Recently, one of our community members shared a link I thought was hilarious. It’s called “52 Ideas for Inviting Someone to Church This Year,” and it is every single thing you ever hated about these awkward encounters. This awful list shows us some important things about the people who made the list, too. Today, Lord Snow Presides over Christians busy inventing whole new forms of friendship evangelism.
(It’s Lord Snow Presides! See below for some cat pics! B&B were unusually photogenic this round.)
Just Waiting for the Pitch.
People know when they’ve run across an evangelism-minded Christian. They tend to be very obvious about their affiliations. Even in settings where management highly discourages outside sales of any kind, such Christians exist in metaphysical agony as they try their hardest to create and then exploit an opening to do just that.
Just as prey animals evolve to keep pace with the evolution of their predators, though, Christians’ prey evolves.
When one of these obvious Christians asks us questions like “Do you think people are inherently good or inherently bad?” in spaces where those discussions do not normally occur, like in the hallways of a high school or a work site’s smoke deck, we know exactly where they’re going with it. Now, we don’t normally know exactly what the attempt will look like, or exactly when we’ll see it. We just know the form it’ll take in a vague sense, and that it’s coming eventually.
Often we simply ignore their openings. Or we find numerous ways to shut them down. Or we ask for help from a manager or something, if the attempt occurs on company time. What we don’t do is welcome what amounts to friendship evangelism.
Social Capital and the Games We Play With It.
Just as predators evolve to overcome the defenses of prey animals, Christians keep trying to evolve their own tactics. Most of these tactics involve building up social capital and then blowing the wad on it.
I love the phrase social capital. It means that currency that we build up and spend with and for and from specific other people. People build social capital by hanging out together, doing favors for each other, giving each other gifts, etc. Then, they withdraw that capital by asking for favors, making requests for the other people’s time and attention, etc. Weddings are all about the social capital–capital carefully built up over many years gets blown with the planning and execution of this one event. And almost everything else is the same.
Now, the people involved in a relationship often assume that everyone else in that relationship is playing the same game. In the case of friendship, that game is building a relationship together that will go the distance. Members of a college club might consider the goal to be enjoying their mutual hobbies together. The wedding party members think they’re there to create a lifelong memory for their friends–who’ll then help them if and when their time comes to take the spotlight.
But sometimes someone in the group isn’t playing the same game with that social capital. They’re building it up because they want to use it to accomplish a whole other goal.
MLM hunbots’ ultimate goal is to recruit the other person to their pyramid scheme. Similarly, evangelism-minded Christians want to sell their religion to the other person.
Often that process involves steering people into unwanted Gospel Conversations. Those are very distinctly intentional, purposeful non-versations that evangelism-minded Christians start with people who’d literally rather be anywhere else, including hovering by a macramé cord over an erupting volcano’s mouth.
But other Christians gravitate to the unwanted church invitation. That’s where we are today.
Remember LifeWay Christian Resources? They’re the propaganda and publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC has been on a tear this past year or so about evangelism. Specifically, they want their members to do more of it. But as we saw last time we met up, evangelism requires a whole lot out of authoritarian followers that they simply are not equipped to do (and that’s if they even wanted to do it, which they very clearly don’t). So the denomination’s leaders have been growing increasingly pushy–and increasingly frantic–to get the flocks to consider trying anything to reverse the denomination’s ongoing decline.
Well, recently they released a whole new post about how to alienate and annoy non-members. And they totally want their members to try these ideas. They titled today’s cringefest “52 Ideas For Inviting Someone to Church This Year.” And it’s a doozy.
I divided suggestions up into categories, which I kept in a table. I kept track of which categories each suggestion fell into.
Intrusive Ideas: Ideas that involve pushing one’s religion onto others without clear and obvious interest expressed first. Most of the 52 invitation types were intrusive.
Unethical Ideas: These ideas require the Christian to push themselves upon someone who isn’t at full liberty to speak their mind about the matter. The Christians using these ideas count on the social contract or upon their own ability to retaliate to gain compliance–or at least extremely polite, guarded dissent.
Sneaky Ideas: These idea requires the Christians using them to pretend they’re really wanting something else entirely than to issue an invitation. They involve subterfuge and mindgames. The Christians using them aren’t playing the game they appear to be playing, and they know it.
Swag-Driven Ideas: The Christians using these ideas must purchase and/or display something physical to begin the subterfuge. (I included this category out of curiosity more than anything else.)
Workable Ideas: These were ideas that did not use the aforementioned four techniques. I was okay with these using swag in some cases.
Obviously, I discovered areas that seemed to overlap a little in some cases. Also, I broke some suggestions into two pieces because one piece was perfectly reasonable, while its other half led into non-consensual territory. In one memorable case (43), I broke a suggestion into two pieces because they were both that reprehensible. As a result of splitting, I ended up with 57 entries in my table. It came out to four pages long, so I parked the screenshots on the official forum site.
The Actual Workable Suggestions.
To my surprise, fully nine of these 52/57 suggestions actually sounded workable. They were not ruses, pretenses, or false games. The Christians taking these suggestions do not intrude on anybody or make demands of people who aren’t fully capable of refusing in whatever lawful way they wish.
These invitations sounded fine:
- (6) Draw chalk invitations on the sidewalks outside the church.
- (15) Put a welcome table full of church brochures and invitations in the church entranceway. If someone walks up to the entrance, have a church member on hand to welcome them.
- (18A) Print up church T-shirts with invitations and have members wear them.
- (34) Put up signs in freshman dorms, where allowed, advertising van rides to church services.
- (36A) Identify demographic groups of people Christians want to see more of. Make small groups catering to them.
- (39) Church members can put invitation signage on their front lawns.
- (41A) Recruit church-sponsored sportsball teams.
- (46A) Build snowmen on the church property holding invitation signage.
- (51) Members can put car window stickers on their cars specifically inviting people to the church and if someone asks about them, issue a specific invitation.
Not bad! That’s about 16% of the total suggestions that did not sound objectionable in any way. Genuinely, I’m impressed. I wouldn’t even have guessed I’d find a quarter as many as that.
And the Rest Of Them.
Most of the rest of the suggestions fell into most or all of the other negative categories.
Only one objectionable entry, #8, clearly avoided this sin: “Put a Christian book/Bible on your desk.” A Christian using this entry won’t issue an invitation unless someone asks about the book. All the other entries required a specific invitation, with interest assumed from the victims involved.
All of the objectionable entries fell into this category. The people the Christians annoyed are not noted as being on equal power dynamics. Often, they are specifically noted as being at a disadvantage there: children, neighbors, family members, those accepting charity, etc.
Four of the objectionable entries avoided sneakiness. I felt that anybody in those situations would reasonably guess that the goal of the interaction was to issue a church invitation. These were:
- (1) Hand out business cards containing church invitations.
- (24) Annoy parents enrolling kids in church programs.
- (29) Annoy people enrolling in church programs serving the local community as a whole.
- (33) Invite mothers of school-age kids to prayer meetings.
This wasn’t actually a negative category per se. I was just interested in seeing how many of the entries involved purchasing something to create an opportunity–however consensual–to invite someone to church. The purchase might be fairly small–like a car sticker (51) or thank-you notes (48)–or fairly large, like necessary materials to make a float for a parade (43A/B–though I only counted the swag requirement once there because B involved getting people to walk next to the float, which is free to do).
The tally ended up being 26 of the 57 entries in my database, or almost half of them.
Annoying While Pretending.
So much for “the Gospel does not need trickery.”
Easily one of the worst problems I saw with the list involved its constant suggestions to Christians to pretend to engage in social-capital building. While engaging in this pretense, the Christian would be looking for people to intrude upon with an invitation. Easily some 37-ish of its suggestions involved such pretenses.
For example, #11 involves the Christian going to garage sales. While at the garage sale, the Christian should shop or purchase something, and in the doing invite the seller to church. The real goal here is to issue the invitation, not to enjoy shopping at a garage sale. Other suggestions urge Christians to pretend to help old folks, or to assist people having trouble keeping up with their properties’ needs, or to be interested in neighborhood get-togethers–while lurking around to issue invitations.
Once they issue that invitation, their ruse ends then and there. The victims involved figure out immediately that the Christian in question just wanted “a notch on their Bible cover,” as the saying went even when I was Pentecostal. And they will never trust that Christian again to care about them or their lives–and maybe no other Christians in the future.
What a Great Way to Tell Us Exactly Who They Are!
I mean, what can I say? I’m sad for the many lonely people who will be taken in by these preening, deceptive Christians. (Teenybopper Cas was one of them–but never again.) To be sure, I’m also angry on behalf of the many service workers and others who will be put on the spot by these awful people.
All that said, when it comes down to it we’ve got a group of people who think that The Big Problem Here is that they’re just not issuing enough church invitations.
Man alive! I love it when Christians put on displays like this to tell the whole world that they are a terrible group whose members behave in unethical, sneaky, and intrusive ways. I wonder if I should clue them in to something important:
This list consists of just some of the terrible things they’re willing to do simply to issue invitations to visit their churches. That’s a time when we’d reasonably expect them to be on their very best, chirpiest happy-happy-joy-joy behavior. What, then, might we suppose they’re like around actual members of their tribe?
Do they seriously think we don’t know that these patterns will only worsen once they talk someone into joining up?
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a list that reveals way more about Christians–and about why their religion is declining–than they should really want people to know.
NEXT UP: We review evangelism apps! It’s gonna be such a blast. See you tomorrow!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.