Earlier today, I got a good laugh out of this post about evangelism from Relevant (a website/magazine site aimed squarely at Millennials). In it, Richard Coekin pretends to ask why that site’s readers are “so bad at evangelism.” The answers he offers for his strawman questions reveal that evangelicals aren’t ready yet to slow down their ongoing decline.  

(From introduction: The post I wrote about Pope Francis; A coffee date with ‘People to Be Loved.’ Some previous posts about evangelism: The unchanging face of evangelism; How and why predatory evangelism works; Cru’s three modes of evangelism aren’t new at all.)

(This post went live on Patreon on 8/31/23. Its audio ‘cast lives there too!)

Everyone, meet Richard Coekin. He has a heart for evangelism!

According to his bio blurb at Relevant, Richard Coekin is the senior pastor of a London-area church. More specifically, it’s southwest of London and just south of the humongous-looking Richmond Park. His Relevant bio also tells us that he has written several books.

Looking at his church’s official website, we learn that this is a Calvinist evangelical church. The website also makes a helluva marketing claim to prospective recruits:

We are convinced that the spectacular benefits of God’s gospel are life in his heavenly kingdom – a life that starts now. So when we turn to Jesus we begin to experience the reassuring comfort of peace with God even amidst tragedy and pain, the uplifting encouragement of our certain hope of being with him, the deep satisfaction of abundant life in personal relationship with him, and the joy of Christ’s righteousness counted as ours and growing within us.

You’d really think that Christian leaders would be smart enough by now not to make testable promises about their lackluster product. But here we are. Either way, the church’s website proclaims that its congregations’ primary goal is recruitment.

Coekin’s bio at his church tells us that in addition to being the senior pastor there, he also runs a church-planting ministry in London and gives Bible studies to folks working in Parliament. 

The August 31st post he wrote for Relevant is his first contribution to that site. However, he’s contributed a great many posts to The Gospel Coalition (TGC), a Calvinist evangelical umbrella group. He seems to go through phases where he contributes lots of posts to TGC, and then huge stretches of years where he seems to have forgotten they exist.

Of interest, his last post for TGC was written right at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. It’s a standard-issue listicle that asks strawman questions and then answers them—in that post’s case, to remove evangelicals’ excuses for not evangelizing their little hearts out. 

Why oh why are evangelicals so very bad at evangelism?

The question Coekin’s post for Relevant asks is not an honest one seeking a real answer. It’s just the setup for a strawman. It begins with an anecdote from Coekin’s youth, which (going by his pictures at his church’s website) likely means it took place in the 1960s or 1970s.

In this story, he called a female friend to invite her to his church. Though she wasn’t home, her roommate was. At first, he tried to end the call without mentioning church at all. But to his surprise, the roommate persisted in asking where he’d wanted to go. Once she found out, she asked to go to church with him instead of her friend. (And OMG would you believe it? NO, you wouldn’t! I know you wouldn’t! Not in a trillion zillion years!) There, that very evening, she converted to his Coekin’s flavor of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.

See? SEE? If a “pathetic” salesperson like him could score a Jesus sale, then why can’t today’s evangelicals go out and do likewise?

Of course, we never find out if the friend in the anecdote stayed Christian. She drops out of Coekin’s post, story, and apparently life right after her conversion. For all we know, she only half-invited herself that evening because she had a crush on Coekin. But we’re not supposed to wonder what became of her. Coekin only brought her up at all to dazzle readers with a big sale he made for almost no effort—and to hint that readers could enjoy similar success if they only listened to him.

Some strawman reasons for evangelicals’ reluctance to do evangelism

Having made the point that evangelism sales happen all the time to inept salespeople, Coekin now lays out four straw reasons for evangelicals’ reluctance:

1. Temperamental reluctance
Some of us are painfully aware we’re a little shy, reserved or introverted, and evangelism feels frightening.


2. Cultural reluctance
For others, our reluctance can be put down to learned behavior—we’ve been raised to keep to ourselves and evangelism seems rude.

3. Theological reluctance
For many of us, our reluctance comes down to what we think God is like—we’re just not sure if he wants all Christians to engage in mission, especially if we lack the gifts or “calling” in evangelism that others seem to have.

4. Motivational reluctance
But for most of us, I fear that our reluctance could be desire—we have so many responsibilities and problems to face that we’re not persuaded evangelism should really be an urgent priority for us right now.

As I read his four reasons, my head began to gradually tilt to my left like a dog watching a magic trick.

And that’s how Coekin landed on our schedule today. I’d already wanted to talk about strawman arguments, and he just so happened to offer us a nearly perfect example of one.

Attack of the evangelism strawmen!

Evangelicals’ refusal to perform evangelism has nothing to do with their insecurities or their “learned behavior,” though it may seem so at first glance. It definitely has nothing to do with the theology of missionary work or feeling too busy every day. Few of us are so shy or busy that we can’t talk about stuff we enjoy. 

And I think this guy realizes it because he doesn’t even bother offering a single way to overcome his strawman non-reasons. All he does is slam his foot down and declare that it really doesn’t matter what’s holding evangelicals back from evangelism; they need to buckle up and just do it. According evangelism is not an option.

In truth, evangelicals today are keenly aware that Americans are well aware of their product. We simply don’t want it, that’s all. I suspect as well that evangelical pew-warmers are also aware that their product doesn’t do nearly as much for its users as they claim.

(I wish I could find it now, but I used to have a mid-2000s Christian blog post bookmarked that talked about this exact situation. The writer desperately wanted to tell his prospects that his church was full of loving people who’d embrace them as family and help them grow in their faith. His problem was simple: He knew that wasn’t true at all. His church was chock-full of clownshoes and asshats. He also talked a bit about The Simpsons, but that’s it for my memories of the post.)

Nice minimization strawman there

If evangelicals had a product that actually lived up to their claims about it, then I suspect that nothing in the world would stop even the shyest, most insecure, busiest and most Bible-illiterate among them from getting right out there to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY.

But there is a second block most evangelicals face. Coekin even mentioned it in passing in his listicle:

Evangelism is indeed quite rude. It doesn’t just “seem rude,” as Coekin minimizes. It actually is. It’s rude to demand that someone stop and listen to a sales pitch. Likewise, it’s rude to demand people change their entire worldview on the basis of salespeople’s stories, mythology books, and subjective feelings. Almost everything about evangelical-style evangelism is completely rude, entitled, and self-masturbatory. We’re not even getting into the sleazy, slimy evangelism tactics that call for drawing an unknowing mark into a fake friendship, then surprising them with a sales pitch, then completely ghosting them when they reject the pitch.

Unless the target specifically asks for evangelism, then yes, it is rude to shove evangelism in their face. And just as we’re getting better about heading multi-level marketing huns off at the pass, Americans have gotten used to deflecting evangelicals’ evangelism attempts.

On that note, it’ll never stop being hilarious that Calvinists of all people demand evangelism of the pew-warmers. These are folks who think humans are all predestined for Heaven or Hell. So why in the world do any of them need to evangelize, ever? I already know all about the hand-waving they regurgitate whenever anyone brings up that question. But hand-waving is all that it is. I’ve yet to hear anyone convincingly reconcile belief in predestination with constant entreaties to perform evangelism.

I want to tell them: Pick a goddamned gear, fellas. That’s what the gearbox is there for.

And the hilarious ending of a strawman evangelism post

Having offered up his four strawman reasons, Coekin now galumphs across to his sermon-like warning: “Evangelism is not an optional extra.” See? You have to, flocks; you must.

After a few Bible verses, he ends thusly:

Thankfully, our reluctance is treatable—we really don’t have to find evangelism so hard or frightening. For Almighty God is a compassionate Evangelist, and His Spirit can transform us by His word to share His passion for mission. He really can teach us to find personal evangelism, church-planting and cross-cultural mission exciting—indeed the fulfilling purpose of our lives.

If God can use someone as reluctant and selfish as Jonah to accomplish the greatest urban revival in Bible history (when the whole pagan city of Nineveh turned to the Lord), he can use us, too.

No, Coekin didn’t mention Jonah at all in the post until that last sentence. That came out of nowhere. You’d think he call back to the story he told at the very beginning—you know, bookend his post like a pro. But nope.

And did you catch his marketing claims in both those closing paragraphs? I laughed like a loon when I saw them all. Coekin has found the perfect way to hedge his bets. If anyone ever comes to him and says Jesus most definitely did not lead them to feel excitement or passion for evangelism, then Coekin can point to the weasel wording of his post. He didn’t say Jesus would definitely do any of that. He just said that Jesus “can.” You get the same weasel-wording out of assurances of faith healing and miracles. Jesus can heal the sick. He can sprinkle magic pixie dust over his followers so they get all blissed out. He can give special followers divine gifts that are unmistakably divine in origin and operation.

It’s just that he almost never does, is all.

If anyone complains that a “can” never turned into a “totally did,” then the Coekins of the world can just waft their palms skyward, hitch their preacher eyebrows up to the tippy-top of their hairlines, and tell that complainer that Jesus isn’t a tame Lion, after all. How dare they expect exactly what marketing promised them! Obviously, they aren’t Jesusing correctly at all.

I also had to laugh about him having to reach for mythical stories to bolster his marketing claims. There’s no indication whatsoever that Jonah really existed, so whoever wrote those stories about him could make him do whatever they pleased.

And that brings up another question: Coekin himself looks like he reached adulthood amid the Jesus Revolution. So why didn’t he reach for some of the very real names from that era? Is the fictional conversion of an entire large ancient city (Nineveh) just way more impressive than freshly-baptized hippies converting tens of thousands of college kids in San Francisco and LA?

Why evangelicals love and adore strawman-building

I’m bringing up all of this stuff today because evangelicals love a good strawman. If they weren’t allowed to strawman, then they wouldn’t be able to engage much with normies at all.

To create a strawman argument, a bad-faith arguer offers their audience a version of their enemy’s position that isn’t actually real. That isn’t what their enemy really says or wants or does. But this revised enemy argument is much easier for the bad-faith arguer to attack and defeat. After destroying their strawman opponent, the bad-faith arguer can declare total victory.

(If you’re wondering, the opposite of a strawman is a steelman. To create a steelman argument, the arguer accurately and precisely describes their enemy’s position, then addresses it. While a strawman is an argument made in bad faith, a steelman is made in good faith.)

Strawman arguments can seem very persuasive to people who already buy into whatever the strawman-destroyer has to sell. Christians hear these strawmen, then nod along:

Why yes, yes, that must be it, that must be why evangelicals are so bad at evangelism. They’re just shy or busy! Or they don’t know what the Bible teaches about evangelism! Oh, or else they are “reluctant and selfish” like Jonah! Or “pathetic” like Coekin himself at the start of that post he wrote! Or or or or…

To everyone else, the results of a strawman argument end up looking like solutions in search of a problem.

In today’s case with this guy’s listicle, he offers four reasons why he thinks evangelicals are “so bad at evangelism.” None of those reasons actually explain why modern evangelicals don’t do a lot of recruitment stuff. But they do give Coekin and evangelical leaders like him a splendid launchpad from which to attack strawman reasons.

Evangelicals have no time left to turn their anti-evangelism flocks around

As long as evangelical leaders keep refusing to engage meaningfully with the real reasons why evangelicals don’t like evangelism, nothing’s going to change about their decline. And I don’t see any evangelical leaders doing that. They want to put forth fixes that leave their ideology and preferred way of Jesusing completely intact. But those fixes don’t work, because they address problems that don’t exist and have nothing to do with their decline anyway.

The sad truth evangelical leaders don’t want to face is simply this: Their religion is now completely optional for most Americans. We can join or not join as we please. We don’t even need to give church recruiters any reasons for our rejection of their pitches. Heck, we don’t even need to stop and listen to those pitches in the first place.

A while ago, we reviewed a 50-year-old book promising to teach readers foolproof evangelism techniques. That’s when we learned that very little has changed in evangelism from the 1970s to the 2020s. Erstwhile evangelists still use many of the same terribad arguments, threats, and come-ons that turned up in that book. All that’s really changed are the diagrams involved. That stuff worked a little better back in the 1970s because evangelicals were near their highest peak of temporal power. But by the 1980s, when I was Pentecostal, we knew that most prospects could tell exactly what we were doing—and wanted no part of it.

The hilarious part is that evangelical leaders can’t force the flocks to perform more evangelism. Even the most rigid and cruel Calvinist congregation can’t. Coekin’s post at Relevant sure won’t convince anybody; they’ve heard all of his blahblah many times before, and they still aren’t evangelizing.

And now, time’s run out for evangelicals. The demographic time bomb is already exploding. Evangelical pastors are already having a lot of trouble finding young pastors to take over for them.

All evangelical leaders can do in response is demand the flocks do more of what already isn’t working, just more of it and harder this time.

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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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