Conversion as Influencing, an Infograph

I found this infograph at Pardot.com, and it opens up some windows (some worrisome ones too) on evangelism, the evangelist and conversion. As some of you know, I have written about conversion in two publications – Turning to Jesus and with Hauna Ondrey Finding Faith, Losing Faith. In the first book especially I dealt with the psychology and sociology of conversion, including the worrisome features of encapsulation and manipulation, and here we have an infographic that seems to spell some of these elements out.

What do you see here for evangelism? What concerns you? How has the “soterian” gospel been shaped to work in such settings? Can the apostolic gospel, what I call King Jesus gospel, be fitted into this set of ideas?

Do you see revivals or youth rallies using these “techniques”?

The Psychology of Conversions [INFOGRAPHIC] - An Infographic from Pardot

Embedded from Pardot

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Rick

    1. Social Group. On a nation-wide scale, if Evangelicals are seen as a problem in society, we lose this.

    2. Loss Aversion. It used to be fire and brimstone (or judgment houses at Halloween).

    3. Anchoring. That is tricky. Some default to Christianity in a post-Christian culture, but the information age has brought in knowledge of other ancient faiths.

    4. Foot-in-the-door and nurturing. Sounds missional.

    5. Authority. Perhaps why mega-churches, with their leadership styles, continue to do well.

  • candeux

    Scot, I’m confused…this is from a marketing research firm; “conversion” in this context refers to turning contacts into clients. Are you asking us to comment on whether evangelism currently uses these techniques? whether evangelism *should* (or should not) use these techniques?

    –Joe Canner

  • A. J.

    What is grossly present in the American church is the manipulation of feelings through music. Worship leaders are drilled to do this.

  • scotmcknight

    Joe, sorry. Do evangelists use these strategies and, Should they?

  • Marshall

    What I see as missing is “Giving them something worthwhile to participate in”, that is getting behind the inbreaking kingdom. Jesus wasn’t about self-affirmation through bigger crowds in the temple (although Paul had that side to him, says Sanders). NT Wright the other day, “… we are called to do those things that truly anticipate the way God’s world WILL be.”

  • Randy Gabrielse

    This reminds me of something I posted to RJS’s post “Communication Fail” yesterday. I recommended Lee Lefever’s (creator of Common Craft or “White board” videos), book, The Art of Explanation. There Lefever provides a very helpful discussion of how to craft explanations. Although there are parts of The Art of Explanation that seem like they are sales lingo, this work really shows how much Lefever works at explanations that run across many uses, including simple presentations of gospel issues, without descending into sales lingo.

  • http://www.wheretoreach.us/ T Freeman

    I think we can unintentionally label something, even just for ourselves, as bad just because it is associated or endorsed or employed by other groups or enterprises. The issue shouldn’t be whether we can see similarities b/n how people are persuaded to follow Christ and how people are persuaded to buy something or join a club. In some cases there will be such similarities. As I heard Dallas Willard say once, breakfast is a good idea even if millions of Hindus think so too.

    The issue needs to be, regardless of what others do and how, are there ways of dealing with people, since we are doing so in Christ’s name, that Christians should favor or resist? In this vein, I recall hearing Todd Hunter that we need to “baptize” our methods in the Golden Rule, meaning, we have to keep the great commission inside the great commands. I agree with this.

    Further, I see both promise and problem in our use of “authority.” I’ve heard people who do lots of evangelism and train others say that it is helpful in many (not all) conversations to actually show someone where the Bible says “X” rather than just quote it. And the reason is that many folks, even people we don’t expect, do see the Bible as having some “authority” or fame or both that adds weight. Further, I think that it’s enormously helpful to talk about Jesus himself rather than Christians or churches because he is also someone that even many non-Christians respect. That said, I agree with other comments that have said that there is a dynamic present in many churches, not just mega, where a cult of personality/authority is encouraged around pastors, even in the planting stage, so as to take advantage of many dynamics, including building the pastor up as an authority/celebrity to be followed. In light of I Cor. 1-3 and the teachings of Jesus, and many other realities that are foundational to our faith, this needs to stop.

  • http://www.wheretoreach.us/ T Freeman

    A.J.,

    I’m against manipulation, whether based in the emotions or in logic. But I don’t think we can say that presenting Christ in a way that appeals to our emotions is bad, and appeals to our intellect are good. Think about Christ’s story. It hits us, I believe intentionally, at all levels. This makes sense if our response is supposed to be loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. The gospel is holistic. So should our response be.

    I agree that we see excesses where our faith is too much based in the emotions, or too much in the intellect (often with disdain for other parts). But I don’t think that one is better and the other worse, or that one aspect of us is more or less depraved than the rest. We are rational, and emotional and social, etc. The gospel is also each of these, as is God himself. We need to seek integration and bringing our whole selves to God via Christ and Spirit.

  • http://www.wheretoreach.us/ T Freeman

    What I’m getting at is that I could have said the same thing as you about apologists and the mind. Presenting or responding to Jesus appropriately will be both intellectual and emotional and social, etc. because we are all of these things.

  • candeux

    Thanks, Scot.

    I think all of these have been used at one time or another in evangelism, sometimes in a manipulative way and sometimes not (at least consciously. I am generally unimpressed by manipulative evangelistic techniques and I suspect that non-Christians can usually see through them. Alternatively, they probably lead to a lot of “buyer’s remorse”.

    That said, I think it behooves us to know our audience and what factors influence them. We need to let the Spirit work, for sure, but also be aware, for example, of how beliefs are anchored in one’s childhood faith (or lack thereof), or of the importance of belonging to a community.

  • NateW

    I think that the core difference between these ideas and Christ’s way of discipleship is that “conversion” as presented here is essentially based on tipping the balance of power in your favor whereas in christ we see new life growing out from within the defeat, even death. Man’s way to victory is to overpower the objections of the other by promising fulfillment and happiness, Christ’s way is to call others to take up their own crucifixion stakes and follow Him even unto death. This of course is foolishness to the world and so we, the church, dress it up with either implied or express promises of happiness and fulfillment. We turn Christ into a product, something able to be held in our hands and kept in our back pocket, and so we turn discipleship into marketing and branding strategies.

    Faith in Christ has essentially come to be understood as certainty in the correctness of a given set of propositional doctrines that guarantees the end of longing, fear, and lonliness. Why? Because this is easily explained and easy to sell to those who so desperately want these things (which is everyone). If we’re going to sell a product we better be able to sum up what it is and be ready to provide all bullet points about how much better your life will be when you believe in Him.

    The problem with Jesus as a product, of course, is that when the “new car smell” wears off, when the door gets a few dings, then the aches and longings and sense of emptiness starts to come back. Christ as a product is really Christ as an Idol, a graven image, an empty promise.

    Selling Christ, convincing others to believe in Him, is relatively easy. Any good salesman could do it. (I often wonder how pastors and worship leaders deal with the expectation that they be great salesmen/women for Jesus). To follow Christ in bearing his cross, to live as one who has not found what he is looking for (to quote U2), to wake up each day keenly aware of how empty you still feel sometimes—and yet to exhibit humble self sacrificial love in the name of Christ for those who walk beside us in this world…. That’s evangelism.

  • Tom F.

    Elaboration theory (Hill & Bassett, 1992) suggests that attitude change happens along two distinct paths. There is a central path, which involves a slow, reasoned (though not necessarily unemotional) consideration of a possible attitude. There is also a peripheral path, which involves an unconscious, situation-dependent evaluation, and which is very prone to all the techniques listed here. Hill and Bassett found that there was some evidence that attitude change that went through the central path was more stable.

    If you just want to sell a product, you may not entirely care about the central path, you only care about a momentary decision to buy a product (as long as the customer doesn’t develop lasting *negative* feelings as a result of feeling cheated, though.) However, a decision to follow Christ will obviously need to have more than just momentary, transactional effects, but involve real commitment.

    So if evangelism goes through the “peripheral” path via these techniques you list here, it is likely to be unstable, and then people are likely to drift out of faith the way they drift out of using a certain kind of soap.

  • KarlUdy

    I think an understanding of Aristotle’s Rhetoric helps here. All three of logos, pathos, and ethos are needed for effective persuasion. The use of pathos in persuasion is not necessarily manipulative, although it can be. The problem is that when pathos is not backed up with the supporting logos and ethos, then the deficit in ethos will eventually render the power of that pathos ineffective. As a case in point, Judgment Day prophets are generally mocked because although the idea of the world imminently ending carries enormous pathos, the sheer number of failed claims for an imminent end of the world mean that most people regard such claims as being false (a deficit of logos) and often fraudulent for personal gain (a deficit of ethos).

    So I see no reason to avoid the above psychological tactics, but I do see a need to make sure that we deliver on what we promise to make sure such tactics don’t undermine our ethos in the long term. Mainly that means truly valuing people for their own sake and not simply treating them as means to an end.


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