Evangelism, or evangelical recruitment, isn’t doing very well these days. When you read between the lines of their supposed success stories, you discover that very few people who weren’t already Christian are joining their churches. Worse, even fewer people who weren’t already baptized seek baptism from them.

But evangelicals don’t like to change their tactics. Two recent stories in Baptist Press reflect that. Despite a growing level of Southern Baptist panic about their sagging membership numbers, their tactics stay about the same. And I expect both to backfire profoundly.

Predatory recruitment as modern evangelism

First up, we have a story about how the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) plans to help those affected by Hawaii wildfires.

The New York Times has a great writeup of the situation. According to their writeup, these fires destroyed thousands of buildings, including homes. Authorities have confirmed 99 dead. Unfortunately, there are probably lots more to come. Hundreds of people are still unaccounted-for. These fires came so fast and so unexpectedly that residents of Lahaina, the city most affected, got little to no advance warning.

(As one might expect, Hawaiian authorities lay the blame for these fires at the feet of climate change. I agree completely, especially after researching a post on OnlySky about a world 1°C warmer!)

In response, the SBC is ready to mount up and go help the survivors. Send Relief is the SBC’s disaster-relief arm. It works under the North American Mission Board (NAMB, and yes, it’s really unfortunately-named). As you can guess from the name, NAMB handles missionary stuff for Canada, America, and Mexico. Well, mostly America, really.

If one didn’t understand Southern Baptists very well, one might be a little confused about why a disaster-relief group works under a missionary organization. One might also wonder why it extended charity efforts to the survivors of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes a few months back. Neither Turkey nor Syria are, after all, anywhere close to North America.

Once you understand Southern Baptists, though, this all makes sense. They’re going to help. But on their terms, not those of the survivors. Don’t be silly. This isn’t about really helping people. It’s about recruitment—er, evangelism.

In the SBC hard-sales club, they must all A-Always B-Be C-Closing. At all times, they must be alert to opportunities to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY.

How charity relief efforts tie in to evangelism

To give you an idea of how the SBC operates, here’s the money quote from the leader of Send Relief:

“The fires in Maui have quickly become one of the most tragic natural disasters in U.S. history as it’s become the deadliest wildfire our nation has experienced in the last 100 years,” Send Relief President Bryant Wright said in a written statement to Baptist Press. “Yet, we’re seeing Southern Baptist churches respond to meet needs and offer spiritual care to survivors, and Send Relief and Hawaii Baptists are supporting their efforts as they distribute essential items and offer shelter to those who have been displaced by the fire.

“But the ministry has only just begun. This will be months and months of recovery based on the amount of devastation. Prayers and financial support are desperately needed for the days ahead. Pray that so many who have lost so much will be open to the Good News of Christ.”

And here’s what Send Relief is doing to augment the relief efforts of local SBC churches in the area (all 11 of them): 

Wright is making plans to visit the area next week. Meanwhile, at least six Hawaiian Southern Baptist churches are distributing essential items to survivors, offering shelter and providing spiritual care, a Send Relief spokesperson told BP.

Meanwhile, the married couple in charge of the local SBC state-level convention, the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention (HPBC), demonstrated that their priorities aligned completely with SBC standards:

“It’s [Prayer is] our most valuable resource,” Gay Williams said.

The Williamses told Webb a small team is on the ground helping first responders and distributing supplies. “We’re just being open and looking for opportunities for God to use us and He’s showing up,” John Williams said.

That last bit is Christianese. It doesn’t mean using them to help others. It means using them to conduct evangelism. While they’re “helping first responders and distributing supplies,” they’re also being very alert for chances to set some sales pitches in motion.

Why the SBC might see Hawaii as an opportunity for evangelism

As I mentioned a moment ago, one site found only 11 Southern Baptist churches in Maui County as of May 2023. They share a total of about 1,045 enrolled congregants. In that county, there are more Vajrayana Buddhists (1,080) than SBC-lings. In fact, there are also way more Mahayana Buddhists (3,359), Jehovah’s Witnesses (4,138), and Mormons (7,616). This assessment also extends to 8,340 nondenominational Christians, many of whom are probably greatly like the SBC, nor 9,773 Assemblies of God evangelicals who are also as close as makes no nevermind. Catholics (34,197) outnumber all of them by far, however.

In other words, the SBC is probably really looking to expand a little amid this disaster. They’re very unlikely to lure away any of the Buddhists or weirder Christians, but there’s about 18k potential evangelicals and 34k Catholics who might be open to their simple, universal message of exclusion, hatred, fear, threats, dysfunctional authoritarianism, cruelty-being-the-point, and science denial.

That’s why the pastor of one of the Maui Baptist Churches (Kahului Baptist Church, located decently-far east of the fires in an unaffected area) told his flocks in a roundabout way that their emphasis in helping others is 100% evangelism-based:

He urged his people to “exemplify the eternal joy” they have in Christ, despite the hard times that come. “Live in such a way … that people know that your joy is not in the things of this life,” he said.

I’m not surprised that he wants them to conduct evangelism by displaying their Jesus Auras rather than through directly making verbal sales pitches.

When lifestyle evangelism becomes suddenly okay and suggested

Normally, what this pastor suggests falls under the purview of lifestyle evangelism.

In lifestyle evangelism, the goal is to make normies astonished by the TRUE CHRISTIAN’S™ Jesus Aura, then ask that Christian what makes them, I dunno, so different I guess. That leads to as natural an opportunity for a real sales pitch as evangelicals could hope to have.

But it’s very roundabout. It also backfires more often than it works. Normies know as many miserable, hateful, spiteful, drama-seeking Christians as they do happy, joyous, Jesus-Aura-infused Christians. I know of one example where the normie assumed the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ was simply a vegetarian. Others are aware that the Jesus Aura act is just that—an act, one designed to elicit comment. In response, they refuse to make that comment. They don’t want to get drawn into a sales pitch. (In the next story, in fact, we’ll see this act get rebuffed in stunning fashion.)

Because of the severe flaws with the approach, evangelical leaders don’t approve of lifestyle evangelism. They know the flocks would far rather use this approach than a more direct one, but they also know it doesn’t work. One Independent Baptist church leader calls lifestyle evangelism “a false philosophy,” one they attempt to refute with their Doctrinal Yardstick. Another slams it by saying it “do[es] not follow the clear pattern and commands of Scripture.”

The SBC itself has traditionally not been thrilled with lifestyle evangelism. Especially in recent years, they’ve been all about pushing the flocks to make direct sales pitches.

In this case, however, evangelical leaders know it’d be quite crass to demand the flocks do that. All too often, their targets correctly interpret these pitches as confrontational and demanding. So in this particular situation, they’re willing to relax the rules a bit. You know. Just for now.

Missionary Kids get a very small sip of the youth-group experience through evangelism

Missionary kids (MKs, or Mish Kids) have a really tough time living abroad. Very often, their parents operate a nontraditional church. Usually, this’ll be a very small church plant with very few congregants. It will not have anything like a regular evangelical youth group. The experiences Blimey Cow described in 2020 will have completely passed MKs by:

So in our second story, MK parents and other assorted evangelical authority figures in Europe wanted to give their MKs a taste of the evangelical youth-group experience. 

Did they do it through….

  • Popcorn prayers?
  • Craft activities like weaving friendship bracelets? 
  • Singing Christian songs together? 
  • Organizing a mini camping retreat? 
  • Ordering cheap pizza and letting their MKs just hang out and be evangelical kids together? 

Nope! They did none of these. Instead, they gathered the MKs in the Netherlands, then sent the MKs off on a bicycle trip through the country so they could stop and evangelize at Dutch people all along the way. Here’s how the story puts it:

Trent and other organizers of this mission trip want to continue to build the confidence of the youth to live intentionally on mission. The adults also wanted to give these missionary kids a “youth group” experience — a chance to hang out with other teens; a time to laugh and be silly.

“Live intentionally” is Christianese for creating sales pitch opportunities, not just being alert for the chance. And if someone is doing that, then they are not able to just “hang out” and “be silly.” Those two gears don’t work together. You’re either in one mode or the other. If they relax too much, they’ll work against their goal of evangelism. (Source: Was an evangelical teenager.) 

Rather than hanging out and being silly, then, these MKs would be focused on engaging locals in evangelism. Really, it is heartbreaking to think about. They’re never really free until they reach adulthood, and then adulthood will consist mainly of them untangling and healing from the damage caused in childhood.

(In any quotes about the MKs to follow, I’ll be redacting out any underage person’s name. I have no desire to be part of their pain in adulthood. The internet never forgets.)

The concept of Jesus Roofies in evangelism

It sounds like our MKs’ elders knew they would make zero actual sales, so instead they charged them only to “plant seeds.” Here’s how “seeds” work in Christianese:

  1. A TRUE CHRISTIAN™ makes some point about their religion and group that supposedly lodges in the mind of their target.
  2. Over time, the target can’t stop thinking about that seed.
  3. The seed causes the target to investigate further. Or maybe another Christian will come by and say something else that sparks more interest, helping that earlier seed grow more.
  4. Eventually, the target joins the TRUE CHRISTIAN’S™ group. Hooray Team Jesus!
  5. This would not have happened without someone planting the seed, even if it got planted decades earlier. The Christian planting it might not even ever know it grew into a full plant.

See what I mean about Jesus Roofies? It’s like they think the “seeds” they plant cannot be resisted. Of course, if you ask them they’ll draw upon Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, which can be found in Matthew 13:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. And as he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

Some fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun rose, the seedlings were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the seedlings.

Still other seed fell on good soil and produced a crop—a hundredfold, sixtyfold, or thirtyfold.

He who has ears, let him hear.”

So obviously, these salespeople at least theoretically accept the idea that most of their “seeds” will fail. But in practice, they hold “seed planting” in a very elevated plane of super-effective evangelism strategies. It’s how they comfort themselves after every single failed evangelism attempt. Okay, so they failed. But one day, the seed they planted will grow! Some future evangelist will totally appreciate that seed having been planted earlier!

(I’m getting this funny flashback of my Evil Ex squinting hard at targets who were being especially difficult. He’d then tell them that he was planting a seed in them that one day would lead to their conversion. They’d always laugh. Despite his careful coaching, as far as I know not one of them ever converted. I guess my Evil Ex was just a particularly shit-tastic gardener.)

The Netherlands apparently has a lot of very rocky soil, Jesus-wise

That’s what those MKs were gonna do, then: plant seeds across the Dutch countryside. They certainly had their work cut out for them. As of 2021, the US State Department found that Christians were a distinct minority in that country:

The U.S. government estimates the total population of the Netherlands at 17.4 million (midyear 2022). In a 2021 survey, the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), the official source for government statistics, reported that 57 percent of the population age 15 or older in the Netherlands declared no religious affiliation, 18 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 14 percent as Protestant, 5 percent as Muslim, and 6 percent, including Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and Baha’is, as “other.”

Another statistics site found roughly the same numbers. Evangelism groups themselves tend to find very small numbers of evangelicals in the Netherlands, like when Joshua Project found 4.01%. That would seem to indicate about 700k evangelicals, since the country has a total population of 17.5M. But in 2022, a news site thought there were 200k evangelicals. That knowledge drove them to create programming aimed squarely at this underserved group. Maybe they just meant 200k evangelicals who were likely to want to watch evangelical-focused programming. Either way, the percentage of evangelicals in the Netherlands is very low.

And oh boy, non-evangelicals did not want a single bit of what those MKs were offering. They knew exactly what was going on, and they didn’t want evangelism.

How MKs conducted evangelism on their trip

As they biked around the country, these MKs would stop and talk to locals.

Sometimes, they talked about their bike trip itself. Usually, the locals seemed to approve of this chatter:

The teens’ playful energy draws an elderly couple over to visit. The man smiles big as he listens to their account of riding bikes from town to town in the rain.

“You are getting the real Dutch experience,” he says, noting that most in his country ride bikes — rain or shine — as their chosen transportation. 

Then, taking this couple’s engagement as consent for a sales pitch, the teens launched into the beginning of one—only to be totally BTFO:

The high school juniors and seniors explain their trip isn’t as much about biking as it is talking about Jesus with people they meet. The man holds up a hand to stop the conversation, shakes his head “no” and walks away.

For most evangelical Christians here, this is the real Dutch experience — a lack of interest in anything spiritual.

Ow ow ow ow, those poor kids. They were just doing as they’d been taught. Literally, that is what’s happening here.

Evangelism training implodes on impact with real-world secular people

After being taught to use survey questions to open up an unwanted sales pitch, the teens rush out to do a they’ve been taught—and get BTFO again:

The survey cards are designed to lead all conversations to Christ. It’s just one simple question: “What’s the most important thing in your life?” The multiple-choice answers include money, family, peace, purpose, freedom, hope and love.

The Livingstons encourage the teenagers to follow up the answers with, “Why?”, then share about the most important thing to them — their faith in Jesus. Courtney smiles at the small group of students working with her and encourages them to give it a try.

A man in his 20s walks past, and [Name Redacted One], whose family serves in England, stops him to chat. The rest of [Redacted’ Ones] team circles around to join the conversation. The teenagers’ energy, smiles and fun-loving spirit is contagious and opens this man to talk. He chooses money as the most important. But as the teenagers share their own answers to the question, the man changes his answer a few times before finally telling the group that religion “just doesn’t feel like me.”

This answer is a common one for the week. One of the teenagers jokes about it being an emotional roller coaster — one minute someone laughs in your face but then the very next person shows interest in knowing more about Christ.

I’m betting it’s a lot closer to almost nobody showing “interest in knowing more about Christ.” Secular people tend to know what evangelism is at its heart: a boundary-violating attempt to get them to change their minds about religion.

And these MKs’ Dear Leaders are thrilled to have them getting crashed-and-burned at a vulnerable time of their youth. They are, in one of those leaders’ words, getting more seeds planted in one week than he could ever have managed by himself. Their failures and sparse successes also help him determine which areas are more vulnerable than others:

He points out this team shared with 250 people as part of a “broad seed sowing” project, something he could never do that quickly on his own. The survey results help his team know what areas might be open to the Gospel, allowing the Livingstons and their local partners to pinpoint more effort there.

The MKs themselves have been well-coached in interpreting their failures. One, a Polish MK, tells her fellow MKs one evening:

“My heart breaks just to know I’m walking past so many people who don’t know Jesus,” [Name Redacted Two], whose family serves in Poland, tells her fellow missionary kids at the nightly debrief. “I don’t even know how to begin to pray for everyone we pass. It’s overwhelming to think so many we talked to don’t know Jesus.”

That coaching might last for a few more years before they realize what really happened.

Sales pitches done extremely wrong and cringey

In a few years, I guarantee most of those MKs will look back at their evangelism attempts on this bike trip and just cringe. It’ll keep them from sleeping. Their scumbag brains will see them nodding off and go “Hey, remember that bike ride where you got caught trying to make a sales pitch on someone who didn’t want it?” 

And they’ll moan in their near-sleep, and they’ll try to force those thoughts into their background noise of anxiety again.

Their trusted adults think that these failures will lead to greater self-confidence in their budding hard-sales evangelists. And in this moment, that does seem to be happening:

“It might have been awkward at first, but we still shared the Gospel,” [Name Redacted Three] says, adding that he was definitely out of his comfort zone at the beginning of the week but by the end talking about Jesus felt natural. “This was a chance for me to see that evangelism isn’t really that hard — it’s just a conversation.”

But it isn’t “just a conversation.” Evangelism is nothing like a conversation. It’s a one-sided sales pitch. Any exchange of ideas occurs only to allow the salesperson to gather information to use in making a more customized sales pitch. Just as the used-car salesperson doesn’t really GAFF about their mark’s job but acts very interested, the evangelist doesn’t really care to know about the number-one priority in their targets’ lives. The evangelist only asks so they can return the favor by talking about their own number-one priority: Jesusing 24/7.

Only someone who hasn’t had a lot of real conversations could mistake what happened that week in the Netherlands as “just a conversation.” Once Redacted Three experiences some of those, he’ll understand just how cringe this comparison really is.

And he might, just might, just maybe feel a little frosted at the adults who failed to teach him about real conversations, instead telling him these fake non-versations were it.

On the Many Glorious Virtues of Being in an Entirely Secular Yet Very Functional Country

It’s funny that on a recent post, someone talked about the paradigm-shattering experience of being in a country that is very non-Christian and yet also very functional. Knowing the topic we’d be discussing today, I found it of particular interest!

I also got that experience in Japan. This almost-entirely-secular country has a distinctly spiritual side, one they’re not ashamed of expressing. But they’re also almost entirely immune to the kind of threats and come-ons that evangelicals can offer. The whole time I was there, my Evil Ex could find only one Pentecostal church in operation. It was very, very far away in the far-flung suburbs around our city.

But Japan defied my expectations of heathen countries. It was entirely functional. Its people seemed perfectly normal and largely very conscientious of others. Things ran smoothly. I always felt safe. Even decades later, I still miss that feeling of safety and of things running smoothly.

I’d already deconverted, but Japan completely destroyed evangelicals’ insistence on faith being a requirement for morality or good behavior.

I strongly suspect that the Dutch are working similar magic on these MKs. Out of everywhere that these MKs could have been coached and set loose to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY, the Netherlands might be one of the safest areas. It also might have been the most central to all the other countries.

But it might have been the worst possible country to set those MKs loose in. It shows them the most dangerous sight of all: People doing just fine without their product.

Heartbreak inspiring evangelism, just without heartbreaking behavior

Sure, Redacted Two has been coached to see those rejecting her sales pitches as poor widdle lost souls who are hurting for their lack of faith. However, none of them sound particularly pained in this Baptist Press article. They’re doing just fine without her product. In America, all too many folks will humor an unwanted sales pitch about religion.

By contrast, the Dutch are obviously not afraid at all of rejecting one. They’re not vulnerable to her group’s come-ons. They don’t fear anything that her group members fear.

The Dutch may break Redacted Two’s little heart, but they clearly don’t care. Her heartbreak is being artificially coached into her; nothing they’re doing sounds heartbreaking in the least. I wonder if and when she’ll ever notice that, and if she’ll wonder why when she does. Her family serves in Poland, and I’ve heard Polish evangelicals are a whole other breed, so she may never notice.

(Soon, we’ll be talking about a beloved prison parable developed by an evangelical big name. It runs along very similar lines.)

But the others sure might. For me, that was one of the most formative experiences of my deconversion. It meant I’d never again be fooled by evangelical marketing.

I’m hoping against hope that these MKs will look back at this Netherlands trip in much the same way.

None of it will matter to their missionary elders, however, any more than it matters to the SBC’s relief group. They’ll keep pushing evangelism and agenda-driven charity relief as tactics no matter how hard they backfire. They’ll feed endless waves of SBC-lings to the fire of doubt this way, but that’s better than the alternative of changing and growing as an organization.

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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.

1 Comment

Heard this joke yet? An evangelical asks why evangelicals are 'so bad at evangelism' - Roll to Disbelieve · 09/04/2023 at 2:06 AM

[…] 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 […]

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