What To Do When the Evangelicals Are Evangelizing Your Children

What To Do When the Evangelicals Are Evangelizing Your Children October 10, 2018

There’s a big Evangelical church in most communities. Multi-site. Well known lead pastor. Prominent location by an interstate. I imagine you may have a church like this near you.

The church implements a lot of very aggressive evangelism strategies. Maybe they distribute posters in the folders at elementary school inviting the whole school to a bible study, circumventing district policies.

The church unapologetically evangelizes everyone all the time, regardless of church affiliation, often using youth events as a primary evangelical event.

I have not done an exhaustive study of Evangelical strategy using the children of their congregation as primary evangelists. But I do see the effects of their strategy. It’s effective. It sometimes leads to disappointment or awkwardness. It’s very common.

Employing children as evangelists is an astute strategy, since the second most common reason adults attend church is so their children will have a moral foundation (although, and I report this with considerable trepidation, it may be the case that there is actually a negative affiliation between religiousness and child altruism, for example). Whether it’s ethical is another question.

How (Not) To Be An Evangelizing Hypocrite

It’s a tricky thing, evangelizing in a context where the majority of folks are already connected to a church. Heck, I’m the pastor of a smaller church ministering in the shadow of multiple mega-churches, but I still struggle with this. I don’t want to draw anyone away from their current faith community, but I know that some of our publicity and evangelism still ends up inviting the already affiliated.

So… you can see why a large church would just decide to evangelize everyone, including active members of other congregations. Statistically this is how most megachurches grow, by drawing members from other churches (estimates are as much as 96% of church growth is by transfer).

As the pastor of a smaller church (and specifically, a smaller church who understands discipleship in the way of Jesus VERY differently from the way Evangelicals understand it), much of this can be frustrating. I can feel envy, because oh my gosh they’re spends incredible amount of time and money on production values! I can feel defensive, because it’s my own children, and the youth of my congregation, who are targeted. I can feel self-righteous, because we’re not doing what they’re doing.


It’s then I realize our way of evangelizing may not appear so different. We do invite and publicize our events.

I do want to invite children into another way of being church, and I do want to reach people who are currently disconnected from a community of faith.

So then I scold myself for the hypocrisy of my judgmentalism. Maybe I’m just a sore loser, because this church, and other mega-churches, are the ones growing at the fastest clip in the new church economy, siphoning off the largest share of worship attendees.

So What Can We Do?

There are a few things we can do as response to aggressive evangelization. As a pastor, I recommend the following.

  1. Talk in advance with your children about some of the reasons you are committed to your faith community, and why although you hold no ill will towards other faith communities, you won’t necessarily allow them to attend events at churches whose ministry departs so significantly from your values.
  2. Encourage them to attend, but give them some critical tools while they attend. Maybe do a break-down of the event after it’s over. Treat it like an interfaith visit to a community outside your tradition.
  3. Go talk to the leaders of that congregation. Let them know what it is like to be the target of such evangelization.
  4. Familiarize yourself with methods of sharing the good news that accompany the neighbor in their need. Know the difference between sharing faith, and proselytization. Basically, if you’re sharing the good news simply because it’s good news to you, you’re doing it right. If you’re sharing it to convert somebody, you’re doing it wrong.
  5. Volunteer to coordinate and lead youth ministries in your own church that are even better, and more consonant with your values, than the mega-church events. I think it was Cyprian who said if the Romans get everyone attending gladiatorial combats, it’s the churches job to put on a better spectacle.
  6. Learn your own tradition’s comparable understanding of salvation and baptism. For example, if you’re a Lutheran, remember that each time you go forward for Communion in worship, it is like a call to conversion. And remember that you don’t need to be re-baptized to be saved, because God’s promises are for real the first time. As one who trusts God’s grace, you don’t have to accept Jesus into your heart to be saved, but rather even faith itself is a gift from God. You can trust that Christ has claimed you as God’s beloved. Etc.

Get A Giant Slice Of Gender Conformity With Your Jesus

Returning to that youth event poster (above), the primary reason I would not encourage anyone to let their children attend events at many Evangelical churches is rather simple: they preach and teach complementarian gender dogma, “the view that a wife should ‘submit herself graciously’ to her husband’s leadership and authority, as a declaration written up and adopted at the SBC meeting in 1998 put it.”

Much of the Evangelical world is also not simply a participant, but a leader, in the war against full inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in the church, and LGBTQ+ equality more generally. Remember that at their big assemblies they preach something like this. They think same-gender love is a sin to be fought rather than an orientation to be stewarded in relationship. They finds it unfathomable that Christians might celebrate same-gender love as beautiful and beloved of God. In 2015, in the linked speech at the SBC national convention, the preacher calls the Obergefell decision a “Bonhoeffer moment” for Christians. Good Lord.

They write books with titles like The Gay Agenda. Really.

So when my own children are being evangelized, it isn’t just that they’re being invited to a friendly event with cool games and great music. No, they’re potentially being invited to an event where they will learn their baptism wasn’t the right kind of baptism, their faith isn’t the right kind of faith if it didn’t include certain special forms of saving prayers, and their gender identity or sexual orientation have to conform to the Evangelical version of such.

That’s a lot, y’all. That’s really a lot. I mean, it’s one thing to be over here minding my own business while the Evangelical folks do their thing over there.

It’s a whole other thing when they start recruiting our children, pressuring my parishioner’s children to attend their events, and invading our public schools with their specific religious agenda and events.

A Bonhoeffer Moment

How about this? If this is really a Bonhoeffer moment, might I encourage those who think it is to learn from Bonhoeffer’s actual theology and ministry? Bonhoeffer was an amazing ecumenical theologian who learned from and engaged Christians of different views from his own. When he came to the United States to attend Union Theological Seminary, he didn’t go to the Bronx in order to make German Lutherans out of the African-American churches there. Instead, he sat with them, listened to them, allowed his own faith to be shaped and deepened by the engagement.

I really wish evangelicals would pause and read my friend Andrew Root’s book Bonhoeffer As Youth Minister, then adapt some of his practices to better reflect Bonhoeffer’s winning approach.

The only time Bonhoeffer dug in his heels and stubbornly said, “No” was in order to protect Jews from the damage that was caused by the Aryan clause introduced into the church. If and when such a moment might come up in the United States, certainly churches would need to take a similarly firm stand, but it would be for the sake of a minority threatened by the state, not to keep the state from expanding protections for an historically marginalized group.

Especially when you are the elephant in the room, if you are going to accompany others in faith along the journey of faith, you’re going to need to walk carefully. You’ve got big feet. Each step you take has a massive impact. So instead of trying to make an even bigger impact on the community along the lines of your clear (and frequently problematic agenda) maybe you want to show up among other Christians in our community and listen for a while?






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  • TinnyWhistler

    Evangelicals love Bonhoeffer. You’ll get kudos for bringing him up.

    Of course, they also consider him to be 100% “theirs” so you’ll lose kudos for using him “against” them.

  • MaryKaye

    When I was 15 a friend and I got interested in visiting other churches, and the local Baptist megachurch sent a bus around for Sunday School every week, so we decided to go.

    After a horrific youth sermon which involved telling us (a) that the biggest sin youth commit is masturbation, and (b) that the appropriate response to someone confiding a sexual sin to a minister is for the minister to scream abuse at them–we fled and abandoned the visiting-other-churches project.

    My friend was a Methodist, I was a Catholic. We were comfortable at each others’ churches, though there were ritual elements like Communion that we didn’t do. But we had never grasped how different a church could be from either of ours. It was eye-opening, and I guess a good thing to have done. I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach, though.

    I am 55 now. That church is still there, still huge, still led (amazingly) by the same guy, and that worries me deeply. We weren’t harmed by a single exposure, but what about kids who listen to that every week?

  • Mr. James Parson

    Disclaimer: I am an atheist.

    I would think the Internet would be a bigger problem. Just on Patheos, I can read up on a dozen different flavors of Christianity.

    I grew up Catholic in the 1970s and 1980s and they had no trouble claiming to be the one true faith. It was easy to not now what others are thinking. Today, it takes an effort to not know what is going on.

  • I’m sorry, but the TRUTH must be said. Even if it’s 100/150 years old, that does not validate or even suggest that it requires respect. Their methods, their Fundamentalist/Republican/Born-Again ideologies only point to one thing: IT’S…A…CULT!

  • We live in a neighborhood within walking distance of a large Baptist megachurch, and most of the children in the neighborhood during the time my daughter was young were of families belonging to that church (we are Jewish but I was brought up Mennonite Christian and am highly educated in theology and protestant history.) Knowing it was inevitable that discussions would arise among the kids, my daughter knew she could always come to us with questions. When she was invited to attend one of their child evangelism outreach programs by her closest friend, I went to the church and looked over the curriculum and talked to the teacher. I had no objection the first year, it was basically Bible stories and them moral message of helping others, etc. but then in the second year (although the curriculum didn’t really demand this) a teacher started really hammering on the kids about being corrupt sinners in dire need of salvation, etc. Again, I talked to one of the pastors and the teacher, laying out the view that this was not only not in keeping with the teachings of the Bible, but for children of that age (6-8 yo) was really out of line with Baptistic teaching as well. This time things didn’t go as well and we ended up finding other things for our daughter to do on those Wednesday nights when the other kids were in classes at the church. I really feel bad for those children – it is just WRONG and even harmful to their natural emotional and psychological development to be told forcefully by adults that they are terrible, wicked beings with a sinful heart and mind, etc. Beware of those things you feel most righteous about doing!!

  • jekylldoc

    I don’t think knowing what others think is the problem. The problem (potentially) is having an adult pushing a toxic ideology on kids. RCC can be like that, but they can be pretty progressive, low-key and welcoming also.

  • Mr. James Parson

    Thank you for your comment

  • Erp

    I think the Unitarian Universalist Association view is teach about other religions as well as their own in Sunday school. The former quite frequently means visiting other places of worship (even the adults do it, I’ve been to a mosque and a gurdwara with the local UUA church) though always by making arrangements and having a local guide. Give the kids knowledge and the critical tools early to evaluate what they will hear and read.

  • Daphne Posselt Myers

    I couldn’t agree more! Instead of insulating them against this kind of teaching, use it to teach them critical thinking skills! This way they will be protected their whole lives – there’s a lot of stuff out there!!

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Not everyone is a christian though. that is when the parents have to step up to the plate.

  • Nimblewill

    Your children will return to the faith that you raise them under if you are consistent and real. Why would they go elsewhere if your faith is working?

  • soter phile

    “The problem (potentially) is having an adult pushing a toxic ideology on kids.”
    That’s a two way street, isn’t it? Sounds like an evangelical describing progressive homes.

  • I experienced Christ as the consciousness of the Sun. I wrote an ebook about my experiences that is free to download in pdf form, and I also put the book on blogger, links are below:

    link to my free ebook, “Messages from the Sun God, Jesus Christ”

    link to the ebook on blogger: https://messagesftsg.blogspot.com/

    blog http://www.jesuschristsungod.com

  • soter phile

    Ricky Bobby, is that you?

  • soter phile

    Again, I think that’s exactly what the evangelicals are thinking, too.

  • jekylldoc

    If you have followed the discussion, the subject is not the home. I am a staunch defender of parents’ rights to indoctrinate their children. On the right or on the left. Children generally manage to pull themselves together. I think you would have a better chance indicting the behavior of some academics, but the real objection of conservatives these days is not to progressive indoctrination, it is to exposing university students to inconvenient truth.

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  • Major Major

    As a former believer, is there perhaps someway for progressive churches to get their message out there? It seems that Evangelicals have done a better job of marketing and controlling the conversation. What is the progressive response?

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  • Nankay

    LOL..OR they will become atheist like I did and all the people I know who were raised Christian and are now atheist.

  • Nimblewill

    I’m sorry but your weren’t raised in an authentic faith in Christ. Chances are you were hurt or lied to and your atheism has little to do with God and more to do with the people who disappointed you.

  • Nankay

    Good gravy! What bollocks.

  • Nimblewill

    I do like gravy.

  • soter phile

    sounds like you have reduced biblical conservatives to a monolithic stereotype.
    not all conservatives are the fear-mongering isolationists you’re invoking here…

    as for university students being exposed to inconvenient truths, it would seem that some Ivy League profs felt the need to denounce groupthink from the Left just as much as the Right:


  • jekylldoc

    I’m trying to work out where I invoked fear mongering isolationists, especially as a stereotype. Not all Trumpistas, even, are either isolationist or fear-mongering, but all of them are comfortable with it.

    I am generally suspicious of groupthink, including on the left, but of course it isn’t “groupthink” to follow the arguments as to how we know that, e.g. the world is a globe, and agree.

  • soter phile

    Re-read the last sentence from your previous entry. think thru the assumptions you communicate…

    “the real objections of conservatives…” assuming not only that they are monolithic… but *i* know what they really think… in their singular groupthink…

    “exposing university students to inconvenient truth…” assuming that conservatives fear the truth or the pursuit of it found at the academy… hence their isolationist leanings…

    glad to hear you are generally suspicious of groupthink. but we are all susceptible… even and especially at the moment we are sure we don’t have any groupthink.

    for the record, i am no fan of Trump, even though I gladly embrace the biblical meaning of the term ‘evangelical’ before it came to be a politically mutated.

  • jekylldoc

    OK, thanks for drawing the connection to “isolationist,” I don’t think I could have done it just by re-reading my last sentence. I guess I can see how you object to me lumping conservatives together, but even if I had hedged it about with “most conservatives,” or “most conservatives whom I have seen explaining their objections to academic so-called indoctrination,” I would have made the same point about it.

    Conservatives have made a point of resisting the truth about global warming. Many evangelicals are still resisting the truth about evolution. Conservative analysis about the economy has proved laughably, uproariously inaccurate for 10 years, with barely a whisper of acknowledgement. Conservative politicians on a large scale have tried to disguise their intentions about major issues, including coverage for pre-existing conditions, williingness to accept mega-deficits to get tax cuts for the donor class, willingness to cut Medicare and Social Security, the purpose of voter suppression, and the reasons for their interference in the administration of justice.

    Do they have a real beef with academic analysis about white privilege, implicit bias and the manipulation of white racism to whip up opposition to government assistance? If so, why don’t they say so, instead of carrying on a guerrilla campaign of finding supposed offenses and claiming hypocrisy by the left based on it? It’s all Swift-Boating now – the Republican party is afraid to take any stands based on facts.

  • http://bit.ly/2NFNTsV

    The RCC needs to go the way of the dinosaur, same as Islam.


    Every Catholic is complicit in the rape and sexual abuse of children by their predatory priests. After all, don’t they still pay their salaries?

  • Then explain Millenials, lol 😀

  • How did you become an Atheist?

  • Or it could be they simply got fed up with all the two-facedness?

  • Nimblewill

    And what on earth does that have to do with Jesus?

  • Simple. Christ was not a hypocrite and neither are Christians.

  • smb11

    Thanks to right wing Evangelicals, being Christian is justification for being a bully and a bigot.

  • blogcom

    The whole revisionist thing again??
    When the story doesn’t align with reality just recreate it by changing the story- right? .