There’s something that’s bugging me. It happens about the same time each year, and for some reason it’s bothering more than usual this year. I know you’ve heard the advertisements on the radio, or seen a flyer promoting it.
It’s the “Tribulation Trail” style events that churches put on this time of year that bother me. Honestly it really concerns me, but it’s more than how resources, time, or efforts or used on the part of the church.
My concern is simple. I worry that the result of these style of events is to “scare” people into making a “decision” for Christ. I worry that the result is actually manipulating people into saying a prayer, or writing their name on a piece of paper thus giving the church large of numbers of people they can point to who were “saved” during these events, justifying their existence for another year to come. It seems as though the event is often set up primarily to scare people, pure and simple. At the end it’s common to tell the crowd that unless they want to experience all the horrible things they have just seen they should pray this prayer and be saved.
The problem with that is that it leads to false conversions- people who have said a prayer- but have no real heart change. The church celebrates their “record number of salvations,” and the people have their “fire insurance” while continuing to lead whatever life they want to lead. There is no real heart change, no real conversion, and no real salvation experience.
That’s a big problem.
My family and I were sitting in a local restaurant having breakfast the other morning when my concerns were realized. There were a group of people sitting nearby us that were discussing their church’s tribulation trail style event. One person in particular was laughing and describing how scared the people were that were going through their event. It honestly made me a little sick to my stomach, and made me a little mad. If the intent is to scare people that’s fine- let’s not try and make that about Jesus though.
If we’re going to present the Gospel to someone let’s do it Biblically. Let’s point out how we are all sinners, we have broken God’s Law, and we owe a fine we cannot hope to pay. Let’s point out that the judge, the lawgiver himself, took our fine upon himself for our sake. Let’s point out how Christianity is a religion of freedom from sin, a freedom from the penalty of sin. Let’s point out how we should live in response to that Gospel truth. Let’s not try and scare people into making a decision so that we can inflate our numbers of “saved” people. After all, where are all of these people that are supposedly getting saved each year? If the numbers of saved people is accurate why is this world in such a sad state?
My concerns aren’t a blanket condemnation of a church putting on this style of event. Not in the least. I know there is one local church that does one of these events, and that’s okay with me. My concerns are simply on how it is done, not on the event itself. I think though there should be grave caution in the presentation at the end of these style of events. There MUST be followup and discipleship with the attendees, not just writing down a tally at the end of the night. I don’t even think these events are wrong, I just question whether they are helpful, or of any real benefit to the Kingdom. In the end that’s not my call to make at these churches. I simply hope they are being faithful to present a true picture of the Gospel, and not just manipulating people into making decisions.
After all, the only thing more scary than someone being lost, is someone thinking they are “saved” because they have attended a tribulation trail and said a prayer at the end.
Have you ever attended a tribulation trail event? How effective do you think they are?