Part One Part Two Part Three
Jesus used a fishing metaphor to describe evangelism. In Matthew 4:19, He said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." I've noticed that people then take that analogy and go further with it than what Jesus does. They talk about "findin' good fishin' spots," "spots where they're bitin'." They also talk about the lures that you need in order to catch the fish. These are examples of reading something into the text. There is no authority from Matthew 4:19 for applying these different points to evangelism. The reason Jesus used a fishing analogy was because He was talking to fishermen and He wanted them to change professions---fishing for fish to fishing for men. This was not a prompt or a cue for extrapolating all sorts of different practices out of the fishing analogy.
One modern fishing term, not found in Scripture, is the "lure." The Bible does not teach luring people either into salvation or into the church, and yet this is now a primary method for this occurring. It has made the practice of churches what 2 Peter 2:3 describes of apostates, that is, they "make merchandise of you."
My wife attended a soccer team meeting last night and she introduced herself to another woman, and this woman got very exciting in describing the church she was now attending, called "The Rock." She chirped, "You walk in and it's just like a rock concert!" This was the first thing she said to explain what her church was. She was thrilled, saying this without guile and with total enthusiasm. Then she said that she attended on "Saturday night so that she would not have to blow her Sundays." She would never go to church on Sunday again after this. My wife listened and then answered that she had heard about these kinds of churches---that's all---no actual criticism, but the woman could tell that my wife wasn't giving her approval. So immediately the woman said, totally unrelated, "Oh, I haven't seen those bracelets in years" (an Italian charm bracelet my wife was wearing). My wife answered, "Yeah, I still have mine." She responded, "Oh, I still have mine too; I just never wear it." She went for an immediate insult.
I expect that some of you reading would know that your church is nothing like what this woman was describing, but this is where we are at today in people's explanation for their satisfaction with church. Many times their chief criteria could or should be categorized as worldly or fleshly lures. One revivalist pastor I know instructs his people to get visitors into their amazing building, because that will be the thing that keeps them there. The building is a church growth tool. I think we all know this, that people have expectations of the building, so buildings are designed with this in mind. Joining a church has similarities to a gym or club membership. People also look to the youth program, the children's program, the choir, the activity groups, the technology, etc.
Not long ago a blog I read linked to a post in which the author laid out "10 ways to ensure I'll never revisit your church." What this guy wrote really does represent what people see as successful for churches. He said that we are exploring how to help people stick, and that these will guarantee that people won't come back. The only one of the ten that virged on something biblical was 'sharing the gospel or challenging someone spiritually,' which still sounds nothing like how Scripture regulates a congregation of saints. Sure, if an unsaved person were to visit, he or she should be approached with the gospel---not necessarily in the sermon---but by someone in the congregation who wants to find out about the visitor's spiritual condition. And this was number 7. The other nine were superficial, self-serving, and inane. These shouldn't be strategies for church growth.
THE CONSERVATIVE EVANGELICAL OR TRADITIONAL FUNDAMENTALIST LURES
Today's conservative evangelicals and traditional fundamentalists have a lot in common. There has actually been some crossover here. I've read about evangelicals going fundamentalist and even more so fundamentalists have left to conservative evangelicalism. You find the two "camps" spending more time together and expressing appreciation for one another. Thankfully, these two groups are not so notorious in their strategies for luring people in. They have been among those who have criticized those in the extreme forms of luring. However, they also use lures.
Shouldn't I just leave the above two groups alone? They're not so bad after all. If we are going to get rid of the luring, the making merchandise of people, we should do it based on principle. So if it is wrong to do, it is always wrong to do. Doing it a little bit, a lesser extent than other evangelicals and revivalists, justifies what they do. If we're going to criticize others for doing it, then it would seem that we would want to be sure that we ourselves are not doing it at all. If we don't believe in it, why would we continue doing it ourselves?
Conservative evangelicals and traditional fundamentalists have some lures in common. Not everyone of them overlap in every area, but there is some common ground. One way that churches lure people in is through various groups in the church with their activities---youth group to singles group to young couples group. The youth group has regular youth activities designed for youth, the singles group has regular singles activities designed for singles, and the young couples group has regular young couples activities designed for young couples. I'm not talking about something spontaneous here in which people who know each in the church get together with one another---the church itself is planning the fun, the outings, the regular functions. Neither am I talking about the church potluck in which the church gets together for a meal or an occastional special event. I'm talking about a definite program to hold a carnal interest in the church.
People can have fun on their own without the church's help. They need help with obeying the Bible and living for Christ. You see nothing like this type of strategy in the New Testament.
What has been common in churches with youth groups is that when the kids get out of the youth group their attention wains, and they drop out. Churches designed the singles group as a more mature version of the youth group. The couples group customized this concept even more. Church members can graduate between groups and then always have that particular interest or desire fed.
I've written a few other times about the type of acceptable conservative evangelical or fundamentalist lures (here and here). The carnal methodology is seen in the lures especially to a youth culture, preying on their fleshly interests (about which I've also written here and here, among other places). The churches have features of entertainment to which unsaved are invited for the purposes of evangelism. This becomes their own church growth technique, something scaled down from what one would experience with Warren and Hybels, but a thin slice of the same thing offered occasionally.
Like its counterpart mainstream evangelicalism, conservative evangelicalism have remained quiet on cultural and social issues, essentially a failure to apply the exegesis of Scripture. This has been a big part of the growth of evangelicalism and is now being imitated in traditional fundamentalism. I recently read a post in an online journal that decried this trend. Certain, especially older, traditional fundamentalists see a major slippage and are concerned. Meanwhile their own groups are allowed to offer a barely watered down version of worldliness that undermines the concern.
These churches know if they say anything specific about certain cultural issues (dress, music, dating, etc.), they will either fail to attract new people or lose the people they have. Certain well-known southern California conservative evangelicals picked up a lot of people from the Jesus movement of the sixties and then failed to differentitate biblical Christianity from it, even calling a true, biblical revival. Christian rock traces to the Charismatic and the Jesus movements. The conservative evangelicals did not expose this false practice, and were able to accept hundreds, even thousands, of new members out of it, leaving and allowing the horrible influence on Christianity. This is still eating away at evangelicalism and now on fundamentalism. Part of the church growth strategy of conservative evangelicals and now traditional fundamentalists is what they will not say in application of Scripture on cultural and social issues in order to lure and then keep their crowd of people.
People attending church today often look nothing different from someone going on a picnic or to a ballgame. They dress in their shorts, their jeans, their best t-shirt. Church has become about people. This has been encouraged by the evangelicals and now fundamentalists, who say little to nothing about it. The reverence and respect for God is disappearing and people often don't know Who He is anymore.
You might wonder why, when you are faithful to preach the gospel to a lost world, why so few are willing to listen. One major reason is that they have been desensitized to God and the Bible and church by churches themselves. Church isn't about God and the Bible to most. It's about gratifying impulses of the flesh. People's expectations of the Lord and of church have changed based upon our own influence. We have trained the world to expect carnality as akin to true conversion through the means we have lured the world to church.