Dr. James Dobson, founder of the powerful and influential Christian ministry, Focus on the Family, added a postscript to a letter sent to members. “A brand new Gallup Poll was released this week. ... According to the latest survey, 74 percent of Americans indicated they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, compared to 66 percent in 1988 and 60 percent in 1978! Ninety-five percent of those professing a relationship with Christ were willing to call it a ‘born-again’ experience.”1 Pretty impressive ... until you realize this letter was written in 1990.

After fifteen years of moral decline unprecedented in American history, these glowing statistics indicated only one thing ... things were not what they seemed. However, Dobson gives us an insight into how to make sense of the amazing statistics. “Even if only half of these are what might be considered valid spiritual commitments (only God knows), the number is still encouraging.”2

Those twenty-two words contain the problem in a nutshell. While rejoicing that perhaps 74 percent of Americans are saved, he casually acknowledges the possibility that half of them could be deceived. This blasé attitude would be acceptable if he was talking about how many Americans believe in God or think they’re basically good, but he’s referring to people who believe they are going to heaven because they said a salvation prayer. And to make matters worse, most of these people believe there is no way they can lose their salvation no matter how they live their lives. According to Barna Research Group, these unfortunate individuals make up most of evangelical Christianity in America.3

No wonder the Christian Right movement is a mile wide, but only an inch deep; why the majority of Americans think they’re Christian while they act like heathen; why 88% of the children raised in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18, never to return; why the divorce rate of evangelical church members is virtually the same as the general population. 4 The scandal of modern evangelism isn’t a scandal like Watergate--it’s much more serious. In this scandal, people don’t go to prison; they go to hell.

Are we fulfilling the Great Commission or just fooling ourselves? Billy Graham said that perhaps only a fourth of the decisions made at his crusades, including those who receive counseling and long-term follow-up, result in people being born again.5 But modern evangelism theology dictates that we tell everyone who repeats a salvation prayer they are saved. This deplorable practice has become commonplace in most evangelical churches, giving the vast majority of those who walk away from the altar a false sense of security.

When Christianity was legalized in fourth century Rome, the number of proclaimed Christians grew from 10 percent to over 90 percent of the population in fewer than 100 years6 due to admitting heathen who were willing to perform a symbolic act. The fact that churches were watered down by worldliness was looked on as a necessary evil in the interest of survival and expansion of the faith. As a result, Christianity became the establishment religion during the most decadent period of Roman history.

A similar condition exists today in America. Since the 1950s, the number of evangelicals has increased in proportion to the use of the salvation prayer system. We are now the establishment religion, but at what cost? The decline of evangelical holiness has left us unable to stop the moral freefall of our society. Most pastors have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward sin in their congregations.

Dr. Rod Bell, president of the Fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship of America, believes 50 percent of people that go to church are lost.7 Evangelist Luis Palau said of the 80 percent of Americans who claim to be Christian, “Few live any differently from pagans or atheists, as though God has no claim on their lives.”8 Dr. James Dobson admitted, “The majority of Americans are dabbling in religious expression that has no substance.”9

Bill Bright said, “... many who call themselves Christians are not really biblical Christians at all. Although they may be religious people who attend church regularly, they
have never experienced the new birth and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”10

Bright blamed our “backslidden” state on a lack of “sanctification.” As you learn about modern evangelism, you’ll see the obvious truth. One hundred years ago, evangelists were ecstatic if 10 percent of the people who came forward for altar calls were born again. Today, a 100 percent success rate is assumed. Either we’ve improved the way we deliver the Gospel, or our methods are producing a staggering number of stillbirths.

And we’re exporting our methods. I’ve sat through more than a few missionary presentations in which I was expected to believe village natives who had never before heard the Gospel all got saved after a single sermon. How different this is from the experience of missionaries before the twentieth century! Adoniram Judson, America’s first foreign missionary to India, worked for seven years before gaining his first converts. David Livingstone, missionary to Africa, worked four years before anyone was saved. William Carey, British missionary to India, worked seven years before he saw his first salvation. Even today, when native missionaries labor for the lost in untouched Indian villages, one or two converts the first year are considered very good. But send an American evangelist to that same village with the Jesus film and everyone gets saved!