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Coercion in Group Evangelism

Evangelism is at the center of much of the controversy between Christians and the secular world. Those who don’t believe in God, or at least the God of the Bible, reject the notion that Christians have a right to freedom of speech that includes telling others about what Jesus did for them, especially in a public setting. I have had countless unbelievers state that we should keep our religious views to ourselves and not push them on others. Many are concerned that Christians are taking over this country (case in point, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade), further aggravating evangelistic efforts. 

One of the more moderate comments I have received on the subject comes from a believer and suggests that, at the very least, listeners to an evangelistic message must first provide consent and not be coerced into listening to a message about Jesus. 

One-On-One Evangelism

To be clear, on a one-on-one basis, I totally agree that conversations about God and what Christ has done for us should be preceded by the informed consent of the listener with no coercion. By far, the most grace-filled and successful form of evangelism today is relationship evangelism…. building an extended one-on-one relationship with someone and helping them in their time of need to draw close to God as the only true and ultimate answer to their problems. 

What about Group Evangelism

However, relationship evangelism was not what this reader was referring to. From a context of “Group Evangelism”, this responder to an earlier post was critical of two points currently in play in evangelistic circles, quid pro quo and the lack of informed consent.

Definitions

Quid pro quo – Something given or received for something else.

Informed Consent – Typically consent by a person to undergo a medical procedure. In this case, the commentor is using the term to describe an active admission on the part of an event promoting an evangelistic message to fully inform participants prior to attendance. 

Group Evangelism & Quid Pro Quo

The following quote sets up his first issue on the acceptability of group evangelism:

”If people are obliged to listen to a gospel presentation before they can access services (medicine, food, etc.), this is also wrong.”

On principle, this makes perfect sense. There should be no prerequisites of hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ in a group setting before promised goods are delivered (medicine, food, etc.). However, reality is much more nuanced. 

Consider the broader context of other situations where a service or content is provided which requires listening to a speech about something relatively benign. This is would include such things as TV commercials (required as a prerequisite for watching a show) or political rallies that offer food, drink, etc. as an attraction for attendance. There are all kinds of promotional gimmicks used to entice people to listen and respond to the underlying reason for programming and events seemingly offered for “free”.

Of course, Christians’ knee-jerk reaction would be that we are “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:15-21) and should have no part of this approach to group evangelism. However, looking more closely, this is not the case. In my view, that attitude is neither realistic nor currently being practiced in most group evangelistic settings. 

In foreign countries (especially third world nations) missionaries show up in villages and typically bring “gifts” to intentionally attract a crowd (candy, brochures, Bibles, food, clothing, medical supplies, trinkets, toys, etc.). Audiences are also drawn based on their desire to hear from famous people (or Americans/Europeans in general), as well as to receive these donations that, in their poverty, they cannot resist. In a practical sense, this is clearly a quid pro quo. 

Domestically in America and most developed nations group evangelism has a more subtle approach to quid pro quo. Consider why Vacation Bible School typically concludes its summer program by having the kids who participated sing from the front on Sunday morning. Or, churches that hold festivals on Easter, Christmas, and other holidays, promoting food, games, and other attractions to get outside folks to attend. At the very least, lifestyle evangelism is being promoted, however, in the case of many churches, there is a sermon or devotion emphasizing evangelism at some point during these events.

Group Evangelism and Informed Consent 

Again, a quote from the same commenter reads…

“I believe people should be able to “opt in”–people should give informed consent… in hearing–never mind believing–the Gospel.”

In my view, it would be impractical to expect “informed consent” in any formal way prior to group evangelism. Many would argue, as I would, that those who attend Christian events recognize that it is highly likely Christian theology will be presented. In that sense, there is already “informed consent” and, to attend, is the act of “opting in”. It should be understood that people are attending in part, based on both that understanding and an active acceptance of quid pro quo. 

Summary

To be clear, God draws man to Himself (John 6:44). And, He uses many techniques to do so. Many come to rallies, revivals, crusades, rescue missions, food banks, church services, and other Christian events because of a true desire to seek God. However, to deny the practical reality of evangelicals using other means to draw seekers to hear the Good News, or to be expected to engage in some formal “opt-in” process prior to group evangelism, is typically unrealistic. 


To comment and listen to this post please go to this article on Medium.
Jeff Hilles | BCWorldveiw.org, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit

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