Why So Few Converts in America?

Few converts? Isn’t this a “Christian nation”? Even if you properly discount the Roman Catholics and the liberal mainline Protestants, aren’t there at least 50 million evangelicals and fundamentalists in America?

But perhaps only about 6 million real Christians – about 2% of the population. This is my personal estimate, extrapolating from comprehensive national polling about what professing Christians actually believe about the Bible, salvation, the person of Jesus Christ, etc., and confirmed from personal conversations with many thousands of individuals in street ministry over many years. Only about 2% of us show real evidence of being born again. And I’m afraid that I may be too optimistic.

Why so few converts? Consider that most of those 2% have been raised in Christian families, at some point trusted Christ, and have continued to live their lives as disciples into adulthood. It is therefore clear that the number of Americans getting saved from evangelistic efforts, especially as teens or adults, is woefully small.

What this article is not about . . . The problem is not primarily in apostate Christendom, including the RC Church, the liberal protestants, the cults (Mormons, JWs, Oneness Pentecostals, etc.), the emergent church, the Calvinists, and others. Yes, they are enemies of the Gospel and its propagation. They, along with the secular culture, sow confusion and will be judged accordingly by God.

The big problem is with the most conservative of American Christians – the fundamentalist and evangelical churches which actually have some born again membership, some of which are active in trying to reach people for salvation. It is this group that has perverted the presentation of the Gospel that leaves America in almost total confusion about what true Biblical Christianity is all about.

Why is it so hard for Americans to understand the difference between a true disciple of Christ – a real born again Christian – and someone who just mouths the words? I offer the argument below . . .

Where in the world right now is the “center of gravity” for the propagation of the Gospel? Where are the most souls being saved? Where are the most fervent Christians who risk all for the sake of souls? Where do people give the most for their persecuted brethren and care the most for the fellow believers in their churches? In short, where in the world is God working hardest, because His people are yielded most fully to Him?

It’s not America, that’s for sure. I would suggest China as the likely center of gravity. Reports indicate perhaps 50 – 100 million Christians in the country, mostly in illegal house churches. Similar reports indicate ongoing revival in such unlikely (to us in the West) places as Vietnam, Iran, and Russian Siberia. In areas where persecutors reign, it costs much to profess Christ, as it has throughout most of history in most of the world.

Historically, you don’t profess and get baptized lightly. You understand what it means to follow Christ and forsake your sins and worldly philosophies. The early Jewish disciples were excommunicated from the synagogues, shunned by their families, and driven out of business. That’s why the apostle Paul had to collect offerings for the saints at Jerusalem. Both Jewish and Gentile converts were persecuted unto death during ten great waves of Roman state-sanctioned murder until the 4th century.

When Rome married paganism with a state-sanctioned Christianity in the centuries to follow (producing the Roman Catholic Church in all of its horrific grandeur), the tares began to dominate the wheat in the official churches. Independent Bible-believing churches were persecuted by the new religion, just as under the pagan Caesars. And so it goes. Roman Catholicism launched wave after wave of crusades and inquisitions, not just against Jews and Mohammedans, but against real Christians who dared oppose it. When the Protestants broke Rome’s power (in part), they turned around and persecuted both Roman Catholics and independent churches, especially Baptists of various types. America saw much persecution of Bible believers (Baptists in particular), until well after the Constitution was established. (See James Beller’s America in Crimson Red.)

Why is true conversion so easy to identify and false converts so rare under persecution? It’s clear to the persecuted that when they come to Christ to trust and follow Him, they are forsaking their allegiances to Satan and his works. A Christian’s only Lord is Jesus Christ and the Bible is his life’s rule for faith and practice. Satan’s religions are many and varied, including Roman Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism – and other pseudo-Christian cults, communism / humanism / atheism, and any other belief system that denies the Biblical doctrines of sin / judgment / hell / repentance / faith / the cross / the resurrection / the new birth. Note that one thing that false religions have in common is that they persecute true Christians. Christians do not persecute. Our mandate is to preach and pray and leave the matter between the sinner and God.

America’s prosperity and religious freedom have produced an insipidly watered-down imitation of Christianity, with a false Gospel propagated by almost all of its most conservative churches . . . yes, specifically what we would call the fundamentalist and the evangelical churches. Let me give you a recent startling example of the energy expended in producing false converts.

A leading fundamentalist newspaper organized a Memorial Day weekend event in Washington, D.C. About 250 “soul-winners” from perhaps a dozen churches spent two days passing out tracts and “sharing the Gospel.” They reported that they “saw 685 people bow their heads and trust Christ as Saviour.” One man “set a goal to lead 10 people to the Lord by the end of the day . . . “, but “at the end of the day . . . had led 24 souls to the Lord!”

Somehow he knew that. He professed no supernatural ability, however, to inspect the soul and spirit of those individuals, to determine whether the Holy Spirit had taken up residence. Perhaps his methodology was fool-proof. The editor of the newspaper and leader of the expedition testified that the workers explain the Gospel “in detail” using the so-called Romans Road, talking through the following Scripture verses: Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9, 10, 13.

If you’re not familiar with this approach, that’s good! In brief, these verses are used to explain that everyone is a sinner, that the wages for sin is death, that Christ died for us, and that if we confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that all this is true, then we can be saved eternally. The last verse, Romans 10:13, is used to provoke a “sinner’s prayer,” affirming the points above. (Look carefully! 10:13, in context, is not about “how” to be saved – a method – but rather “who” can be saved – whosoever!) If all this is done with apparent sincerity, the sinner is pronounced “saved.”

The editor above talks of “drawing the net.” By this he means that you can “close the deal” by leading someone in a sinner’s prayer. No you can’t! Only the Holy Spirit can “close the deal” when a truly repentant heart trusts Christ as Saviour. The “soul-winner” is the one who wants “closure” so that he can report that 24 people got saved that day! By the way, the term “soul-winner” derives somewhat from Proverbs 11:30. I find the term dangerous because it leads to a mentality of “closing the deal.” Better to use “evangelist” or “Gospel preacher” or “witness.”

Let’s back up a bit. This false-Gospel encounter with a stranger is often initiated by the question, “Do you know for sure if you are going to heaven when you die?” If the response indicates uncertainty, the followup may be, “Wouldn’t you like to make sure?” Now, who wouldn’t want to “make sure”? Do you see the fallacy? The typical American, raised up with some church background (even if not active in a church presently), has some belief in the God of the Bible, sees himself as a Christian of some kind, and is “pretty sure” of going to heaven. Perhaps 98% sure. So he’s not worried about it even though the stakes are awfully high. The “soul-winner” offers him a method to get the other 2% of assurance. Why not take it?

What’s the problem? To be saved you have to know you are 100% lost, headed for hell because you deserve it, with no hope at all unless God offers you a way out . . . namely, salvation through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know you’re lost, then you can’t get saved. Jesus came not to call the self-righteous, but sinners to repentance!!!

It’s amazing that anyone turns down this bogus opportunity to “pray to receive Christ.” That phrase sounds rather “Catholic,” doesn’t it? The RC priest yanks Jesus out of heaven via an incantation to inhabit the wafer. Similarly, the soul-winner entices the sinner to yank the Holy Spirit out of heaven via a “magic prayer” to inhabit his heart. Yet many people who have some “Christian beliefs” refuse the sinner’s prayer.

In the same newspaper that reported the events above, another preacher talks of a lady who said, “When I die, I am going straight to hell.” He said, “Surely you do not want to go to hell when you die.” To which she responded, “No. But I am not willing to change.” He wrote that “the marks of sin were evident in her life as she stood there that day.”

Interesting. That preacher also subscribes to a repentance-less Gospel presentation. So he marveled at her refusal. Yet she somehow knew that repentance from the specific sins in her life was essential for salvation.

So the Christian walks the sinner through the Romans Road, who then nods his intellectual assent to the points. At the end he’s quite willing to pray a simple prayer if the result is a mansion in heaven. Then back he goes to his wicked party life on earth and nothing changes. He is told that to be saved he must trust only in Jesus for salvation and not in his works, church, etc., and that believing that Jesus died for him will save him. The fallacy is that mental assent to the fact that Jesus died for his sins and the fact that only Jesus can save, says nothing about repentance from sins – a true change of mind that produces a lifelong change of actions. If you want forgiveness, you must agree with God that your sins are wicked . . . not just that sins in general are wicked, but that your sins are wicked. When you believe that, you’ll turn around, change roads, repent — follow Jesus and not Satan anymore.

My sad experience, along with many others who preach the Gospel Scripturally, has been to run into these train wrecks all of the time. They are the most hardened lost people of all. They were never born again, never passed from death to life, with no evidence of being a new creature in Christ – old things have not passed away. Still lost, but now they are assured of their salvation. Children, of course, are the easiest to fool with such simplistically false methods. A child will agree with an authority figure in his family or church, make a profession, get baptized, attend church until 18 years old, and then race into the world to make up for lost party-time.

Recent statistics in fundamentalist and evangelical churches indicate that 80-90% of the kids raised in those churches depart from “the faith” as soon as they leave the nest. Parents are consoled by their foolish pastors that the kids are “still saved,” just backslidden – just “carnal Christians.”

How tragic. If you think you are dealing with a “carnal Christian,” you won’t be preaching judgment, damnation, and the need for repentance unto salvation, will you? You’ll be preaching such gentle, esoteric concepts as loss of reward, not loving Jesus enough, etc. And the “backslider” stays on the road to hell.

Speaking of roads, if the “Romans Road” is the crux of the evangelistic message, then why did Paul waste all of his time on the rest of the book? If you start with 3:23, what’s the point of the first three chapters up to that point? Paul makes a long, reasoned argument in those chapters to describe the wickedness of mankind, how God feels about that, the certainty of judgment, and the necessity of the coming of Christ. Also, note that Romans was written to the church at Rome. Yes, he taught much about the doctrine of salvation throughout that book, but he certainly didn’t expect his readers to cherry-pick a few verses for a Gospel presentation. When Paul and Peter and John and the Lord Jesus (when He walked the earth) preached to lost sinners, they preached repentance from sin and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

See my articles on this site in the “Evangelism” section on how to preach the Gospel Scripturally, including the articles “A Simple Framework for Sharing the Gospel . . .”, and “Repentance is Part of Salvation.”

Why is this issue such a vital part of why there are so few converts being made in America?

1. Most of the evangelistic efforts in this country are producing false converts. Many “soul-winners” who use the Romans Road method to provoke a sinner’s prayer do not believe that repentance from actual sins is required. They believe that you can “get someone saved first” and then hope to teach them to deal with the drugs, the fornication, the thievery, the drunkenness, the selfishness in their lives. Thus their efforts are worse than useless. They make sinners even harder and more self-righteous.

2. It is much easier for a Scriptural evangelist to deal with a polite atheist or with a gang member who admits he is on the way to hell, than to deal with a phony “born again Christian” who has no evidence of conversion in his life. Many of these people don’t even bother to attend church. And if the modern “soul-winner” tries to get his new convert to come to church, get baptized, attend faithfully, give generously, etc., there’s not much chance. Why should he, when he can have heaven and still hold onto his sins!

3. Somewhat harder in heart are those false converts that do attend church. If you pester them enough, you may make church members out of them! Because they attend church they are assured by their compromised or lost pastors that they are “all right.” But their lifestyle is worldly, they have little or no interest in studying and obeying the Bible, and they wouldn’t lift a finger to tell a lost person how to be saved – or even know how to explain it to him.

4. If you are a fervent “soul-winner” who uses repentance-less methods, when you run into someone who professes to be born again because he prayed a sinner’s prayer, you have no way to deal with him. In your system, he’s already saved no matter how ungodly his lifestyle is. After all, you don’t preach repentance from his actual sins, do you? All you could try for is to get him to “pray again” and “really mean it this time.”

5. When the Romans Road is used on a church member, it typically adds to his false assurance. Some say, “Oh, I’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer many times.” When you challenge him about the sins in his life or his lack of love for the Lord, His word, and His work, they get self-righteous and angry.

Regardless of the religious background of the typical American lost person, it is essential to camp on the issues of sin and repentance. Prosperity and political / social freedoms have produced a selfishness that works hard against the humility and surrender required for repentance unto salvation. The postmodern and self-esteem culture we live in produces a self-righteousness that works hard against the sinner’s need to admit that he has been wrong in his self-assessment – that he really is a lost and wicked sinner in need of a Saviour.

I’ve become convinced that it’s even harder for someone to admit that he’s been wrong about his life than to decide to repent from specific sins. Even AA members work to repent from alcohol. One reason they have to work so hard is that they really don’t agree yet that alcohol is stupid. But all sins are stupid. One professing Christian I met complained how hard it was to “hang in there” and live the Christian life. I gently explained to him that it’s only hard because he still sees the sins of the flesh as the more desirable things to do.

When you come to agree with God on righteousness vs. wickedness, then it’s easier to do the smart thing. Is alcohol smart? How about smoking, drugs, fornication, theft, foul language, self-absorption, etc? Is it useful and helpful and righteous to love your spouse, teach your children, study the Bible, share the Gospel, be honest in business, etc? These things are not complicated.

When someone repents and trusts Christ, the Holy Spirit is eager to regenerate him. The evidence will be manifest. His music will change – no more, rock / hip-hop / country. His language will change from foul to edifying. His attitudes toward women will change. He will change his focus from self to others. Understanding the Bible and obeying it will become a lifestyle.

Everything changes because he believes what Jesus said. You can’t say you believe “in Jesus” and yet disagree with what Jesus said. These changes continue to grow throughout life as the Holy Spirit directs and the child of God learns more and more to obey.

Bottom line: If you want true converts, then preach repentance. You “won’t get many converts that way,” as one fundamentalist pastor told me. But I don’t want converts for myself – “my converts.” I want the Holy Spirit to make converts. My part is to preach the whole counsel of God to instruct a lost sinner on his need for salvation. That pastor was right in one sense – I won’t get many converts. But I also won’t get many false converts, who are even more difficult to reach henceforth. Don’t fool people! Teach them how to be saved and leave it between them and God. You are not capable of drawing the net or closing the deal.

We have the great privilege of preaching the good news – in conjunction with the bad news that grips the heart of the lost – and trusting God to bring salvation as soon as someone responds.

If someone repents and believes in Jesus, he will tell you and everyone else! You won’t have to drag it out of him. That’s what Romans 10:9-10 is about. And he’ll be a friend for life! And you’ll rejoice for eternity. How tragic will it be for the fervent Christians who used a false methodology to produce false converts, when they discover at the judgment seat of Christ that they merely pushed people faster along the road to hell?

– Dr. Dave

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