Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Does Conversion Really Matter Anymore?

There's an interesting post on the Founder's Website. The Founder's are a group of individuals and churches within the Southern Baptist Convention that adhere to the Reformed doctrine of salvation. In the article, Tom Ascol compares the effect of 5000 converted souls in first-century Jerusalem (a city of about 600,000 at the time, most likely) with the effect of 10,000 allegedly converted souls at a recent major crusade in Louisville, Knetucky. Louisville has a population of 250,000.

Shouldn't Louisville have experienced changes similar to Jerusalem. The Bible says that the new Christians turned Jerusalem upside-down. Acts 5:28 quotes the Jewish High Priest as accusing the disciples of having "filled Jerusalem with [their] doctrine." Remember, they did not have any Christian churches or background on which to draw. They did not have any built in support system, but rather had to construct such systems through the church. Jerusalem was not the same as before all these conversions took place. Life changed in the city because lives were changed by the Gospel. Conversion made a difference.

A gentleman named Tony Kummer responded to the article with these words:
Great post! I am a SBTS [Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six SBC seminaries] student who worked in the Louisville office of the Graham Crusade. I was a one of the temporary administrative assistants they hire in each city. I was able to observe the whole process, from six months pre-crusade up to one month post-crusade. I was impressed with the Graham organization and the sincere Christian people who make these Crusades happen. I was a designated counselor-supervisor for decision time. What happened on that football field is still very troubling to me.

For one week the whole city was certainly talking about Christ. It reminded me of the State Fair, only shorter. Within days the city moved on and I have rarely heard the crusade mentioned since. Our church, which participated at every stage, received about 25 names for follow-up. These were mostly people in our area who did not identify with a church. We were instructed that many of these decisions might be fuzzy about what happened at the crusade and we should make sure they really understood the gospel. But, we had cold receptions and not even enough interest to even begin the recommended Bible study class for new believers. To my knowledge none of those twenty-five even visited our church after several contacts and pastoral visits.

I believe that our experience was typical and likely worse than you guessed. Certainly, many of our members were encouraged by the Crusade. This was more from the music and buzz of having a BIG Christian event. Ultimately, your conclusions about the event are accurate. What happened in Louisville was qualitatively different than the conversions in Acts. Keep up the good work.


Jim Pemberton said...

I know only one person who credits a big evangelism event for their conversion. He was raised in a church and already had the foundational work done.

Most people I know who come to Christ have done so because of relationships with devout Christians that fostered over a period of time. I'm not saying that the big event dosn't work, but I would say that it's merely catalystic in our culture. We consist of a people jaded and skeptic with a media and a government of representatives who they know lie to them. This is where the planting, watering and much of the harvisting is done - not in the open field, but in the nursery.

Tony K. said...

Good post. I think we all need to rework our modern ideas of evangelism.