I have been to a few evangelism crusades, and I always got the uncomfortable feeling that people were coerced into converting. These crusades reminded me a little bit of the “evangelism techniques” of the Middle Ages when Christian soldiers went on the Crusades to retake Jerusalem from the “heathens” and in the process “converted” many people at the point of a sword.
We don’t use swords today. We have other methods of persuasion.
Many of the techniques used in crusade evangelism were learned from the fields of marketing, sales, entertainment, and group psychology. The carefully crafted appeals to come forward at a crusade are often emotional in nature, based on success stories of people who converted, or tales of woe about people who did not. Sometimes these stories contain vivid portrayals of heaven and hell, where those who come forward can enjoy eternal bliss with God, while those who do not will suffer eternal torment in the flames and blackness of hell.
Barrel of Fluff or Barrel of Fire
I once saw a speaker at a teen rally have all the high school kids write their names on a piece of paper. Then, up on stage he had two barrels. In one, he put fluffy cotton, a Bible, and some gold (fake, of course). In the other barrel, he started a raging fire. Then he told the kids to come forward and drop their name in the barrel which signified where they wanted to go when they died…heaven (the fluffy barrel) or hell (the fire barrel). Not surprisingly, this speaker was able to go home to his church and report that every single teenager at this camp “made a decision for Christ.”
This example is a bit extreme, but most strategies at Evangelistic Crusades are only slightly more subtle. First, we are told that God loves us and really wants to spend eternity with us, but there is a big problem. We are sinners. So instead of living with us for eternity, God has to send us to hell where we will burn and suffer unimaginably for ever and ever. If that doesn’t sound like fun, then there is another option: you can receive Jesus Christ instead. Since He died on the cross and rose from the dead, we can now go back to spending eternity with God! So if that sounds better than burning forever in hell, then come on forward while the band plays some nice music, and a counselor will be more than happy to speak with you and lead you in a prayer.
You see? It is essentially the barrel of fluff and barrel of fire approach, but without the special effects.
Compel them to Come In
Those who use these techniques often feel justified in using them due in part to Christ’s command in Luke 14:23 where the Master tells His servant to go to the highways and byways and compel people to come in, that the house may be filled for the banquet which He has prepared. Crusade evangelists believe it is okay to use compelling and persuasive techniques to get people to come forward at an evangelistic event, if it results in the person saying a prayer or making a decision to follow Jesus.
In previous centuries, this same passage from Luke 14 was used by other theologians, pastors, and church leaders to “persuade” people to convert to Christianity at the point of a sword. “Convert or die” was not just a Muslim practice. This, in fact, was one of the arguments used during the actual Crusades of the Middle Ages where armies of Christian soldiers swept over the Middle East to retake Jerusalem for Jesus Christ.
While most Christians would not condone a “convert or die” message today, we nevertheless provide our full backing and support for the “turn or burn” message of much Crusade Evangelism. We don’t kill people, but the sinister message is still the same: If you don’t join us, you will suffer the consequences. This is the message of Crusade evangelism, whether we are talking about the Crusades of the Middle Ages or the Crusades of the Modern Ages.
Crusades were not helpful then, and they are not helpful now. Though in the Middle Ages, the Crusades coerced people into becoming Christians with sword point and steel, today we coerce people with Powerpoint and emotional appeal. Coercion is still coercion, not matter what kind of crusade we undertake.