Proposal Rejection

352: Tinder on Evangelical Steroids

One of my old school friends sounded exasperated. Like me, he has spent a lot of time in independent, fundamentalist Baptist institutions. Unlike me, he’s still a part of that ecosystem. That culture still puts a large emphasis on door-to-door evangelism. Participation in that guerrilla marketing is a litmus test for your commitment to Jesus and your compassion for the world.

“People just aren’t responding to door-to-door like they used to,” he commiserated. He described his efforts and results and seemed to chalk the response rates up to a churchless generation. (I don’t remember it being much better twenty years ago, when I was pressed into this service.)

It has long struck me as odd that doorstep proselytizers don’t understand their results.

For the past three decades of my church experience, I’ve been told that the most important decision of my life is what to do with the Gospel as presented in the New Testament of the Bible. So, the decision of what to do with the person of Jesus supersedes who to choose as a life partner, what to pursue as a career, where to live, etc.

The linear thinker in me agrees with this premise.

Christian leaders of all stripes talk about “the bride of Christ.” Because a number of parables and epistles compare the relationship of believers to Jesus as betrothed spouses, the natural metaphor is a marriage proposal being a salvation proposal.

Back to the streets . . .  what neighborhood canvassers are offering is Tinder on steroids. They’re essentially walking up to strangers and asking them to marry someone they either (1) don’t know or (2) have preconceived associations that make them not want to know any more than they already do.

Who would say yes to that!?

Why, then, do we assume people would say yes to something bigger than that?

I’m not saying people haven’t met Jesus this way. People get Married at First Sight, too.

I’ve had church friends who met Jesus after an automated telemarketing call and who converted after reading a tract on a convenience store toilet. It just seems incredibly inefficient and mostly ineffective.

I’m not alone in that thinking. That’s why evangelical leaders teach courses on how to close the deal—talking points and strategies for getting screen door converts. They know this cold sales pitch is a big ask.

We live in a world where many of us would rather text instead of call, shop online instead of in stores, and sit on social media instead of the front porch. Why would we expect unannounced strangers, dressed like news anchors, to be instantly welcomed into what could be the most important conversation of someone’s life?

Door-to-door evangelism

Jesus asked us to make disciples, not converts. Inspired by God, King Solomon wrote that the person who “win souls is wise,” but he didn’t indicate how those hearts should be reached. Christ left us with a great commission but left a lot of leeway in how we accomplish that.

Calm, door-knocking evangelists and red-faced street preachers both claim precedent from Jesus’ parable where a master compelled his servants to go out into the highways and hedges to invite guests to his banquet table. The actual context of that story (Luke 24) shows that the emphasis of the parable was who was invited, not so much how they were invited. The story was a call to include the less fortunate and the religious outcasts.

That said, a literal reading of Luke 24 might just give the pattern for us Christ followers, especially as we reach out to our neighbors.

What if we invited them to our house for dinner (or to a pavilion for a cookout)?

What if we approached the unchurched, trying to give them something—not sign them up for something?

What if we offered an equal seat at our table instead of asking them for a seat at theirs?

What if we treated our neighbors as we would want to be treated, loving them as we would love ourselves?

What if they could date Jesus for a while and get to know his friends before deciding if they wanted to spend the rest of their life with him?

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