Much has been said about the American Social Security System going broke. That it's a Ponzi Scheme. That it takes in more money than it gives out. That it will never be able to deliver what it promises. Conservatives want to reinvent the system, while many liberals want to ignore the problem. Similar dynamics exist in modern evangelism. Many conservative Christian leaders see modern evangelism as a failed system, while many liberal Christian leaders say "leave it alone."
Statistical results from modern evangelism has consistently shown an 80-90% failure rate. If it were a government program, it would have been scrapped years ago. We get upset at the 50% illiteracy rate of public high school graduates. How much worse is the 80-90% "backsliding" rate of people who "get saved" in modern evangelism?
We rightly get upset at the 1.5 million American babies aborted every year. But 2.5 million American adults die every year also. At least two million of them think they are going to heaven. At least 1.5 million are deceived and go to Hell. This directly relates to modern evangelism. I wish the Church would be as concerned about 1.5 million people burning in Hell for eternity as it is about 1.5 million aborted babies.
We could debate whether the 80-90% "backsliders" were ever saved, but I think we all recognize there's a 80-90% failure rate.
The Day Modern Evangelism Changed In The 1950's
On a fateful day in the 1950's, Billy Graham, forced by
circumstances, bypassed the safeguards provided by personal counselors.
The following excerpt from the book "Those Who Came Forward"
is what is now a typical Billy Graham closing.
Unlike most evangelists and pastors today, Graham tried to provide counselors
who could individually answer inquirer's questions. But at many crusades,
trained counselors were not available in sufficient numbers.
"The evangelist leans forward
to greet the inquirers. His voice is tired and solemn as he says they
will not be kept long but that several matters require a brief discussion."
(Why would an illuminated seeker object to hearing more about
salvation...He's about to sell everything to buy the Pearl Of Great Price.
Matt 13:46 If he's illuminated of the Holy Spirit, he'll be hungry to
hear about salvation. Does anyone think a person convicted of the Holy
spirit would be impatient? Do we want him to make a quick "decision"
because we're afraid he might loose interest and change his mind?)
"And then he leads them all in a unique prayer
of confession and repentance, pausing after each phrase to allow them
to repeat his simple but explicit words." (In what way
is a formula prayer unique? I've led a lot of people in a similar prayer,
and I don't believe one of them would have said those words if I hadn't
led them. If salvation is of God, the penitent spontaneously pours forth
words from a heart illuminated of the Holy Spirit. Before 1900, penitents
would pour out their sins for hours before rising a new creature in Christ.
The formula prayer does nothing but confuse the penitents, causing them
to think the prayer accomplished what only the working of the Holy Spirit
The writer of the above excerpt apparently didn't know the Billy Graham Organization doesn't consider everyone who makes a "decision" to be saved. In fact, they consider counselors absolutely necessary to the salvation process. Charles Riggs, director of the follow-up and counselor training program for the Graham Organization, admitted that all who come forward are only "in a state of inquiry." And said, " I like to think of the counselor as the one who sits down with a person over a puzzle....the counselor helps the inquirer to sort out all the pieces so they may have a complete picture of the Gospel. Even though Dr. Graham seeks to make the Gospel perfectly clear in his messages, he realizes that no one can possibly sort out all of the pieces in a thirty minute sermon. Therefor the counselor is an indispensable help in performing this task." 2
If only Billy Graham and the thousands of evangelists and pastors who use his "repeat this salvation prayer after me" method were honest with seekers. Then the nine out of ten seekers that walk away from the altar unsaved would know when Satan hits, that there's a reason they don't have the power over sin, and not blame God. Over 60% of Americans have said a "salvation prayer." Less than 10% of Americans are saved. That means at least half of Americans think they're saved, even though they have no power over sin and don't have the workings of the Holy Spirit in them.
All studies show between 80-90% of the people who go forward in altar calls live like heathen. We could debate whether the 80-90% "backsliders" ever get saved, but I think we all recognize there's a 80-90% failure rate.
The Tuberculosis Vaccine With A 80-90% Failure Rate
Imagine a government program where all the public school kids are vaccinated for Tuberculosis. Imagine if within 40 years, 80% of the kids contracted tuberculosis and died. Imagine if people who had been vaccinated took no thought for their health around known tuberculosis patients because they were told by the officials that there were immune from the disease. Imagine if the majority of these people contracted the disease because of their confidence in the saving power of the vaccine. What would the public do to the officials that promised the vaccine worked?
The failure rate of modern evangelism is 80-90%. It's time we took steps to change the system. The reason Evangelical Christianity "doesn't work" for most people is they never get saved. The reason most Evangelical churches are powerless to change their communities is most of their members are not saved. It's time for reformation of modern evangelism so we can have true revival.
Let me clear. The problem isn't that 80-90% of seekers walk away from the altar unsaved. This is to be expected. Studies show that it takes an average of 7 clear presentations of the Gospel before God saves them. Before 1900, evangelist and pastors were ecstatic if 80-90% of seekers who came forward in altar calls went away unsaved. That would mean that 10-20% were saved, which would be an amazing work of God of true revival proportions. The problem is that today, evangelists and pastors tell everyone that comes forward and says a formula "salvation prayer" that they're saved, effectively consigning 80-90% of them to disillusionment and eventually giving up on God. This is the scandal of modern evangelism.
If the kids were told when they got the tuberculosis vaccine that only 10-20% of them were immune from the disease, and that all needed to be careful not to contract the disease and watch for signs of the disease, the vaccine would be useful. Similarly, if people who came forward in altar calls were examined individually and some said spontaneous salvation prayers, and were told to look for the evidence of salvation (power over sin and the workings of the Holy Spirit) 80-90% would know within a short time they weren't saved. (This was the normal practice and experience of pastors and evangelists before 1900) For those who were unsure, they would be compelled to "make their calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10) by joining a church, reading their Bible, praying without ceasing, etc.
Those that were not saved, but were in as Billy Graham said, in some form of gestation," 3 would in God's time, after a period of "repenting from dead works" (Hebrews 6:1) be gloriously saved, and know it. Those that were completely spurious, would know unless they repented and God saved them, they'd go to Hell.
Which is more Christian? To tell people the truth that they're most likely not saved so they'll have an opportunity to repent, or tell them they're saved, making it more likely they'll go to Hell? If you're a liberal, you don't believe in Hell, so you would say the later is better. If you're not a liberal, what's your excuse for continuing to perpetuate the scandal of modern evangelism?s
1 Pg 40-41, Those Who Came
Forward, Curtis Mitchell, 1966