by Gene Wilson
I will share some patterns from the 886 surveys taken at four different fairs in 1992, with the hope that something may be useful to people starting out in ministry to New Agers.
Jeff Taylor, a freelance writer from Oregon, in an article in the New Age Journal describes an encounter with a visitation team from a local evangelical church. The two young men had all the right answers but the packaging was all wrong.
Taylor entitled his article “Forgiving trespassers: God works in mysterious ways—but door-to-door?” Here are a few excerpts:
“Well, have you been saved?” asks one of the visitors.
Taylor reflects: “God requires me to love my fellow man, but not necessarily to tell him everything. Above my desk, which they can’t see, is a picture of Jesus, and beside him are several great saints from other traditions. I have worshipped with Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Sufis, Hindus, Unitarians, and once, in a tent revival, with fundamentalist Baptists. God was there, every place, every time. As far as my salvation is concerned, my approach is ‘we’ll see.’”
Taylor answers: “Not saved, exactly; more like recycled over several times.” . . .“OK,” I say, “but my problem is, it all seems too exclusive. I’d have to reject a lot of ideas I’ve spent a lifetime stuffing into my sinful head. And if I joined your church, could I still write?”
Taylor concludes: “That pretty well wraps it up. In a few minutes, after some general condemnation of my incorrect beliefs and impious lifestyle, they depart, not looking back. Perhaps they’re afraid of turning to pillars of salt. I take the tract inside, along with a few sticks of firewood.
“‘Who was that?’ my wife asks. ‘Salesmen,’ I tell her. ‘They’re gone.’ Praise God.”1
We’ve all had an encounter with a New Ager. We’ve read the books, the conspiracy theories, the philosophical explanations, the warnings of cultic seduction. But has it helped us reach this growing segment of our population? As a church-planting pastor in Quebec, Canada, when I first realized there was something to this New Age hype, my primary concern was protecting the flock. I went so far as to give a seminar on “How the New Age Movement Fits Into End Times Prophecy.” I hate to admit it, but I hardly gave a thought to reaching these people. That is, until that day in December, 1987, when I visited my sister in Pennsylvania.
Let’s call her Mary. I stayed with Mary while participating in a missions conference. I had just finished reading about Elizabeth Montgomery, her visions, her spiritual guides, and what they taught her about the New Age to come. So when I saw one of Montgomery’s books on the counter I jumped. Then I noticed the yoga sessions on the calendar, the soothing New Age music at supper, and countless other signs that I was in a New Age home.
My first reflex was to panic. Then I wanted to attack. I mean, we grew up in a missionary home, this couldn’t be! But I simply asked, “Mary, what do you think about this Montgomery book?” She went on to ask me if I believed in “astral travel.” Someone I knew had experienced it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. “How about angels and spiritual guides?” she continued. She was taken aback by the thought that there might be two varieties. By the end of the week, while taking me to the airport, Mary asked me to send her Christian literature about what happens after death, and how to interpret the book of Revelation.
A year later I was in Montreal knocking my head against the wall, trying to find a receptive target group. I read that the New Age Movement was rapidly replacing Catholicism (or merging with it) to become the dominant world view. The thought occurred to me, What if the New Agers I hear so much about here are more like Mary than Shirley MacLaine? Maybe they aren’t all demon-possessed yet. A missionary friend encouraged me. He had struck up some good conversations with browsers in the occult/esoteric section of his local bookstore. I soon found out others were thinking along the same lines.
In 1981, Pierre Lebel, assistant director for Youth With A Mission Quebec, went with a group of Christians from his local church to pray and distribute tracts outside an Occult Science Fair in downtown Montreal. They soonfound that besides this fair there were two annual New Age expositions and two annual Esoteric Fairs attracting around 10,000 visitors each. A friend made a few well-placed calls. Clode de Guise, editor of a New Age magazine, said over the phone that 10,000 people in Montreal make their living from the esoteric practices and each fair has about 100 booths. So why not set up a booth right in the middle of the fair? Pierre found out that Raymond Taylor, an evangelist with Christian Direction in Montreal, had tried it.
In the spring of 1986 Raymond received a phone call from a man whom he had led to the Lord. This man had landed a contract to put on a show at the Occult Science Fair. What should he do? Taylor responded that “there is no place so dark that we can’t let our light shine there.”
So Taylor went with his friend and received permission to speak one minute at the end of each show, three times a day for 10 consecutive days. In 10 days 424 copies of the Bible in a modern translation were sold and hundreds heard a gospel witness. Perhaps the real breakthrough was the realization that this is a not a movement to be opposed from the outside, it is a mission field to be penetrated with prayer and by believers armed for spiritual battle.2
Before learning of these efforts, God taught me an important lesson about this unique mission field. My missionary friend Jay Pinney suggested one day, “There’s only one way to find out if we can reach some of these people. Let’s give it a try.” We purchased tickets and went from booth to booth striking up conversations with fortune tellers and cosmic theory peddlers. Most had little solid knowledge of what Jesus really stood for, and were more interested in selling their wares then in pursuing the conversation.
Then we stood in back of a hall where a New Age guru was giving a lecture. All of a sudden his microphone stopped and he became extremely flustered. As this continued and people started rising and heading out, I looked over to Jay. He smiled, “See what the power of prayer can do.” That day we learned that prayer could bind the enemy’s agents and allow us to reach true seekers.
Momentum was building. A coalition formed between YWAM, Operation Mobilization, and Christian Direction to develop a strategy and recruit funds and workers to reach New Agers. The first effort came together in April, 1990. The backdrop of the booth was an enormous black banner with a boy staring into a starry sky. The caption said, “Christ the Mystery of the Nations.” Pierre Lebel wrote a special pamphlet with the same title to give out with Gospels of John. As people stopped to examine a catchy title at the book display, a trained volunteer from one of the local churches would ask them to share their opinions by taking a specially constructed survey. That first year on average 515 surveys were taken at each fair, with 120 people leaving their name and address for further discussion.3
This ministry has continued for four years now. After starting as a volunteer, I was asked to coordinate the follow-up and do a study in order to fine tune the outreach. Since New Age fairs and gatherings are now taking place in most of our major cities, I will share some patterns from the 886 surveys taken at four different fairs in 1992, with the hope that something may be useful to people starting out in ministry to New Agers.
1. Women’s answers indicate a stronger degree of New Age belief than men have. For example, about 10 percent more of the women believed in reincarnation. More were interested in crystals, alternative medicine, and New Age music.
2. Respondents gave many conflicting answers. For example, 57 percent said they would describe the spiritual world as “an energy or a force.” However, 72 percent agree that a personal being could be the reason the universe exists. A closer look at the data tells me that this doesn’t necessarily mean these people can’t line up two ideas. Rather, it belies the fact that more and more people are torn between two conflicting world views which theyhaven’t fully sorted out yet.
3. Almost half of the respondents (42 percent) said they were willing to talk to someone later about spirituality and Jesus Christ; almost all of them left their phone number and address. However, there was no positive correlation between openness to talk and a theistic world view. The key factors seemed to be a spirit of inquiry and a positive rapport with the interviewer.
4. It’s hard to construct the profile of a typical respondent. Beliefs varied tremendously. There were more New Age explorers than New Age converts. David H. Thorne, publisher of the New Age Journal, confirms, this: “Frankly, new age thinking defies simple definitions and apt explanations. There are no creeds, no doctrines, no dogmatic pronouncements, no claims of a monopoly on the truth. In fact, there are many conflicting views, many disparate paths….”4
5. The most common core beliefs were: belief in a spiritual world (97 percent), in spiritual guides (42 percent), in God as a cosmic energy or force (57 percent). And yet 72 percent believed that a personal being brought the universe into being, 58 percent that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully man and fully God (some would claim the same for all people), and 73 percent, that Jesus Christ could help them in their present spiritual pilgrimage. It seems as though many have blended their core Catholic beliefs with New Age universalism and monism.
6. The constituency of the New Age movement is still in flux. A little over half were attending for the first time, and 48 percent said that curiosity drew them. The growth pattern is showing signs of waning. One of the fairs has threatened to close. It could be that in years to come the constituency will become more stable.
I find the following progression index helpful when talking with visitors at a New Age fair:
4. the devotees
3. the adepts
2. the seekers
1. the curious
The curious resemble the simple in Proverbs. They need to be warned and asked if they have ever seriously considered what Christ came to accomplish. We need to avoid scaring the seekers away. Often their search is genuine, but they are turned off by traditional religion. This is why the umbrella organization for this effort is called “The Point of Reference: A Center for Christian Alternatives.” I try to present Christ as the reliable source for a genuine spiritual pilgrimage, and later explain how the cross is the only point of entry.
Adepts should not be seen as a lost cause. Many slide into the movement unwittingly through consulting a fortune teller at a time of crisis, or through the influence of a friend. For example, John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends, was initiated through Patricia Aburdene, a writer he met in a Washington bookstore and later married.5
Adepts need to be challenged as to their world view and its practical implications. They may just be willing to check out for themselves what Jesus has to say. One such young lady by the name of Linda worked with a Christian in our ministry. After a couple of years she ended her search by asking Christ to be her Savior and Lord. The following day she woke up with an invisible force pushing her chest and holding her down in bed. For the following months we worked together to identify and close doors that had been opened through her New Age practices. She burned books and went through several sessions of prayer therapy.
In the New Age movement devotees are profiting in some way from their involvement. Some are pursuing material gain. Others extract some kind of psychological or social benefit. Freedom from the past is never easy. Those involved in teaching or promoting New Age practices are either aggressive toward what they see as an “exclusionist belief system,” or disarmingly inclusive. Either way, the experienced witness should go with someone who can give prayer and intellectual support.
I learned the hard way when I met a Baha’i teacher who possessed psychic powers. After an hour of discussion and debate alone in hisapartment, I was so physically exhausted I had a hard time getting home to my apartment. Prayer cover is essential. This is a spiritual battle.
7. Belief in the Bible as authoritative is rapidly eroding. Only 20 percent believed it is the unique revelation of God, while 38 percent prefer to see it as a collection of spiritual writings containing some truth. After 1990 the question, “Would you like to meet someone to talk about spirituality and the Bible?” was changed to “Spirituality and Jesus Christ,” and positive responses went up 21 percent. I believe we must lead New Agers to allegiance to Christ first and foremost. In the process they will see our confidence in Scripture, and eventually we will be in a position to lay out the authority of the Bible.
8. Quality follow-up is key to an effective ministry. Only half of the respondents continued a dialogue by phone or in person. It should be done by the person who made the contact at the fair. Careful selection and orientation of volunteers are crucial. The personal contact should be viewed as a temporary bridge that will start to crumble within 48 hours if it is not reinforced by a friendly phone call. I suggest a personal testimony be given early on in the follow-up visit, and the person be invited to study one of the Gospels. The witness could be seen as a building process which will involve some demolition of false ideology and progression toward a clear response to the claims of Christ.
9. The participants must be prepared for crisis intervention through prayers for deliverance. At one point a young man practically ran into our booth seeking shelter from an abusive cult. A lady who had been practicing automatic writing whispered in my ear, “At first I wanted guidance; now I just want to get rid of this spiritual guide. I’m scared.”
Several times I have been challenged to debate while onlookers gathered. Once a former singer and well known TV personality attempted to trip us with clever questions while a crowd gathered. Because of the prayers of a worker who recognized him, his attempt failed. I later learned that he had become a leader in a New Age cult and probably wanted to show his friends how he could overpower the Christians.
10. Those who make professions of faith need to go through a very deliberate process of deliverance and establishing in Christ. For almost a year, a man in our church plant who was a psychic and a healer held onto his crystals and onto the hope he could use his magnetic healing in Christ’s service. There was a real hold in his life that had to be confronted head on. When another young apprentice fortune teller came to Christ, he determined to make a clean break with the past, but was harassed by physical attacks and unsolicited visions. He had to be taught and equipped to claim Christ’s authority and walk according to his new position in Christ. This process took about a year. I found Neil Anderson’s Seven Steps to Freedom in Christ to be very helpful.
As a result of the survey, the coordinating team for our New Age outreach is trying a new approach this year (1994). We will include more open-ended questions in the survey which allow the person to express their views in their own words. We will also include questions about the level of satisfaction with the present spiritual pilgrimage and activities. If someone indicates an interest, we will offer a diagnostic session with a trained spiritual counselor right there on the spot. All this, we trust, will help us address the person as an individual and build a stronger rapport before attempting to make a follow-up contact.
So, the next time your neighbor says, “I can’t remember you. I must have met you in a former life,” please don’t panic. Remember, she may be more like my sister Mary than like Shirley MacLaine. She may even be closer to looking to God for answers to her longing than your churchgoing neighbor who feels pretty good about herself. It probably will take lots of prayer and time. Invite her over for coffee. Going door-to-door may not be the bestapproach.
1. Jeff Taylor, “Forgiving trespassers—God works in mysterious ways, but door-to-door?” New Age Journal, December, 1986, p. 144.
2. Carole Tapin, “Jesus Christ at the esoteric fair,” Flash Quebec, May, 1991, p. 3.
4. David Thorne, “Introducing: The New Age Society,” New Age Journal, November, 1986, p. 4.
5. David Gelman, “Reinventing the corporation,” Newsweek, September 23, 1985.
EMQ, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 174-180. Copyright © 1995 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.