what the church wants. The church wants disciples; Jesus didn't say 'go into the world and make converts' he said, 'go into the world and make disciples', which is a completely different project... Jesus did not model this behavior. He did not have to lower himself to a bait-and-switch. So this has been an adoption of American consumerism. It's largely based upon sales... I want people to follow Jesus, but I'm done with the whole sales pitch."

"Doable evangelism does not concern itself with converting people, it's not about sales, it's about connecting. There are three spiritual practices for connecting with people.
1) Notice people.
2) Pray for people behind their backs
3) Actually listen"

"Our goal is to get Christians engaged in the process, our concern is not with results. Our goal is teaching Christians not to be jerks. Our goal is helping Christians learn to be normal... Our goal is to help people build friendships... that's how human beings change, through relationships. When people like each other, the rules change."

"I'm much more concerned about the starting line of faith. Why don't we try to get them across the starting line, rather than the finish line."

The reason this resonates with me is because I spent most of my life as the "bait-and-switch guy." I would befriend people simply for the sake of converting them. If I could tell there wasn't much chance of that happening, I'd move onto another person. I was operating under this method as late as the early days of pastoring TFC. I could post some pretty sick examples but for the sake of personal pride, I won't.

My motives were honest, I wanted people to meet Jesus. My methods, however, were very UN-Christlike. The guilt I would feel for taking too long to turn the conversation toward Jesus and the weight of "if I don't do this right, they might burn in hell" was very unhealthy.

The answer, then, is to build relationships that have NO AGENDA, to love people simply for the sake of LOVING THEM. It's hard to say that, as explained in the interview, because evangelicals have guilt if they don't "produce fruit."
I love how Jim was cool with the the interviewer's branding his method as "all bait and no switch." A life truly lived for Jesus is all that's needed. A person intriqued by that life will eventually open up dialogue about what that life is all about. But even if they never do, they are still humans created in God's image, deserving of our love, respect and service. To love, without ever seeing that friend make the decision you'd die for them to make has to be similar to Christ's self-sacrificial love from the cross. How many billions of people did Jesus die for that will never accept that love and forgiveness? Yet he still poured out his life.

This requires slowing down, rather than building a lot of shallow and short-lived relationships with a lot of poeple, you build deeper and longer relationships with fewer people. This has been very hard for me to grasp but I'm beginning to get there.

One encouraging stat that Jim shared is that it often takes 4 years for a person to decide to follow Christ. This gives me hope because I'm about 1.5 years into a friendship that looks like what Jim is proposing, this friend has been exploring faith in Christ off and on since we became friends.

Also following Jim's idea, this friend first became interested in Christ because of what they saw in Erin and my lives. To directly quote this friend, "I'm not so sure about my faith, but I love yours and I have so much faith in you so I figure that means something, right?"

Yes, yes it does.

Following this line of thinking, check out this video David posted to his blog.

Christians Trying to Convert Non-Christians from Rethink Mission on Vimeo.


nate said...

From CS Lewis's "That Hiddeous Strength":

"Do you place yourself in the obedience," said the Director, "in the obedience to [God]?"

"Sir," said Jane, "I know nothing of [God]. But I place myself in obedience to you."

"It is enough for present," said the Director. "This is the courtesy of Deep Heaven: that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew. It will not be enough for always. He is very jealous. He will have you for no one but Himself in the end. But for tonight, it is enough."

Derin Beechner (Durk Niblick) said...

I too love This American Life and listened to this episode a week or so back. I have been thinking about it ever since. Those that are seeking religious experiences and are seeking spiritualness, THOSE are the folks that I want to respond to an evangelistic-type of call. There is no trickery, no manipulation to get these folks to come to church or to listen to a sermon. But even then there is a (glorious) bait and switch, because what they will find instead of a religious experience is a relationship with Christ. Instead of spiritualness they will be filled with the Holy Spirit. They may not find what they thought they were looking for, but the hollow spot will be perfectly filled in their heart and life. And it will be beyond their wildest dreams.

But it usually starts with befriending friends for the sake of being their legitimate friend. Not with an agenda and not with manipulation. But with a life-long relationship.

Monte said...

Who was it who first said, "Love has no agenda"? It's a courageous statement.

So much could be said.

Monte said...

OK: I think the idea that "Love has no agenda" is so far removed from evangelical practice that it would sound like Greek - or heresy - in many of our circles.

Ben said...

I recently learned that some big time evangelists such as Billy Graham actually had a background in sales-I wonder if there is a connection. There is a similarity between-this sale only lasts til tomorrow and where will you go tomorrow if you die.

A friend of mine commented to me about a new type of evangelism called 'relational evangelism', he said-the fact that we even have to call it relational shows how far off we are.