Editor’s Note: We posted this article this time last year, but I believe it needs to be posted again. Should we be “scaring the hell” out of people so they can enter the gates of Heaven? We’d love to hear your thoughts! — Godside
One can always tell when fall is preparing to make its grand entrance. The most obvious clues are when the ground is covered with reddish brown leaves and the temperature outside is suddenly cooler. Fall sets off a trigger in my mind and I immediately begin to ponder about upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and…Halloween.
I think I can safely say that Halloween is a strange day for most Christians. The overall feel of the holiday, with its pagan origins and dark overtones, is totally at odds with the Christian faith, but it can be difficult to explain to your kids why they cannot dress up and go trick-or-treating like their friends. In the last few years, numerous churches have attempted to counteract the holiday by holding “harvest” or “fall” festivals in lieu of trick-or-treating with varying degrees of success. However, the most controversial attempt has to be the use of hell houses.
The hell house is basically the church’s version of the haunted house, but instead of ghosts, witches, and goblins jumping out at you for a quick fright, patrons are exposed to gruesome depictions of sin and their consequences, including a trip through hell with demons, strobe lights, smoke, and the damned screaming in agony. The attraction ends with a serene interpretation of heaven at which point the patrons are approached by volunteers who are ready to preach the Word of God. Some of the common vignettes put on display for the visitors include graphic scenes of abortions replete with exaggerated amounts of blood, drug overdoses, rape, school shootings, suicides, drunk-driving deaths, adultery, homosexuality, and occult worship.
The history of hell houses is hard to pin down, but many believe the earliest one may have been created by youth pastors at Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1972. They called it “Scaremare” and it is still being held every October at Liberty University. It generally has the same trappings of the typical haunted house with the exception of the religious overtones towards the end of the attraction.
Things changed, however, in the early 90’s, when Pastor Keenan Roberts adapted and reenergized the concept in Arvada, Colorado, and renamed it “Hell House”. His version was much more violent, graphic, and controversial and created the blueprint for what is now the modern-day hell house.
Even here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I currently reside, one of the biggest attractions in the city during the month of October is something called “The Nightmare”, put on by GUTS Church, a progressive “heavy metal” ministry aimed at a young demographic group. Nightmare follows the hell house’s tried and true formula of fear, blood, violence, more fear, and then ministry. Each year, the attraction gets bigger in scope and more technologically advanced as thousands of kids and adults line up to see what The Nightmare has in store.
The hell house concept can also be franchised. If your church is interested in putting one together, you can order a $300 kit from Pastor Roberts that has everything you need, including a manual, props, scripts, DVDs, costumes, special effects soundtrack, and so on. The website encourages potential customers to “…Shake your city with the most ‘in-your-face, high-flyin’, no denyin’, death-defyin’, Satan-be-cryin’, keep-ya-from-fryin’, theatrical stylin’, no holds barred, cutting-edge’ evangelism tool of the new millennium!”
Does Hell on Earth Work?
So how effective are hell houses in bringing young people to Christ? Well, according to Keenan Roberts’ website, the hell house at his church in Colorado “averages a 33% salvation and rededication decision rate.” I am not sure if that number is accurate or not, but since I could not find any other statistics to refute it, I will give Pastor Roberts the benefit of the doubt.
The real question in my opinion is this: Are these attractions theoretically a good or bad idea? There is no denying that young people are desensitized to violence based on what they see on television, movies, and the internet. With that being said, maybe it takes an over-the-top production to get their attention. I can definitely see why many churches view this type of attraction as an outreach for the unsaved. Many see the hell house as the perfect antithesis to the secular celebration of Halloween and, yes, the hell house is definitely a moneymaker for the sponsoring church, drawing thousands of people every year at ten dollars a person. If Pastor Roberts’ statistic about the salvations and rededications is true, then would it not be worth it, even if one person got saved? Does the end really justify the means?
I was never a fan of the fire-and-brimstone preachers that used to be much more prevalent back in the day. As a child, I had heard my fair share of those types of sermons and it always scared the daylights out of me. I knew very little about Jesus, but I knew plenty about the devil, the wages of sin, and the atrocities of hell. The hell house is basically the fire-and-brimstone preacher on steroids and the main ingredient is fear.
Hope Beyond the Hell House
When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, it was not because I feared going to hell. I accepted Christ because I was missing something on the inside and only Jesus could fill it. I accepted Him because I knew He loved me unconditionally. My initial connection with Jesus was based on love and it continues because of my own personal relationship with Him. In my opinion, fear is a temporary emotion. If you become saved based on fear, what happens once the stimulus of that particular fear goes away? There is a good chance the relationship that is based on a temporary emotion will also be temporary.
I truly believe the folks who are putting on these hell houses have the best intentions and they believe they are doing God’s work. I do not doubt that there have been some who have changed their lives because of their experience in one of these houses. However, I personally do not think scaring people to accept Jesus will result in a long-term relationship with Him. I also think that a lot of the unsaved kids, the very kids who are supposed to benefit from this experience, might be more interested in the thrill ride instead of the intended purpose.
When I accepted Jesus Christ … it was not because I feared going to hell. I accepted Christ because I was missing something on the inside and only Jesus could fill it. I accepted Him because I knew He loved me unconditionally.
If you have access to Netflix, there is a 2001 documentary available entitled “Hell House” that is a behind-the-scenes view of one particular hell house at Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas. It is a very interesting film on a controversial outreach. Check it out and make up your own mind.
 Bethany Pico/Liberty University News Service, Scaremare is largest event of its kind in the Southeast, http://www.liberty.edu/index.cfm?PID=18495&MID=39879 (Oct 2011)
 New Destiny Christian Center, The Hell House Outreach Kit Results, http://www.godestiny.org/hell_house/HH_kitResults.cfm