I'll not share the name of this church or the name of this evangelist, because the purpose of this post is not to criticize this church or this man. I simply want to critically examine some of his methods.
After speaking for nearly an hour for a room full of students and adults, the evangelist invited everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes. After talking about salvation for a few more minutes, he invited folks to repeat a prayer and receive Christ. All good so far, but what took place over the next 15 minutes or so is where I really became uncomfortable.
The evangelist then asked everyone to stand. He spent the next 2-3 minutes talking about "really meaning it"...he really hammered home the idea that, unless the people asking Jesus to "come into their hearts" really meant it, nothing would "change" for them. After telling everyone else to keep their eyes closed several times, he then asked for all those who had said the prayer and "really meant it" to come forward.
I didn't dare look up at this point, even though I was sitting on the back row, so I can only assume that there were several youth who came forward, and maybe a few adults. Once these people were up front, he told them to all hold hands in a circle. Apparently there were a few students who weren't to keen on this idea (I'm assuming they were boys), because he said, more than once, "I know you don't want to, but you have to hold hands".
Once he was satisfied that they were all touching each others hands, he said, "God's telling me that there are some adults in this room who have said this prayer but haven't come forward, so we're going to all pray that they will come forward." He asked us all to pray with him (I didn't, sorry), while he said something to the effect of, "God, take away the spirit of fear that is keeping these adults from coming forward". I think maybe one or two more adults came forward at this point, but I'm not sure, because I still wasn't willing to look up.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, the evangelist paused and addressed at least two of the boys who had come forward..."I'm sorry, but I can't handle the laughing...you boys have been laughing since you came up here, which tells me that you really don't mean this...if that's true, you should go sit back down."
Once he had everyone up who was going to come up (at this point, we'd had our eyes closed for about 10 minutes), he went on to explain how he sould never forget the night he accepted Jesus, and how he wanted these people to not ever forget this night either. He then spent about 5 minutes talking to these people about how, now that they had made the decision to follow Jesus, they had to give him their "whole heart". He also talked about how they had to read their Bible everyday. He made each one of them promise to read their Bible everyday.
Everyone else may have been looking up to the front of the sanctuary at this point...my head was still bowed...I tend to look at the ground when I'm feeling uncomfortable or angry...
Finally, after the evangelist had apparently said all he wanted to say and had gotten all of the verbal commitments he could out of these people, he ended in prayer. At the end of his prayer, I finally looked up to see that there were probably close to 20 students and at least a few adults returning to their seats. In a room of maybe 100 people, that's a pretty big number.
Anyway, there is the story. Here are my thoughts:
First of all, let me just say, if you're going to spend more than 20 minutes to share the Gospel with a room full of teens (on a school night), you'd better be incredibly dynamic. Unfortunately, and I can say this because I've heard this particular evangelist speak more than once, he's not dynamic enough to pull that off. IMHO, people who get up in church to preach should spend more time checking out the words (and length) of Jesus' "sermons" in the NT. Jesus usually kept it short and on point, and he had miracles to fall back on if his topic was a bit boring. But, onto more serious thoughts.
The idea that a come-forward invitation does anything for anyone's salvation is beyond me. I've heard many stories of people who have gone forward in a church because the preacher told them to but didn't actually come to Jesus until a later time, but never once have I heard of anyone who, after saying a prayer, only came to Jesus because they walked forward in a church service.
What I do know is, asking people to come forward in a church service makes most people very, very uncomfortable. Making people feel incredibly (and unnecessarily) uncomfortable at the exact moment they could be speaking with God for the very first time is probably something that makes Satan very, very happy. That's not right.
My guess is, those boys who were laughing were probably laughing because they were either incredibly nervous about being in front of everyone, because they were nervous about having this evangelist guilt them into doing and saying things they weren't comfortable doing and saying, or because they were being forced to hold hands with each other (and maybe even with a girl). And, calling a few 11 year old boys out in front of everyone is certainly not going to makethem respect an evangelist or God.
I also know, from experience, that asking a student to come forward is a great way to get a very unclear idea of who is actually making a decision and who is just bowing to peer pressure. I can't tell you how many times I've been to a student conference or church service with an invitation and have seen who knows how many students walk forward just because they got caught up in the emotion of the moment and wanted to stick with their best friend who was also walking forward.
Requiring (and again, this evangelist spent at least 5 minutes guilting people into coming forward) people to do anything other than call out to God for salvation in order to "be saved" really, really messes with people's heads. It is faith alone that saves...forcing people to not only come forward, but to also hold hands with each other, to promise to give their "whole hearts" to God and to look the evangelist in the eye and promise to read their Bible everyday is really muddying the water. All of those things might be good and well at certain times and in certain steps, but people must understand from what you tell them and from what you ask of them that salvation begins and ends with faith.
Certainly there's a better way of doing things? Certainly there's a way to share the Gospel, lead people to the point of accepting Christ, and be able to speak with them individually and connect them with that local church without creating an incredibly awkward and uncomfortable atmosphere?
BTW, just so you know I'm not anonymously attacking this evangelist personally, I am sending him an email with some of my thoughts here (although, I'll word it more sensitively) and an invitation to contact me, and I will continue to pray for his ministry. From what I know of him, he's pretty set in his ways, but I'll give it a go anyway.