THIS Is Evangelism?

It was a Word of Life Super Bowl. November of 1992. Philadelphia PA.

I was a freshman in college. And I was there with a few guys from my Bible college because I needed evangelism credit for our evangelism class. Yeah, you read that right. We had a 1-credit evangelism class that required us to do 15 hours of “real life” witnessing during the course of the semester. For many of us, the Word of Life Super Bowl was an ideal way to rack up some hours.  

sk_incredulous1The idea behind a Word of Life Super Bowl is to bring a big group of teenagers to a sporting event, have a speaker share the gospel with them, and then send them out all night to go roller-skating and bowling. Youth groups from all over a region will bring their teens, including as many non-churched teens as possible.

The old way of evangelism is often a bait-and-switch. Promise them a sporting event and an all-nighter full of bowling and pizza, and they’ll hardly even mind when you pin them down for an hour of gospel preaching.

We took one of our Bible college vans to Philadelphia to see the Sixers play the Heat. Our job was to help facilitate the night. We’d serve as counselors during the service after the game. And then we’d hand out pizza or donuts to the teens and their youth sponsors at the various bowling alleys and roller-skating rinks. High impact evangelism. What could go wrong.

The game went to triple overtime. Triple. Overtime.

The 76ers beat the Heat by a point. Exciting for the fans. Bad news for the Word of Life sponsors and the speaker.

If I remember correctly, the gospel preacher that night was a Christian bodybuilder. Because the game went so long, he had to cram a 35-40 minute presentation into about 5 minutes. I’m sure his normal presentation would have been great. He would lift some weights, flex some muscles, and then tell the teens about how Jesus had changed his life. But he didn’t have time for all that. He had to get up, get done, and get out before they turned the lights out in the arena.

He took to mid-court, microphone in hand. He did his best. And then gave an invitation. Billy Graham-style. Teens, come forward to give your life to Jesus. We’ve got volunteers (Bible college freshman like me) ready to talk to you.

Normally, there would be time for volunteers to talk with the students who responded to the invitation. However, because of the time crunch, we were told that we didn’t have time for that. The kids had to be whisked off to the waiting bowling alleys and skating rinks. The pizza was getting cold. As scores of kids came forward, we were instructed by the people in charge of the event, “Just have them sign the card and tell them they’re saved.”

Sign the card and tell them they’re saved?

I got my hours of evangelism credit that night, but I’m still left thinking, THIS is evangelism?

 

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Do you have an evangelism horror story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it! Email me at robb (at) vintagefellowship (dot) com.

 

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  • Sheila

    Someone gave me a tract in the grocery store the other day, after a brief conversation about nothing having to do with tracts. I used to be a part of a church that would have thought giving out tracts was a really great way to spread the gospel. (Whereas now I am more of a muddled person who generally thinks we should love each other and not give out tracts.) It’s a very odd feeling to be on the receiving end of a witnessing pitch. It’s happened a couple of times, and I always find myself running through a quick evaluation of what there is about me that makes them want to witness to me, as opposed to that other lady in the produce section, for example. (Is it because I have kids and no wedding ring? Is it because my eyebrow is pierced? etc.) But the main feeling I come away with is that I feel judged, and also that that person doesn’t actually care about me. That the preceding conversation was simply a means for them to work up to the point where they handed me the tract and walked away. I always read the tracts when people give them to me. They’ve always been a collection of 1611 KJV verses and talk about sin, repentance, and believing on Jesus. I understand what they’re saying because I grew up in the church and I can still speak the jargon, but I can’t imagine what someone who knows nothing about it will make of it. I am a Christian, although Christianity looks different to me than it used to, but no one who has given me a tract has ever asked. It’s more like they just assumed I wasn’t.

    I really like your blog, by the way. I stumbled across it and I’ve been reading it off and on for a while. If I was anywhere near Arkansas, my kids and I would totally check out your church!

    • rryerse

      Shelia, I’m so glad you’ve found my blog. Tracts are the worst, aren’t they? Thanks for sharing your (heart-wrenching) story!