Bait and switch is a tried and true sales tactic. An item is advertised to draw a consumer in and then they are steered to a more expensive product. Fundagelicals have a similar bait and switch tactic called “Friendship Evangelism.” As a member of a youth group I was taught how to use friendship evangelism and as a youth pastor, I taught my students. It’s an old strategy. R.A. Torrey in his book How To Bring Men To Christ (1893) taught us

“It is often best to win a person’s confidence and affection before broaching the subject. It is well to select someone and then lay your plans to win him to Christ. Cultivate his acquaintance, show him many attentions and perform many acts of kindness great and small and at last when the fitting moment arrives take up the great question.”

What is the great question? Torrey says, “Such questions as ‘Are you a Christian?’ ‘Are you saved?’ ‘Do you know that your sins are forgiven?’ ‘Have you eternal life?’ ‘Are you confessing Christ openly before the world?’ ‘Are you a friend of Jesus?’ ‘Have you been born again?’

In today’s friendship evangelism the question is often “Would you like to come to a pizza party?” or “Would you like to go to a concert with me?” At the pizza party or concert when the pizza or music is over,  “The closer” is brought in to pitch the hard sell evangelical message. Followed by the “altar call” to sign on the dotted line so to speak.

Is this really bait and switch? Of course, it is. Many people are lonely, and evangelicals know how to target them. They offer friendship. That’s the bait. The switch is when the motive for the friendship becomes apparent. Join us and become like us. Give your life to Jesus or go to hell.

In my early twenties, I must have been a very bad fundagelical. At my community college, I was approached by a classmate who asked if I wanted to hang out. He was funny, friendly and seemed to take an interest in what I was interested in. However, as soon as he found out I was already a Christian; he lost all interest in me and moved on to hunt an unsaved soul. He faded me because I had already swallowed someone else’s bait.

I live in Huntington Beach, and the local pier draws a large, diverse crowd. I remember walking down to the pier and was stopped by a guy standing on a box trying to draw a crowd. He was getting ready to perform a magic show. I thought he was a street performer. I was wrong; he was an evangelical hustler. He noticed my t-shirt, which had the name of my church, and asked me if I was a Christian. I answered that I was and he told me, “Move along you don’t need this.” About twenty minutes later when I passed, he was making his evangelical pitch to the crowd that had come to see a magic show. I was a nuisance to him because my soul had already been harvested.

This bait and switch technique of friendship evangelism has left the younger generation wary of Christians. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in their book UnChristian discuss the findings of a research project conducted by the Barna Group. The Barna Group research was to discover how non-Christians perceive Christians. According to them, young outsiders generally don’t have the impressions that Christians have good intentions when trying to convert them and that only 34% believe Christians genuinely care about them.[1]

Non-believers have been fooled once too often by phony offers of friendship, so now they can’t trust a group supposedly known for its honesty and integrity. Evangelism has become a shady sales pitch, and the target audience isn’t buying it.

Jesus won people to the Kingdom of God through His genuine care and compassion. Too bad fundagelicals only care about your soul and not you. You will be discarded if you aren’t interested in Christianity or already got saved.

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[1] Kinnaman, D. (2008). Unchristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity … and why it matters. Michigan: Baker Books. 68