Hello, this is B____ L_____, religion reporter for the W_____ E____. I am writing an analysis story on a trend we see hear of “entertainment evangelism.” D____ C____ of Current Thoughts and Trends magazine said you would be a good person to talk with.
In a couple of weeks, a group called “Impact World Tours” affiliated with Youth with a Mission will have a crusade here. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the group but they will put on four shows featuring Polynesian dancers, world-class athletes, skateboardsers, roller bladers and a “hip-hop dance team.”
At the end of each night of entertainment, there will be an altar call where people will be invited to accept Christ.
There are also other events planned for the Wichita area that combine rock climbing, Christian rock music and evangelism for kids. I’d like to tlak to you about the benefits and drawbacks with this kind of evangelism in contrast with other ways of trying to reach people. My phone number here is _________________.
I have known the Youth with a Mission people, intersecting with them through the years in various places around the world. They are always zealous and concerned people. The issue of entertainment evangelism, of course, does not originate with them. For instance, I know of one pastor of a large church who had mud wrestling in his church on a Sunday morning and another who made a baptistry for kids in the shape of a fire engine. Bells clang and confetti is shot out when a child is baptized. Another man I knew jumped on a rope and swung out over the congregation one Sunday morning. The list of strange antics is endless, and to my thinking, quite demeaning of the gospel of Christ.
We began to see more and more of this sort of entertainment evangelism in the emergence of the youth movements in evangelicalism in the 60s. It was all quite innocent then, and very unprofessional for the most part. The concert music artists expanded the practice considerably and added the professional touch. Many churches, for instance, are not driven by great preaching of the Bible, but by their massive music programs. In fact, I think that some of the poorest preaching is sometimes found in these churches, and I am always surprised that people continue to go to them. This is not a statement about large churches, but about those who have nothing much but their music to hold them together.
Concerning the larger picture of evangelism, two matters are getting attention in our day. First is the question, “What is the gospel?” Some say it is merely a system of good works, or moral actions, plus going to church that makes a person a Christian. Others disagree, but nonetheless trivialize the gospel by the lighthearted way in which it is presented and responded to. But the gospel is more than this. The gospel is the news that Christ has come into the world as God’s Son in order to deliver sinful people from the justice of God. Jesus died in the place of needy, sinful people who will put their lifelong trust in Christ as their only hope. A true Christian puts his trust in Christ alone and not at all in himself, and desires to live wholly for God, though imperfectly due to weakness.
The second question that we struggle with is the one addressing the problem of entertainment evangelism. It is this: “How do we get a crowd to preach the gospel to?”
In the early church, this problem is informed by two important observations.
First, the early church gathered on Sundays for believers to worship God. The emphasis is that the design of the meetings was for believers. Unlike so many worship services today, no real emphasis was given to the nonbeliever. They did not spurn them, of course. And if they came in they might be convicted by what they heard (see 1 Cor. 14: 24-25), but the church was not focused on attracting outsiders during these services. Because of this they could pray long prayers, hear long sermons, get on their knees, etc., all practices which would not be appealling to the outsider. In other words, worship and evangelism were consider two different things. The Lord’s Day gathering was about worship. The rest of the week was about evangelism.
A second observation is that the early church, to my knowledge, did not plan any meetings for attracting nonbelievers. The history shows that they always borrowed the crowds of others. Over a dozen times, for instance, the early Christians went to the Jewish synagogues to spread their message. Sometimes they conversed or reasoned with the people for months in these settings. Even in Athens, Paul went to the synagogue first. They also used any mob settings where people would gather in opposition to them. They sometimes saw crowds gather through the apostolic miracles or by just preaching in the marketplace. Again, they went on the other man’s turf.
Unlike the early church, the major way evangelism is done today is by arranging various gatherings for the nonbeliever. When you design meetings for evanglism, you have to ask the further question, “How do we get them there?” This is what is driving the whole entertainment evangelism movement. At first, churches would use any means as long as it was close to the gospel. That is, they might use music as a primary means. But now, anything goes, whether it is systemic to the gospel or not. And, because people generally don’t want to hear the gospel preached, the methods are getting more and more unusual and dramatic.
This has the following results, in my thinking. First, it trivializes the gospel message. Coming to Christ is a very serious thing. A person is damned and is going to hell because he or she is rebelling against God. But now they are reverting from that whole way of life to enter into relationship with Christ. Entertainment does not mix well with such a serious message. The result is that the message suffers.
Second, I believe that it produces spurious results. When persons respond to such a message that is so intermingled with entertainment, they often misunderstand the calling of God given in the gospel. An emotional appeal at the end of an emotion packed and excited period of entertainment causes people to act without clarity and sensiblity. At times, even a kind of group response to the gospel can take place. Many of these so called converts fall away and show no signs of really entering into relationship with Christ.
Finally, the entertainment approach to evangelism creates an appetite that cannot be fulfilled by most churches. The next meeting must have more of the same kind of entertainment to keep the people coming and it must be better than the last. This causes pastors to work harder at the next show than at the content of their message and the personal needs of the people. The appetite of the people commands his life and not the call of God and truth.