“Mass Evangelism”, or programs, whether vacation Bible schools, evangelistic meetings, camps, or even television or radio broadcasts, designed to make converts of multitudes of people in a moment often do far more harm than good because they represent, in reality, the offer of an “Easy Believism”.
What is “Easy Believism”? Easy Believism is the belief that a person can be saved, converted, reconciled to God, justified, by simply praying a prayer acknowledging a belief that Jesus will save him, or her, apart from any real understanding of his, or her, personal sin, his, or her, current broken relationship with, and rebellion against, God, that Jesus’ life and death were the means by which his, or her, sin-debt was paid, and that Jesus’ resurrection was the authentication, or proof, that Jesus’ person and work were what they were said to be and that God was satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for his, or her, sin.
Very few people, especially children, not previously exposed to the Gospel, can take all of that in and genuinely understand it the first time they’re exposed to it. Some may respond that the New Testament gives several examples of people saved when confronted with the Gospel for the very first time. The difference in those saved when confronted in the New Testament and those “converted” through mass evangelism efforts today was that those saved during the first century were, for the most part, Jews already more familiar than most modern believers will ever be with the work and person of the Creator-God, with the concepts of sin and blood-sacrifice as its remedy for reconciliation to God, and with the need for repentance from sin and a personal commitment to serving God, or conversion, for justification. Many of those Jews had certainly corrupted the Biblical message prior to being confronted with the Gospel, but they were familiar with all of the concepts essential to conversion.
“But what about the Samaritans?” Though rejected by the Jews as unworthy of eternal life, the Samaritans were every bit as familiar with the Mosaic Law, and all of the above mentioned realities, as were the Jews.
That’s simply not true of most people believers confront with the Gospel today and it’s certainly almost never true of children or adults living on foreign mission fields. Yet audiences of mass evangelism efforts are often, in spite of that reality, treated more like kids signing up for Little League Baseball than sinners making an eternity changing decision to turn from their sin to trust and serve the One, True, Living, Eternal, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent God. They’re simply exposed to a message, which often doesn’t even include the essentials of the Gospel, and then invited to repeat some formula in prayer and raise their hands confirming their supposed conversion. The reality is that most people “saved”, or “converted”, in such contexts would have as readily raised their hands if asked if they wanted free fish for lunch or to be placed on a Little League Baseball team. They’re simply attempting to please those who’ve been kind enough to entertain, or feed, or reach out to them (Who would want to reject such generosity and spoil such an occasion by refusing to “accept Jesus”?), they’re not wanting to be the “lone man out” when everyone else is “converting”, or, though they have no idea who Jesus really was, what He did, why He’s different from any other supposed Messiah, or that they’re committing their lives to being His disciples (Matthew 28:16-20: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations-Literally: “Go ye, therefore, and make disciples…”), so they “get saved”.
So what’s the problem? Why does it matter that some, or maybe even most, don’t really “get saved” when they profess to have done so when some in the crowd may, in fact, have been genuinely converted? Because the Gospel is, in-an-of-itself, an invitation, an appeal, to the unbeliever to repent and return to His Creator for forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation and whether there is a formal invitation for a person who genuinely gets it to repent and trust Christ as Savior or not, will not stop such a person from doing so. It’s ultimately the Holy Spirit who both changes the heart and provokes the sinner to willingly turn to Jesus in repentance and faith in response to the Gospel. He “turns the light on” for the unbeliever who could never, otherwise, see spiritual realities as they really are (1 Corinthians 2:14). That said, an invitation for a multitude of people to profess having been converted is never responsible for a single conversion but is often responsible for false professions of faith, empty hope/assurance that an unbeliever has been saved, justified, reconciled to God, and exaggerated reports of successful evangelism.
The consequence? The consequence is, more often than not, a mass of people who, instead of having been converted, or saved, are condemned by their empty assurance that a Gospel they do not understand, and a Jesus they do not really know, will save them. Condemned by their assurance? Absolutely! They’re condemned because they continue in their lives of rebellion against the One True God not even aware that they need change. After all, the missionary/pastor/evangelist assured them that by raising their hand they confirmed, once and for all, that their eternity was a settled issue. “But they’ll be confronted by the Gospel again and have further opportunities to respond if they’re not, in fact, really saved!” No so! At least not in most cases.
In the great majority of cases those who leave such mass evangelism efforts believing they’ve been reconciled to God never darken the door of a church, or attend another evangelistic meeting, again. Why should they? They’re still unconverted so are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, are not provoked by Him to seek fellowship with other believers, to hunger for a greater understanding of God’s word, or to participate in the work of a local church. In other words, they simply continue the life of an unbeliever believing, on the assurance given by someone they trusted as knowledgeable of the Bible, that they’ve already done everything necessary to assure they’ll never face any further consequences for their sin.
What then, is the legitimate alternative to “Easy Believism”? Personal evangelism. “But what if there is an opportunity to address a significant number of people with the Gospel at one time?” By all means, do it, but don’t invite the mass of people to simply pray a prayer and raise their hands acknowledging they’ve prayed and then assure them their eternity has been settled. While the Gospel may be presented to a mass audience very effectively, it’s incumbent upon those doing the evangelizing to take the time to deal personally with each person responding to ensure they really understand the Gospel and the decision they’re professing to make. Further, it’s important to ask the people responding to approach someone who can help them individually to ensure that they’re responding to the conviction God is calling them and not to any other potential motivation including their emotions or a desire to please someone.
Again, if the Holy Spirit is truly moving a person to turn to Christ, no coaxing will be necessary for him, or her, to see it through. But if He’s not, any resulting profession of faith will end in Jesus’ one day telling the supposed new convert “Depart from me. I never knew you” and the well-meaning evangelist will have been complicit in the sinner’s eternal condemnation. The eternal souls of those we, as believers, have been called to reach with the Gospel are too precious to take shortcuts in evangelizing them. Preach the Gospel, trust the Gospel, and the Gospel will reach the masses one soul at a time!