In many churches, personal testimonies about a conversion experience are cherished. People will routinely attest to a life changing event which they associate with having followed the church's salvation procedure. Criminals, addicts, and the downtrodden claim to have been rescued through acceptance of church theology. The transformation of individual lives is undeniably evident in many cases. Individuals do return as successful members of society after some of these claimed conversions.
The unanswered question for me is this: what really brought about the life changes noted? Did the person find the strength to break out of their old behavioral habits because of divine intervention brought on by adherence to church doctrine or was it something else which was tangential to the church's salvation process.
Undeniably, what the church teaches emphasizes the possibility of life change. You can do better, behave better, live more joyfully, if you take responsibility for your decisions. No one is going to change when they feel overwhelmed and defeated with no chance of recovery. Hope precedes effort. The church message provides that hope.
There is an available outside source of strength which will aid you, if you tap into it. Even with hope, many need the prospect of outside help to get them over the hump in working to turn their lives around. The church's message includes the idea of divine assistance. That is helpful to those seeking to be transformed.
Intriguingly, many programs designed to help people overcome addictions use techniques which emphasize hope, personal responsibility, and aid from a higher power as part of their methodology. The meetings of these addiction groups, Alcohol Anonymous for example, are often marked by personal testimonies, just like the churches. These "sharings", along with the encouragement and monitoring of follow addicts, reinforce the need to constantly evaluate one's thoughts and actions to purge out that which is harmful. The willingness to display vulnerability, to be intimate with others, to engage in a support community, to actively assist others, to be accountable, and to recognize the available power to change, all reflect the atmosphere within these successful addiction programs. In each of these aspects, these programs resemble the church in some way, but without the necessity to conform to any doctrine.
The above observation is the reason why I question whether life change credited to a salvation experience really results from the change of spiritual state that experience supposedly initiates. We witness similar changes without the church, so dramatic change can happen apart from church teaching. Additionally, the constant guilt trip prompted by the church's obsession with divine wrath, make the church route to conversion a minefield of potential problems. Hurting people, those desperate for transformation, don't need new anxieties, especially those engendered by the uncertainties of Christian Orthodoxy.
Some people in the church can ignore the negative implication of church teachings and just take advantage of a support group, and these can find meaningful transformation through church association. However, many more in association with the church are permanently damaged in their attempt to find a positive life change. These are the testimonies the church never hears because they don't want to hear them. Conveniently these potential testifiers simply fade away and rarely if ever explain themselves..