Recently, I got a big reminder of the existence of friendship evangelism. That’s a predatory form of false friendship. Evangelicals offer friendship to people to trick them into accepting recruitment attempts. And evangelicals lean on friendship evangelism really hard these days because it’s about the only way they can get any kind of audience for these attempts. Evangelical leaders, however, know very well that real friendships with normies can destroy a sheep’s obedience and faith. So they’ve got lots of ways to keep the flocks well away from real friendship and focused entirely on their fake version.

Today, we’ll go over friendship evangelism, why evangelical leaders push it, and how those leaders keep their followers from making any real friends outside the tribe.

(This post originally appeared on Patreon on 3/16/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there as well! Both should be public by the time you see this. <3 Please excuse my voice sounding a bit quavery; somehow I inhaled lemon oil yesterday and damn near choked to death coughing.)

The tension between the evangelical bubble and the need to A-always B-be C-closing

When I was a fundamentalist in the 1980s and 1990s, they hadn’t fused with evangelicals quite yet. They weren’t yet fundagelicals. Still, evangelicals had a lot of common ground with fundamentalists. We all believed in the complete primacy of the Bible, though we might express that belief in different ways. We all wanted our lives to revolve 24/7 around Jesus and Jesus-ing, though our respective notions of Jesus-ing were different.

Though we didn’t really understand it at the time, we also both dwelled in seriously-insular bubbles. Very few of us had a lot of friends outside of our respective tribes. But fundamentalists didn’t have a problem with insularity. If we entered the heathen world, it was for carefully-delineated periods for a specific purpose. Evangelicals, though, they wanted both insularity and to project themselves long-term into the world of heathens to win converts.

Fundamentalists had to have special dispensation to do that. My Evil Ex Biff actually thought Jesus had given him a burden, to use the Christianese, to convert atheists at college. That burden allowed him to make extensive forays into heathen circles. (Dude was as subtle as a heart attack, though. They saw him coming a mile away.)

Neither group was particularly successful at recruitment, however.

Over the years and well past their fusion into fundagelicals, though, evangelicals find themselves in a drastic decline that has come nowhere near bottoming-out yet. For years now, their Dear Leaders have insisted that the power that will fix that decline must come from the pew-warmers. Yes, the flocks must recruit new members on their own. They must do it often and well. And they must not ever fail to seize any opportunity to recruit.

Sure, a lot of evangelicals just nod and smile at these demands. But a nonzero number of them want to obey. Alas, obedience means leaving the safe, cozy, warm evangelical bubble. It means taking serious social risks by making recruitment pitches to people who will probably not like hearing them at all.

Most folks don’t like to take social risks. Evangelicals aren’t any exception to that rule. So they seek out ways to cushion those risks as much as they can.

More and more often, the solution for those increasingly-put-upon flocks looks like friendship evangelism.

In the wild: How evangelicals view worldly friendships

Generally speaking, evangelicals believe that they can achieve true friendship only with evangelicals like themselves. They’re always terrified of their worldly friends trying to seduce them with sinful entertainments or conversation.

(Worldly is Christianese for anything that doesn’t focus enough on Jesus and Jesus-ing. Worldly people and things are sinful. Worse, they spew sinful influences that can taint and destroy even the truest of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ if they get too close.)

The evangelical site What Christians Want to Know perfectly illustrates this belief:

There is nothing in itself wrong with being friends with an unbeliever but if the Christian finds himself or herself being brought into places that do not reflect the believer’s life, then this friendship is not in their best interests. I have friends who are not Christians but I draw the line in going to certain places where a Christian should not go.

Most non-evangelicals would be perfectly okay with a friend saying they don’t want to go to the bar or to an R-rated movie, of course. It’s no big deal. But evangelicals’ reactions to these invitations remind me of the desired effect of those “Just Say No” ads from the 1980s.

OH NOES! Evil villains lurk everywhere to lead virtuous young fundagelicals astray with the power of Hollywood, pop music, D&D, and sex! But mostly sex. We’re not foolin’ anyone with our hand-wringing. It’s sex.

In the wild: How evangelical leaders exhort the flocks to make worldly friends anyway

Another evangelical site, Got Questions, tries to square that same circle:

Clearly, the message of Scripture is that believers are completely different from nonbelievers, and it is from this perspective that we must discern what kind of friendships we can really have with unbelievers. [. . .]

We should gently teach those who oppose the truth, and be patient with difficult people. Matthew 5:16 tells us, “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly father.” We should serve unbelievers so that they may see God through us and turn to Him in praise. James 5:16 says that there is great power in the prayer of a righteous person, so bring your concerns for unbelievers before God, and He will listen.

Many people have been saved because of the prayers and service of Christians, so don’t turn your back on unbelievers, but having any kind of intimate relationship with an unbeliever can quickly and easily turn into something that is a hindrance to your walk with Christ. We are called to evangelize the lost, not be intimate with them.

See? There’s no way in the world that any TRUE CHRISTIAN™ can possibly be a real friend to a heathen. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are simply too superior and evolved. But limited, shallow contact can improve heathens, so TRUE CHRISTIANS™ must hold their noses as they lower themselves by laying back and thinking of England Yahweh.

Even when an evangelical kinda-sorta grasps the problem with that kind of friendship, like this evangelical church-planter does, they often develop a vastly-convoluted new definition of friendship-without-agendas that still has, at its heart, a solid, easily-discernible agenda. Always, always, evangelicals who befriend heathens are taught to have conversion in the back of their mind.

Evangelical Culture 101: Friendship Evangelism

For many years, evangelicals have offered false overtures of friendship to normies.

Evangelicals call these false overtures friendship evangelism. To perform this style of evangelism, evangelicals convince the normie that they’re just extremely friendly people who love making new friends—and that normie is the new lucky winner of friendship with them! Once the normie seems interested, their new evangelical pals love bomb them: Offering to hang out, do stuff together, chat on the phone and via text, you name it.

Evangelicals’ goal in doing all of this stuff is to get the normie into a social contract with them. One cannot overstate the importance of the social contract. It gets implicitly signed between two people in a relationship, and dictates their responses to a large extent. After all, most of us will put up with all kinds of bullshit for a friend, teammate, co-worker, or significant other that we wouldn’t tolerate for a moment from a stranger.

And these evangelicals do indeed plan to subject their new normie friend with some intense bullshit. Once the normie seems well-hooked by the false friendship overtures, evangelicals begin to push recruitment pitches at them.

The idea behind friendship evangelism is simple. Thanks to their social contract, the normie will feel obligated first to sit through the pitches, and then to comply with the numerous, life-altering demands their new evangelical pal will make of them.

At least in flirty fishing the mark gets laid, sheesh.

The life cycle of friendship evangelism

Recruitment pitches may include invitations to church events or services, informal get-togethers of similarly-aged evangelicals, and intense—if one-sided—conversations about religion. Peppered throughout these pitches are self-serving professions of joy or peace that the evangelical attributes to evangelicalism, as well as carefully-judgmental criticisms of the normie’s life decisions.

These pitches continue until one of two results is obtained:

  1. The normie accepts the pitch, attends their new evangelical friend’s church as a guest, and converts to that exact flavor of Christianity.
  2. Ultimately, the normie rejects the pitch at some stage of the process, whether it happens right away or after attending a church service as a guest.

The evangelical’s false friendship very occasionally survives the first result. However, it becomes entirely conditional on the normie continuing to attend that church and profess that faith. At that point, the normie becomes something like a work friend. More often, the evangelical drops the normie into some other peer group at church, then resumes socializing with their own real friends.

Even more often, though, the normie rejects the sales pitch. When that happens, the evangelical ghosts them forever.

These overtures are as baldly obvious as a Target encounter with Amway recruiters. Thus, they really only take in the desperate and the inexperienced. That doesn’t make the experience any less painful for victims, of course! When I was just a teenager, it hurt me a lot to be duped by an evangelical performing friendship evangelism on me.

Yep, friendship evangelism is cruel and nasty stuff.

Sidebar: The evangelicals who perform friendship evangelism under emotional duress

Now, I’d be remiss here if I didn’t mention that many evangelicals don’t want to issue recruitment pitches to their friends. They value their friendships more than their indoctrination and their tribe’s approval. This post is more about evangelicals who hurple right into friendship evangelism and view it as the perfect way to get recruitment pitches into their victims. But plenty of evangelicals would rather die a thousand times than be so callous and cruel.

I’ve read many blog posts from these evangelicals. Many of them do eventually try to squeak out a recruitment pitch at some heathen friend of theirs. Almost always, the friendship ends on the spot. If it doesn’t, then it continues on vastly different terms than before, always more remote and cautious ones.

Some evangelicals burn these friendships because their pastors load them so hard with guilt and shame that they feel they must. That’s not an excuse, of course. It’s just an explanation. Preachers can really make a sheep’s refusal to offer unwanted pitches into the worst imaginable kind of sin. Don’t those sheep want their heathen friends to go to Heaven? What kind of friends are they, that they don’t ever even mention that their heathen friends are hellbound and offer them the Plan of Salvation, Jesus’ totally free gift? Do they just want those heathens’ ghosts to roast in fire forever after they die? How hateful!

Eventually, the pain of that guilt outweighs the certain dread of what will happen if an unwanted pitch is made.

I’ve been there. Many ex-Christians have been there. It’s one of the worst places to be. But there’s a reason why preachers lead us there, and you will be learning what it is right here today. It all ties in together, I promise.

Friendship evangelism vs real friendship

Really authoritarian evangelicals view heathens as well beneath them in every way: socially, morally, intellectually, you name it. They’re not interested in spending time with heathens just because they like those people. In fact, they completely disapprove of them. Rather, evangelicals think of friendship evangelism as a form of charity. They extend their imaginary largesse to sad, sinful heathens in order to help them.

As a result of this emphasis, friendship evangelism isn’t at all like real friendship. Real friendship exists because of a desire from all parties to enjoy each other’s company. Real friendship comes with no strings attached. However, evangelicals performing friendship evangelism have nothing but strings attached to their gestures. They seek to fix their friends, to repair their hellbound status, and to bring these heathens up closer to their own level. (Not exactly to the same level, of course. Never that. Just kinda close to it.)

Indeed, friendship evangelism is all about unstated ulterior motives. If evangelicals openly told their victims that they were only making friendship mouth-noises to get people to sit still long enough for recruitment pitches, very few victims would hang around for that! And if evangelicals revealed ahead of time that if their victim ultimately refused to go along with their master plan then they’d be vanishing into the mists of time, I bet they’d get a lot fewer victims.

So evangelicals must hide their real motivations for as long as they can. They know that once they bring out their big come-to-Jesus sales pitch, that false friendship will be changing forever.

And that’s completely intentional on the part of the evangelicals who perform friendship evangelism, as well as on the part of those who teach them how to perform it.

The heathens have caught on to friendship evangelism

Since my days in fundamentalism, heathens seem to have become well aware of evangelicals’ use of fake friendship as a recruitment ploy. Way back in 2013, Thom Rainer presented one heathen’s tale of friendship evangelism (and yes, that heathen is none other than our very own Blanche/Lambchop):

As a mother of young children in a homeschooling environment, we found ourselves surrounded by Christians. Of course, the kids would become friends and we moms would chat while they played. Without a single exception, this “acquaintanceship” only progressed to the point that I had to make it clear that no, I would not acceptjesusasmypersonalsavior, and no, I would not be attending their church. Then the Christians never called again, and I was left to explain to my sad children why their new friends wouldn’t be playing with them any more.

I’ve had much the same experience, and so have many other heathens. In comments some time later, Blanche had this to say as well:

[A] friend of mine once commented, years ago, that when she was getting to know a new prospective friend, and that friend-candidate mentioned that she was a Christian, my friend’s heart sank, because she knew it would be just a matter of time before she would be backed into a corner and forced to state that she wouldn’t be converting or joining any church, at which time that good Christian would disappear.

And again, I’ve had exactly that same sinking feeling.

What we don’t normally understand, though, is that friendship evangelism has a deeper and far darker function than just getting heathens to sit still for evangelicals’ recruitment pitches.

The protective wall of separation created by friendship evangelism

As we saw last time we met up, a diverse friends group keeps evangelicals, particularly white evangelicals, away from the most toxic beliefs in their end of the Christ-o-sphere. The more friends that a white evangelical has that aren’t, themselves, white evangelicals, the more likely that evangelical is to reject Christian nationalism beliefs. And the more homogeneous that white evangelical’s friendship group is, the more likely they are to embrace those beliefs.

I’d also add that such evangelicals also tend to steer clear of their leaders’ worst mischaracterizations of non-evangelicals. These mischaracterizations are very much a feature of tribalism. They exist to keep a wall of separation between TRUE CHRISTIANS™ and the heathens around them.

When evangelicals embark on friendship evangelism, their overtures come from well behind that wall of separation. They are always mindful of it. It keeps them safe from the corrupting influence of worldly people.

Evangelicals’ goal in performing this evangelism is to bring their victim into the tribe—and thus behind the wall to safety. If the victim ultimately refuses to become part of the tribe, then the wall completely slams shut as the friendship evangelists retreat behind it again.

And retreat they shall and must, because otherwise they risk becoming corrupted themselves by worldliness.

How friendship evangelism maintains the wall of separation

In a very real way, then, friendship evangelism helps to maintain evangelicals’ separation from people who could very easily destroy evangelicals’ tribalistic outlook and even their faith.

Sales-minded, authoritarian, tribalistic evangelicals don’t ever offer friendship for its own sake. They don’t want the real emotional intimacy of heathens. Nor do they want to approach any heathen as an equal. Any of that stuff would serve only to diminish their power within the tribe. They’d be viewed with suspicion and discomfort by others, just as that church planter’s community responded to her very-slightly-less-predatory take on friendship evangelism (relink):

When Christians asked me why I moved into the area I initially would tell them that I wanted to plant a church and so I wanted to get to know the neighborhood first. They would congratulate me for “connecting” with the place and people and even admire me for my bold move, but many of them would immediately start asking me about my plans for evangelism and starting a church service. [. . .]

I was telling someone that I am thinking about running a program at my local community center which looks at the broad life-giving principles that you would find in Scripture, however I would not be telling people about Christianity in that context. My friend told me he struggled with that. [H]e felt uncomfortable with a program for non-Christian people that was not primarily evangelistic.

But she still ultimately wants to see her heathen friends get saved:

My thinking is that God is much more interested in bringing the person I am friends with into his kingdom than I am, even if I love the person very much. God loves my friend more and God will do his work whether through me or through another person.

In her mind, she still categorizes people as in or out of the tribe. As long as she nurses that desire in her heart for her heathen friends to become evangelical, she separates herself from them. Of course, her tribe will still judge the shit out of her for not trying hard enough to change her heathen fix-it projects. If she doesn’t fall into line or at least quit talking about her less-predatory take on the matter, she will eventually fall afoul of Christian love.

And that is exactly how evangelical leaders want it to be. As the patriotic classic-rock anthem goes, they gotta keep ’em separated. And oh, they do.

Ultimately, evangelicals don’t even know how to make friends

Evangelicals are so separated from anything they view as inferior worldly humanity that by now, they have no idea how to be real friends. The problem is bad enough for those who get bamboozled into the tribe in adolescence or adulthood, since they will uniformly be people who resonate with authoritarian ideals one way or t’other. But for lifelong, hand-reared evangelicals it is damn near impossible for them to make real friends.

They learn how to speak Authoritarian fluently, sure. They get along decently well with others, and they know how to navigate the tricky, dangerous swamp of an evangelical church community. But they never learn how to speak People. Thus, they never learn how to socialize, how to figure out who might be a good friend and who wouldn’t be at all, or how to build upon an existing friendship for years and years.

All the evangelical-designed friendship courses in the world won’t help them there, either.

The results are predictable: endless evangelical remarks about the abysmal friendship skills of evangelicals:

I’ve lost count of the number of Christians who’ve told me they either stopped attending church or left their church to join another one because they couldn’t make any friends there.

They report that the church people were friendly enough. They were hospitable and welcoming.

As one person told me, “They’re nice to you, but no one becomes your friend.”

He ain’t alone, either. Pastors in particular have a tough time making real friends along evangelicals.

And there’s a good reason why.

The irony of friendship evangelism: Revealing the truth of evangelicalism

The grandest irony of friendship evangelism can be found right here: Their falsest form of friendship reveals the deepest truth about themselves.

Many evangelicals who even insincerely befriend heathens soon discover that those heathens are far better friends than their TRUE CHRISTIAN™ ones are. I’ve lost count of how many evangelicals I’ve heard say that. Evangelicals can spin-doctor that fact however they like (and oh, they do). Their rationalizations feel hollow and self-serving, because none of them can really confront the central glaring fact of evangelicalism:

They have no clue how to love others, and no desire to start learning. Evangelical leaders would rather pare their followers away from those better (heathen) friends than to allow love to grow with off-limits people past the wall of separation.

Friendship evangelism is a violation in so many ways. It violates ethical boundaries galore, tramples its victims’ right to informed consent, and turns victims into human fix-it projects without even the consideration of an announcement beforehand, much less a request. Those who engage in it are not being friends, but worse, they’re not even being loving. Love does not violate its victims or view them as less-than. It doesn’t decide to fix other people’s lives without asking.

Love can find a way, but friendship evangelism contains no love

Whether evangelicals love friendship evangelism or dread it, whether they embrace it or try to gentle its sharp edges or pretend they would never, they still reveal so much about their tribe that outsiders would do well to know.

And the harder evangelicals try to fight with that characterization, as Larry Dixon did a few years ago with Bruce Gerencser (after which Dixon wrote two hilariously-outraged posts that made him look even worse), the more they reveal just how unloving they really are.

Ultimately, authoritarians just find evangelicalism a nice, tidy excuse for mistreating others to make themselves feel bigger and better. Friendship evangelism allows them to redefine that mistreatment as love. But it only fools themselves.

And thus, they’re in the middle of a decline that they just can’t stop.

Real love might save them. But they deliberately turned away from love long, long ago. They wouldn’t want it now even if it knelt in front of them and begged for their embrace.

Love rejects power and cruelty, after all, and refuses to see others as less-than and inferior.

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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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