Sometimes pastors and evangelists get caught up in the emotion of the situation and “overestimate” the number of people who attend their church or who convert to Christianity. They’re not trying to lie… they’re just reporting their statistics “evangelastically.”
(Thanks to Daniel Blumentritt for letting me know about “evangelastic.”)
Evangelism is a big deal in the Christian church. Jesus said to go out and make disciples, and there is rejoicing in heaven for every sinner who repents. So it makes sense to compile some data on how many people convert to Christianity, how many people start coming to church regularly, how many people show up in Sunday school, how many people make a “decision for Christ” at an evangelistic crusade, etc.
With all this tabulating of data, I’m surprised more seminary students don’t get a minor in statistics!
For example, when ushers and deacons are counting the number of people in the pews on Sunday morning, or when evangelists are counting heads at an evangelistic rally, it’s easy to want there to be more people than maybe there really are. Higher attendance and bigger crowds usually translates into getting more attention for the good work what you’re doing and maybe you’ll even get more donations. After all, who would people rather write a check to: an evangelist who talks to 100 people a week, or an evangelist who talks to 10,000 people a week? Which feels like the bigger bang for the buck?
So let us introduce the Christianese term “evangelastic.” This is when you stretch (get it? “elastic”?) the numbers to make them look more favorable than they are. Here are some quick examples of reporting data “evangelastically”:
- Did 425 people show up to church on Sunday morning? Put in next week’s bulletin that “about 500 people attended.”
- Were 2,100 Bibles handed out on a recent mission trip? Tell folks that “thousands of Bibles were distributed.”
- Has one-third of the money for an upcoming mission trip been raised? Say that “almost half of the money has been raised.”
You see, it’s not exactly lying… it’s more like putting a good face on the evangelistic and mission work that Christians are diligently doing.
In fact, I bet that half the time when the numbers get exaggerated, the people doing the math don’t even realize that they’re rounding everything up! The takeaway here is that “evangelastic” doesn’t mean deceptive… it’s more like “pathologically optimistic.” For a similar Christianese term, see “ministerially speaking.”
In the citations below, you can read several examples of authors using the adjective evangelastic and the adverb evangelastically in printed books.
evangelastic adj. Also evang-elastic. [pun on evangelistic and elastic] Exaggerated for the purpose of making a statistic or an incident seem greater or more impressive than it really was; characterized by a “stretching” of the truth.
• 1997 Hanegraaff Counterfeit Revival 234 : Clark and Cain are not alone in circulating evang-elastic stories. Rick Joyner, for example, elevates expectations by telling the faithful that “an eight foot by ten to twelve foot size mist” suddenly appeared in one of their meetings…. The evang-elastic stories used to enhance the expectations of believers are now becoming so bizarre that it is a wonder that anyone still takes them seriously. 1999 Denson, Springle I Gotta Know! 72 : Some people call this “evangelastic.” But God doesn’t need our embellishing of the truth to work in somebody’s heart. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of doing his thing without you or me stretching reality to make God look good. 2003 McLaren The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix 220n5 : Sadly, in both religious and secular circles, it has become common to refer to the “amazing stretching numbers” of people or money found in missionary reports as “evangelastic.” For example, “the crowd numbered about five hundred, evangelastically speaking.” 2003 Sjogren, Ping, Pollock Irresistible Evangelism: Natural Ways to Open Others to Jesus 82 : We’ve all met leaders who have “evang-elastic” gifts. If eight people respond to Christ, the leader quickly stretches the number to sound more like eighty. The same can be true of evangelism gurus, who in their attempts to pump us up often give the impression that we can step up to the tee and hit holes in one on a regular basis. 2009 Claiborne, Perkins Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical 53 : There is no room to be “evangelastic” and exaggerate something. The person with you will say, “No, actually that’s not how it happened. We didn’t really raise four people from the dead that day. It was only two.”
¶ evangelastically adv. [pun on evangelistic and elastically] In an exaggerated way in order to make a statistic or an incident seem greater or more impressive than it really was.
• 1991 Goss, Aycock Inside Religious Publishing: A Look Behind the Scenes 32 : Playing loose with facts is another attitude that hurts Christian writers. One editor speaks of some Christians who speak and write “evangelastically.” Truth is not elastic and will not stretch. 1998 Prince They Shall Expel Demons: What You Need to Know About Demons—Your Invisible Enemies 185 : Other demons in the area of the tongue are exaggeration, gossip, criticism and slander. Exaggeration is a demon that particularly targets evangelists—hence the phrase “evang-elastically speaking.” 2005 Robinson, Larson The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today’s Communicators 87 : Some preachers are known to embellish stories or to speak “evangelastically” in the use of statistics, but our points are never enhanced when we bend truth in the direction of our own interest, even when we do it because we think it serves the gospel. 2007 Hoyt Effectiveness by The Numbers: Counting What Counts in the Church 4 : Pay raises tend to happen more frequently in churches where attendance is growing. All of this encourages pastors to speak “evangelastically” when citing attendance numbers. A head usher who likes the pastor will allow generous attendance figures to stand. A head usher who really likes the pastor might even be compliant in the stretching of the figures.