Evangelicals like to pretend that evangelism is just a formality they perform. They think their god strong-arms people into belief, merely utilizing the evangelist as a conduit. But nothing could be further from the truth, as one denomination reveals in a lengthy writeup. Southern Baptists talk a big game about evangelism being totally supernatural and Jesus Powered, but even they know the truth: It’s a numbers game, nothing else.

(This post first went live on Patreon on 5/24/2024. Its audio ‘cast lives there too – feel free to check it out!)

Situation Report: Plans for evangelism

Last week, I showed you the latest Book of Reports from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC; link to report). It contains a wealth of information from the various subgroups within the denomination. One of these, the North American Mission Board (NAMB), handles recruitment for—you guessed it!—North America. It covers the Unites States and Canada.

NAMB’s leaders, missionaries, and donators all appear to think that somehow, some large number of Americans have no idea who Jesus might be. In truth, it’s hard to imagine a country more saturated in evangelical-style Jesusing. But forget that!

These poor lost heathens need evangelizin’! And NAMB makes that happen by sponsoring missionaries and other such efforts. To hear them tell it, hardly anybody in the entire continent is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™:

They get that 371M figure by combining the populations of Canada (38M) and the United States (340M). But I’m not sure how they figure that 90M people are not “lost.” Only about 8-10% of Canadians are evangelicals, while almost a third of Americans count themselves so.

Number fuzziness aside, their leader, Kevin Ezell, contributed a letter to this year’s Book of Reports. It contains his group’s current and future plans to increase the number of SBC-lings in America. And it is huge.

Incidentally, this entire topic spawned from a recent mention of Beach Reach. I hadn’t quite associated this lackluster evangelism effort with NAMB before, but finding a glowing report about it posted by NAMB’s Facebook account inspired me to go over what they did write about in their 20ish-page-long 2024 report.

There’s not a hint of divine ethereal power in this entire essay. It’s purely and simply what I’d expect to see out of any unpopular group that wants more members. We’ll go through it today to see what the SBC has in mind for any unwary, vulnerable people they can bamboozle.

The problem has always been not enough evangelism

For decades now, Southern Baptist leaders have been trying to push the flocks to perform more personal evangelism. That term means person-to-person, largely spur-of-the-moment evangelism performed on targets the evangelist knows at least to some extent. The targets will be friends, family members, work buddies, even bus-stop acquaintances and—creepily indeed—retail workers.

To perform personal evangelism, the evangelist seeks to build social capital with the target(s). This step might involve anything from major favors to a cringe-inducing attempt at small talk.

(Evangelicals generally have no idea how small talk works. Those deconverting from evangelicalism must make special efforts to learn this social skill, because nothing like it occurs in any context within evangelical groups. In evangelicalism, something vaguely similar occurs, but it is always done for information-gathering. It will either help control the target or become ammunition against them later. No wonder ex-Christians tend to hate it!)

But the flocks don’t like doing personal evangelism. That stuff involves lots of rejection, which they don’t like at all. They don’t like feeling like salespeople with an unpopular product. They’d rather feel like lords and masters whose every whim must be obeyed.

These reports always say the same things—except for this last one

So the SBC’s leaders keep coming out with these super-cringe reports about the sorry state of personal evangelism:

Every single one of these reports emphasizes the utter importance of personal evangelism. Every one of them takes for granted that the SBC’s ongoing decline would be fixed immediately if the flocks would only start selling evangelicalism like it was their job.

The response is always the same. The flocks nod, smile, agree, maybe even pray if a public prayer is being offered up front at the pulpit, and then go about business as normal. Nobody’s gonna make them evangelize, and so they do not.

Now we can add this NAMB letter from the 2024 Book of Reports to the list of increasingly-frustrated-sounding reports from the SBC. It begins on p. 77 of the report. However, it has something a little different to say about evangelism.

The major take-aways of the NAMB letter about evangelism

Here are the main points of the evangelism letter NAMB’s leaders wrote:

  1. NAMB has created an actual evangelism kit for church leaders. It contains a training guide, shopping catalog to buy other stuff, a USB drive containing videos and visual media to use in evangelism, and useless swag to shame the flocks into praying more often. Every church can get one free kit.
  2. They’re also holding retreats to “refresh” domestic missionaries and seminars to teach college-age SBC-lings how to evangelize like a pro.
  3. Their “Send Network,” which is a church-planting effort, is pushing harder than ever to open churches all over the place.
  4. “Send Relief,” which is an evangelism effort disguised as charity, “engaged” with more than 33k people last year. Your guess is as good as mine about what that verb means in this context.
  5. NAMB is pushing harder than ever to get SBC-lings into military chaplain positions so they can evangelize young adults during one of the most stressful parts of their entire lives.

The rest of the report centers around the incredible and very earthly efforts NAMB is making to get more evangelism in front of Americans.

What NAMB is doing to get more evangelism into Americans

This is an incredible report. I know lots of folks let me do the reading so they don’t have to, and I completely understand why! But I encourage everyone to take a look at this report. It’s 20 pages of sheer, bare-knuckle desperation. I’ve been keeping up with the SBC for ten years now, and yet I have never seen any group within the SBC this utterly frantic to increase evangelism in the flocks.

However, the exact strategies have changed. In the previous reports I showed you earlier, they focused more on pastor-to-individual-sheep. In the earlier strategy, the pastor sought to shame or goad the flocks into doing basic personal evangelism.

Now, though, we’re seeing more of an effort to help pastors cultivate full-time missionaries and professional-level evangelists. Here’s their first goal (p. 78):

To reach people for Christ—and disciple them to reach others for Christ—North America must have strong, evangelistic, healthy churches. In addition to encouraging existing churches to be as healthy as possible, new churches are needed. These new churches require qualified church planters, and the primary developer of these missionaries is the local church.

Interesting. To make that goal happen, NAMB started the “Multiplication Pipeline” along with a residency program.

This pipeline isn’t new. They started it back in 2017 (archive) because, according to their vice president Jeff Christopherson, “most of Southern Baptists’ ‘low-hanging fruit’ has already been picked, and it’s up to churches to find new church planters.” In theory, the pipeline offers aspiring pastors a step-by-step system to plant and develop new churches. (If you’re wondering, it doesn’t show up in the 2018 EVANGELISM TASK FORCE writeup.) About 22k people have gone through the pipeline.

Once pastors identify potential new church leaders, NAMB offers residencies for those potential leaders. Over 400 churches host these residencies.

Last year, NAMB also developed a “Mobilization Pathway” that does much the same things as the “Multiplication Pipeline.” About 6k people have signed up for the program, which offers videos teaching a “Preaching Masterclass.”

Worth mentioning, however: Mark Wingfield of Baptist News Global recently revealed deep friction between NAMB and state-level SBC conventions. Their new emphasis on church plants steps on the state conventions’ territory. How Jesusy it looks for evangelicals to squabble about turf!

“Seamless” evangelism experiences

In particular, NAMB’s “Send Network” seeks to create a “seamless,” turnkey experience for aspiring church planters (p. 80). This is just incredible to read. These guys sound serious!

Planters get an excellent, seamless experience from application through their first years of planting using free, Send Network-provided resources and technology platforms at each stage of the journey.

The convention partner saves money on systems and materials using Send Network’s
robust tools, processes and personnel rather than producing and maintaining their own.

Use of up-to-date resources and platforms that are regularly upgraded to reflect the best
training methods and technology.

Promotion of local church planting efforts utilizing national Send Network brand recognition.

Gain special access for their church planters at church planting and mission events.
GenSend gives college students hands on experience with church planting and compassion ministry.

NAMB has also created National Director positions for five different evangelism departments.

Fighting burnout in evangelism ranks

NAMB also recognizes that pastoral burnout is a serious problem. Hoping to lessen that burden, they developed all kinds of retreats for pastors “and wives” across America. According to their writeup on p. 81, 1200+ couples have taken advantage of these retreats. These couples frequently claim Jesus totally helped them recover their grooves.

This is reminding me of a vacation Mr. Captain and I took a few years ago to Northern Idaho. We stayed in a glorious bed-and-breakfast in one of their most picturesque suites. I still think very fondly of that trip. And I can’t help but remember how many pastors’ wives had written in their guest book. Their bubbly cursive had been filling that little book for years.

Apparently, that B&B was a popular retreat spot for a lot of evangelical churches. That little book was eye-opening reading while soaking in the garden tub! Some dozens of them wrote about exhaustion, arguments, tension, friction, and church drama. They hoped that a restful stay in that suite would help repair their frayed union and get them back on track. I wonder how many actually got their wish.

Something similar appears to be going on with NAMB’s retreat program. Unfortunately, even their retreat program forces these despairing couples through Jesus rituals of various kinds. NAMB can’t just let them unwind and relax their own way. No, if NAMB’s footing the bill then by golly these couples will sit through all kinds of “breakout sessions” and “biblical teaching.”

Next Gen wants more evangelism out of Gen Z

Citing “a massive mission field of teenagers and college students in need of the gospel,” NAMB next writes up a huge program to capture Gen Z before they are totally out of reach forever.

(However, they’re already out of reach. The 4-14 Window says that if kids aren’t indoctrinated between the ages of 4-14, their chances of becoming a fervent evangelical later in life are slim indeed.)

Shane Pruitt leads Next Gen, the NAMB ministry seeking to get Gen Z into the sheepfold. Back in 2022, we talked about him and Next Gen. I wasn’t super-impressed then, and I’m not particularly impressed now. The numbers Pruitt and his efforts are attracting are not fantabulous. He held two Youth Leader Coaching Network seminars that attracted about a total of about 800 “youth leaders.” We aren’t told how old these youth leaders are, nor the 400-ish “college leaders” attending other similar sessions.

In service to the goal of capturing Gen Z, this arm of NAMB has created the same kind of pipeline funneling guides and procedures for Next Gen as for their other evangelism programs. NAMB reports simply incredible numbers here, and I use that term because they’re not particularly credible (p. 82):

In 2023, Send Relief reported its volunteers had 47,356 gospel conversations. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers reported 32,546 gospel conversations with 8,561 professions of faith. With reporting for the year still incomplete, Southern Baptist chaplains reported more than 65,000 gospel presentations with 11,023 professions of faith.

Since we don’t know what a “profession of faith” looks like, and “gospel conversations/presentations” can mean almost anything, these figures are largely meaningless.

Other evangelism efforts in the SBC speak to an interesting truth

About 3300 missionaries and 3300 chaplains operate in America with NAMB support. In a very real sense, NAMB employs them, and like any employer they offer feedback to their employees. Among other accountability measures, NAMB gives their employees a quarterly performance evaluation.

They also only provide housing “for up to 18 months.” Even then, they only provide this benefit to some missionaries in particularly large cities with housing problems. Ideally, once the missionary establishes himself in his new church, he will be supported by his church. So he’ll move out of NAMB’s house to a proper parsonage—and a new missionary can move into the house in his place.

All of this means the SBC’s leaders are well aware of what real accountability looks like—and are happy to impose it when their own department’s money is on the line. Remember this truth, always.

Recently, NAMB also began looking at ways to train missionaries’ wives. Obviously, the SBC only wants men to be the point leaders in any evangelism or church planting effort, but they also know that many of these missionaries will bring wives along with them. Might as well get them trained up, too!

And this reminds of me something as well: Back when I was Pentecostal, my denomination ran a Bible College in Houston. Men could take any major and classes they pleased, but women got shunted into music or children’s ministry training—or taught to be pastor’s wives. This last career track taught them how to host ladies’ events, play piano or keyboard, and type up business letters and thank-you notes. I suspect the SBC operates similarly.

The SBC loves to use charity drives as a pretense for trying to score sales

Nothing steams me much more than evangelicals’ sheer predatory hard-sales mentality. When I see them pretending to be kind just to try to score a Jesus sale, my Pissed-O-Meter starts pinging lower orbit.

By now, though, SBC-lings have learned to be predatory. If any of them provide any kind of charity without sliding a sales attempt into it, their fellow SBC-lings attack them for not doing those targets a favor by saving their imaginary souls, not just their actual real bodies.

And that’s what we see in NAMB’s fake-charity writeup. On page 84, we learn that their fake-charity group, Send Relief, claims great success:

[. . . ] 32,142 individuals engag[ed] to serve 246,481 people across diverse communities and catalyzed 47,365 gospel conversations. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, with support from Send Relief, prepared more than 1,022,084 meals and shared the gospel 32,546 times. Send Relief also helped catalyze churches to participate in a Backpack Day in their local communities. There were more than 903 churches that registered for the event and more than 80,000 backpacks distributed to local SBC churches for them to use in their Backpack Day mission project.

I laughed at the 1.02M charity meals resulting in only 32.5k sales attempts. We don’t see how many of those sales attempts resulted in sales, but I’m betting very, very few did. (And indeed, on p. 86, we see a table claiming “8561 professions of faith” across all of their fake-charity activity.)

My laughter faded, though, once I realized what that “Backpack Day” involves. Church members pack school supplies into new backpacks, then donate them to churches. Then the churches distribute them to poor families. So they’re preying upon children and financially-stressed families here. Backpack Day isn’t just a big kindness to schoolchildren whose parents can’t afford supplies. They explicitly describe it as a “mission project” for “local SBC churches.”

Predatory. That is all I can say. It’s predatory.

People in serious financial need can be very vulnerable to recruitment attempts and magical thinking. The SBC’s leaders know this, and they’re specifically targeting the needy for their sales pitches—and making those pitches a potentially-unwanted part of the real help they provide.

Not even actual predatory animals would fake out their prey like this.

Creating a “culture of evangelism” — or at least trying to

NAMB appears to have been tasked to create what they call “a culture of evangelism” (p. 89). Unfortunately for them, SBC-lings are well-used to evangelism campaigns. They know how these work and can ride them out. But NAMB wants to immerse the flocks in evangelism in every single part of their church experience.

In particular, the SBC’s leaders are rightly worried about Gen Z. They should be worried. Except for Gen Alpha (today’s current kids), Gen Z is the least Christian generation that’s ever been. They have very few fervent Gen Z members. However, they know that Gen Z evangelists will be better than older folks at converting and recruiting Gen Z heathens. So they’re trying very hard to get their Gen Z members comfortable with evangelism.

NAMB combines that concern with pastoral burnout in the under-40 ministry crowd (p. 90):

Also, statistically speaking, less than 15% of all Protestant ministry leaders are under the age of 40 according to Barna Research. Since the pandemic began, anecdotal evidence suggests more men and women are leaving ministry leadership than entering ministry leadership. There is a concentrated effort to help our churches focus on calling out the called and discipling a whole generation of future ministry leaders through callingoutthecalled.com, which is a hub of teaching videos and mentoring guides for both leaders and students.

That website they mention relates to a book Shane Pruitt co-authored titled Calling Out the Called (archive). It teaches pastors how to identify any sheep in their fold that might be good pastors and ministers. See, Jesus himself might be calling those sheep to ministry, but they might not realize it. They might need their pastors to help make the calling more obvious.

That part of NAMB’s writeup also focuses on ensuring “accountability” for domestic missionaries, which tells me that in the recent past they began feeling like missionaries were not a good return on investment (ROI). I wonder if something specific prompted this concern for “accountability”?

More than that, I wonder how SBC-lings can spark a similar accountability fervor in the upper ranks of their denomination?

Why I’m describing all of these evangelism efforts

One of the reasons I really like reading the SBC’s various reports is that they give me an overview of the denomination’s biggest challenges, failures, and successes. Their reports also offer hints about their upcoming strategies and projects.

The SBC is a sort of bellwether for all the other Protestant denominations and church groups. What it faces, they all face to a large extent.

And their biggest challenge right now is getting their membership decline turned around. For decades, the SBC’s entire brand has been tainted. Their ministers’ scandals and abuses still erupt in headlines nearly every day. Their overreach in the culture wars has many people rightly nervous about them somehow instituting a Republic of Gilead in America. They’ve already turned one of America’s major political parties into a mindless extension of their culture wars.

The SBC’s leaders do not want to fix all these issues. Instead, they just want to pull out the stops to get more salespeople onto the selling floor. The more salespeople they have, the more sales attempts get made. And the more sales attempts get made, the more sales they’ll make.

It’s downright astonishing to see just how hard they are working to make that goal happen.

There’s nothing supernatural about evangelism

That’s why it’s so funny that evangelicals keep insisting that evangelism’s success depends on Jesus Power. They style their new churches as “R&D” and “evangelism laboratories.” (That tracks, too: They never test their strategies. If everything sounds really Jesusy, they simply assume it’ll work.)

But they remain simply clubhouses for terrible, control-hungry people and their victims. Since such groups do not sell very well, the SBC’s leaders must go to a great deal of very earthly effort to get new blood into their drama-laden, dysfunctional churches.

Any success these salespeople have is not supernatural in nature at all.

If the SBC ever managed to reverse their decline, it would not be because Jesus made it happen—as one of their Instagram friends, Paul Worcester, recently tried to claim. No, it would be because they are flinging every real-world resource they possess at recruitment—even money.

Even the greasiest pickup artist (PUA) could get laid by propositioning a similar number of women and putting enough of the right resources into play to make his company seem more appealing to his targets.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.

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[…] week, we had a laugh over the ginormous lengths that Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) folks are going to over evangelism. They’re pulling […]

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