I read with interest what Lucky Tan and LIFT wrote about Christian church recruiting new blood via school children. I am not surprised because I was aware of it happening, even back in the 1980's when I was attending a branded secondary school in town. I think that if they read about my first experience as a teen visiting an evangelical church, they may be appalled by the tactics used by these "fishermen of souls". Note: It has been more than 20 years now, so my memory is not 100% accurate, so please forgive the parts where I honestly don't remember.
I was in Secondary 2 or 3 (14 or 15 years old) at that time and a member of a squad of 20+ NPCC girls from my cohort. 2 of my squad mates had joined a Christian church located at a short bus ride from our school -- a Pentecostal church in particular, which was not deemed part of mainstream Christianity at that time in Singapore.
Note #1: At that time, mainstream Christians refers to Anglicans, Methodists, and similar groups, with Catholics being seen as a separate class on its own.
Note #2: I don't know if that Pentecostal church that I attended is in anyway related to any of the existing Pentecostal churches in Singapore. Anyway, whatever I experienced was in the past, more than 2 decades ago, so please don't anyhow slime the current churches or their followers, okay?
Before long, a 3rd squad mate was their new and fervent convert. Soon my 3rd squad mate and another of them invited me to visit their church. I was curious as to why my 3rd squad mate was such a fervent convert and am generally open to exploring new stuff, so I agreed to visit their church. Besides, IMHO, their enthusiasm in "saving more souls" was affecting the squad unity and causing unease to others in the squad.
Now what my friends didn't know was that while I was (and am still) not a Christian, I know the bible stories pretty well. As a child, I had a Christian aunt who gave my family 2 children's bible story books, covering the Old Testament (i.e. the Jewish Torah) and the New Testament (i.e. the conception, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ). For a long time, those were 2 of the only 3 story books my family had, so I read and re-read the books many times over. Thus, I was (and am) not some "ignorant/stupid idol worshippers" as some Christians like to label the Taoists and Buddhists during their worship sessions.
Upon arrival at the church, everyone seemed so happy to meet me and welcomed fresh faces. They started the worship with singing songs (accompanied by guitar, keyboard or piano, I cannot recall) and standing up doing simple dance-like movements (like in line-dancing). By then, a few of the church members started rattling off in tongue. Then the "good news" sermon started, i.e. repent and convert because the only way to salvation was through Christ. Then came the (IMHO, church branding) sermon which preached that their church was unique in its worship approach that appealed to the youths, and that other churches were old and staid and not carrying out Jesus' mission of spreading the faith by not changing with the times. Then came the "do not be swayed by other churches calling us a cult" pep talk, because -- according to the speaker(s) -- the others were jealous of the church's energy. In fact, they claimed that a proof of the church's energy and the Holy Spirit's presence was that their members were able to speak in tongue (glossolalia). Then they invited members to share their testimonies. Whenever a teenager shared about his/her challenge at home with parents who opposed the teen's church involvement, the members would rally support and shared that it's part of God's challenge, advised him/her to remain respectful of his/her parents but do not heed the Devil's call to leave Christianity, and cited other members' long journey in successfully converting their entire families. Then the teen would reaffirm his/her conviction to the faith.
Then we broke up into small groups. My 2 friends and a "seasoned" church member formed a group with me. If I remember correctly, they sat on my left, right and opposite facing me.* Firstly, they asked if I was shocked in any way by the glossolalia and reassured me that I would get used to it. While I did not expect it, the glossolalia did not scare me. [Note: By that age, I had some paranormal experiences (which I did not share with others about), so nope, I wasn't so easily scared.] They were surprised by my negative answer and looked somewhat pleased. Then they asked if I understood the good news. Yes, I said, I know about the Jesus Christ story. Then they insisted that it wasn't just a story, we even learned about this man/god in our history textbook. Yes, I agreed that this person existed according to our history text. Then they asked if I would convert to Christianity. When I said no, they were seemed surprised. They asked me why I would want to go back to idol worship. [In my mind, I was thinking why are they so narrow-minded to insist that "not Christian = idol worship"?] Anyway, they kept pressuring me with questions, especially the "A or B" type of closed-ended questions.* They did not expect to meet up with a tenacious teenager. Finally, after spending I think around 20min, when it looked like I was getting agitated by their questioning, they asked me why I was there. I told them frankly that I was there not because I wanted to learn about Christ; I was there because I felt that their 3 church members who were my squad mates were destroying the unity of the squad by their faith outreach activities in school. Thereafter, the "seasoned" church member left my 2 friends to talk to me. I left that church shortly after, never to return again. [Note: I did visit other churches later in life for various reasons (friends' invitation, friends' wedding, as a tourist, etc), but I am still not a Christian.]
When I left, I felt bad that I was behaving like a horrible guest. Nevertheless, I wasn't going to be peer-pressured into accepting something that I knew clearly in my heart that I did not agree with. It did not matter to me, that as they claimed, to accept the faith first and then with faith, things would happen and testimonies would arise in my life. Nope, not an iota. If they had known me better, they would have known that "testimonies" already arose in my life, regardless of my faith. I did not need to subscribe to any faith in particular for miracles and/or paranormal stuff -- big or small -- to happen in my life. Neither did I believe in joining a group whose definition of itself was by thumping down others (including other Christian churches). Finally, I knew very well from a bible story that Jesus Christ's death tore a temple's veil precisely because he preached direct worship to God, he did not say anything about his followers having to choose one church over another.
You will note that I have marked 2 asterisks above. These are the parts that irked me then, as a teenager stuck in that church discussion, which I could not figure out the reasons for my discomfort until after my brief dabbling in MLM (multi-level marketing) 2 decades later. In MLM, I learned some high-pressure sales techniques that were applied to subtly pressurize a client to go along with our "suggestions".
- One is the use of group conformity by surrounding the client with 2 or more confederates (i.e. "Yes" men). That was what happened when we broke into smaller groups with my friends and the "seasoned" church member surrounding me.
- The other is the refusal to accept an answer as it is. To repeatedly wear down the client's resistance by asking "A or B" type of closed-ended questions which paints a false dichotomy from which the client is (mis-)led to choose.
Looking back, I wonder if my friends converted because they felt touched by faith or they fell victim to such psychological manipulation. Oh, by the way, the teens were expected to donate to the church. I am, however, not sure if the tithe was 10% or as they wish.