The Attack of the Evangelism Apps!

The Attack of the Evangelism Apps! January 15, 2019

Today, I’ve got a special treat for y’all! I downloaded a whole bunch of evangelism apps last week and ran through them. I’ll show you what they are, how they work, and how likely they are to accomplish literally anything of use to the Christians who create and use them. Join me for a grand tour of evangelism apps!

(Benjamin Elliott.)

(Voiceover Spoiler: “The apps turned out to be not very good at all, but for an interesting reason.”)

Commission. (HAW HAW GET IT?)

The most recent of the beasties looks like Commission. Lancaster Baptist Church of Lancaster, California produced this app. They appear to have input their URL incorrectly on the App Store (a situation which will never be not-funny to me). Thus, I had to hunt a little for their site! The church created the app, they say on their site, to help Christians “easily explain and share the gospel to others.”

Is that really a big need though?

I’m not so sure it is.

Cuz back in 2013, the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church released this video about why Christians just don’t wanna evangelize.

His imagined reasons are, in proper listicle form:

  1. Pride: wanting to be liked by everyone, fearing censure by others.
  2. Progressiveness: evil libruls talking about lovey-dovey stuff and making his brand of condemnation look bad.
  3. Priorities: the flocks like their hobbies too much.
  4. Programs: churches try too hard to entertain, and Christians like entertainment too much.
  5. Pastors: they just don’t evangelize enough.

None of his list items involves his flock’s huge difficulty in explaining Christianity. In fact, the listicle involves all the usual blame-and-deflect stuff we see all the time.

Commission: A Walkthrough.

I found Commission on the Android App Store (I hear it’s got an iOS version too). It’s a simple little app.

Splash screen, Commission. Click to embiggen.

“Honey, lean over, look at this,” I called to Mr. Captain. He kindly set his Big Stompy Robots game aside for a bit. I showed him the above screen.

“What am I looking at?”

“It’s an evangelism app, honey! You pretend to be the evil atheist and I’ll be the Christian! And I’ll use this to evangelize you!”

He looked pained. “How long will this take?”

“Not long.”

“What is this now?”

“The introduction screen. You want this in Tagalog? They’ve got it.”

Notice that people can contribute a translation..?

“I don’t speak Tagalog. So I just sit here and watch you tap buttons?”

“I think I’m supposed to read stuff to you too.”

This news did not improve his outlook.

“What are ‘My Prospects’?”

And Our First Concern.

The app allows users to input a database of prospects. As you can see, some of the information gathered can be quite personal. At no point does the app provide informed consent about how this information will be stored or who will be able to access it. Also, the app never once advises the information-gatherer to gain the consent of the people whose details end up in the database.

Click to etc. etc.

The app provides no way to link the user to the data in any way–nothing on Google Play, no social media linkup. Thus, I don’t think it stores anywhere but locally. Even then, however, we’ve got privacy concerns. Can the church scoop up any data behind the scenes? We don’t know. Does the app suggest users take great caution in gathering this information and then guarding it, in case the device storing it gets stolen? Of course not.

Plus, notice that “spouse” field that my name doesn’t capitalize? Whoever programmed this thing didn’t make text fields auto-capitalize. For some reason that bugged me.

Mr. Captain was growing restive, so I moved on.

Playing Ridiculous Games for No Prizes at All.

I returned to the intro screen. Three options presented themselves: “Salvation Explained,” “Salvation Illustrated,” and “Baptism Explained.”

I figured that if someone wasn’t already interested in joining up, they wouldn’t care about baptism. So that left me with the top two options about “Salvation.”

“Now I tap through these explanations and read them, I guess,” I said.

“Mm-hmm,” he replied, clearly enthralled. So much for the Gospel magically enthralling the “lost!” Maybe the Christian god had hardened his heart. WELL, we’d see what happened when he heard some real live Bible verses!

I opened up “Salvation Illustrated.”

It’s a series of four two-part slides. The slides explain that if someone doesn’t acceptJesusastheirpersonallordandsaviorthankyou, then they will fall into a ravine while hiking in the mountains.

Salvation Illustrated, 1a.

I read out the label in Slide 1a (above). Mr. Captain considered this notion for a moment.

Finally, he said, “Prove it.”

PROOF YES PROOF.

I tapped the white box, whereupon a Bible verse appeared. Dutifully, I recited it in the chirpiest voice I could muster.

Salvation Illustrated, 1b.

Mr. Captain failed to be impressed by the magic spell–or by the next three magic spells. “None of that follows,” he said at one point.

The digital tract ended quickly enough, with a giant cross hovering in the ravine.

Salvation Illustrated, 4b.

I suppose the hiker swung across the ravine from the arms of the cross, like in the old Atari game Pitfall. But this feat also failed to impress Mr. Captain.

When I clicked back to try the other “Salvation” routine, the app glitched.

Commission, glitch-er-riffic! It also totally lost its Prospects database. Rebooting fixed it, unfortunately.

Mr. Captain frowned. “Is it supposed to do that?”

I doubted it.

Clearly, we’d experienced a portent.

Evangelism, Explained.

This next part of Commission works very similarly to the first. Curiously, however, it goes a whole different route. Instead of stressing ravines and hikers, it starts by proudly informing us that the Bible uses circular logic.

Salvation Explained #1.

“The Bible says its god promises that his followers will go to Heaven! And we know that’s true because the Bible said it!”

“I’m going back to Stompy Robots,” said Mr. Captain very suddenly. Amid my thanks for enduring as far as he did, he turned back around to his own desk. TYFYS, Mr. Captain.

A pity, too. He totally missed out on the following six slides that brightly explained that the Christian god super-duper-wants to avoid setting people’s ghosts on fire forever after they die, but he’s just not capable of coming up with a cosmology that would allow him to do that. He now offers humans the opportunity to avoid this eternal fate. This opportunity is called a “free gift,” though it is neither free nor really a gift.

“Free gift.” Sure.

At the end of the slideshow, a button labeled “Accept” appears at the bottom of the explanation of the totally for sure a free gift that totally for sure exists and is real as is the fate it’s supposedly saving people from.

And Some Baptism Stuff for the Heathens.

A very similar slideshow exists regarding baptism, incidentally. It simply recites basic evangelical doctrines on the topic.

Baptism Explained, #5.

It goes on like this for a total of 8 slides. At the bottom of that one, we escape through a button labeled “Finished.”

A Totally One-Sided App.

Now, the reason I wanted Mr. Captain to look at this app was simple. I grew up Christian for the entire first half of my life. My parents and later church leaders immersed me in Christianity. So I was long familiar with evangelism routines. However, Mr. Captain has never really been Christian (past earliest childhood). He doesn’t know the routines evangelists like to use, except for the ones tried out on him. So he’s got a perspective I simply lack.

I wondered what someone like that would make of this app. Would it seem more persuasive than face-to-face regular evangelism? Would the Christian product seem more credible if presented on a digital screen?

As it turns out, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “NO.”

Even using it to present a sales pitch proved impossible for me. I wondered briefly if this is how Ayn Rand fanatics sell shares in utopia communities to rubes who want to “go Galt.” Without evidence to back Christianity up, all the app can do to sell its product is to repeat the tired old threats and unsubstantiated claims that most Christians already offer up.

The app glitched on me one last time as I exited it for good.

Share Your Faith: The App.

I also looked at Share Your Faith. This app does not appear to be associated with any churches. Lee Strobel gave it his seal of approval:

If your friends are open to God, ‘How to Share Your Faith’ will give you the confidence you need to lead them to Christ. Kent has done a great job at making it simple, clear and easy to learn. I highly recommend it.

Aww, how sweet. Why, I almost forgot that Lee Strobel also thinks it’s super-Jesus-y to eat at restaurants serving food he dislikes just so he can eventually snake a sales pitch in front of the staff!

The app at least includes a tour explaining how to use its slideshow. Each page includes a diagram or picture/pictograph, along with buttons to summon up Bible verses to support the image and to explain further if needed. At the end, it asks if the prospect has bought in or not.

2 slides from Share Your Faith.

Overall, Share Your Faith operates on a whole level above Commission. The presentation is way slicker, with animations and way more drilling-down on doctrines.

That said, it suffers from the same problems that the other app has: circular reasoning, a lack of evidence, and a weird emphasis on stuff that non-Christians won’t care about. If someone doesn’t already buy into the Bible as an authoritative document, then this app has got nothing except basic fearmongering to recommend itself.

(I suppose that we could say much the same thing about almost all flavors of Christianity, though.)

KENT HOVIND. YES.

When I saw Kent Hovind’s name show up in my search for “evangelism apps,” my eyes lit up like a kid’s at Christmas.

ZOMFG! That thing with “CreateAnAppForFree.com” under the app title appears to be a Swedish company offering an app builder.

I loaded up the app feeling so hopeful. What would Kent Hovind, the writer of the hands-down worst doctoral dissertation I have ever seen in my entire life, do with an evangelism app?

What indeed?

As the app loaded, it presented me with a big, full-screen photograph of Kent Hovind’s smarmy face. (Huh, so much for conceit being sinful.) After an uncomfortably long time of him staring at me, the app wanted my location–why? I refused. Then it loaded up Kent Hovind’s various YouTube videos. Here are the two screens, side by side:

NO. ONE. NEEDS TO. SEE THAT. KENT. YOU GALACTIC DILLWEED.

And that constitutes the bulk of the Kent Hovind evangelism app, y’all.

Mostly, it’s just a feed of his YouTube videos (and yes, that’s Aron Ra in there!). A pulldown menu lists a “Creation Seminar,” which is a YouTube feed of a certain set of those videos, as well as something called “Child by CSE,” which leads to “Storytelling with Grandpa Hovind” and the enthusiastic-sounding “Scientific Way to Do Things!” Both of these sections lead in turn to blank screens. A “Kent Hovind” section leads to all kinds of FAQs about the Endtimes hucksterism he favors and offers more Creationism tosh. And he thoughtfully includes a link to his Facebook page.

Absolutely nothing on this app relates to evangelism or helps recalcitrant Christian salespeople with their recruitment requirement.

Lots of Others.

Scads of other evangelism apps exist on the market. They all work similarly to the three I’ve outlined. Either they simply fling tons of doctrines and Bible verses at the screen, or they seek to mobilize and organize believers somehow.

Reach My City does all of those, plus gathers information about prospects via an innocuous “Prayer Request” section. Like Commission, it does not advise how this information will be used or stored, or who will have access to it. (I asked them some questions about how they use this information, but to be fair, I didn’t give them a lot of time to respond. If they do, I’ll update.) The app appears to operate on a principle formulated years ago by P.J. O’Rourke: if you keep people busy and excited, they’re liable to think they’re having fun.

Evangelism by Multiplication offers up an 18-slide show with Bible verses and sales pitches. Its creators assume on slide 14 that the prospect has bought in. The rest of the slides congratulate the new “baby Christian.”

Evangelism Bible Quotes simply lists Bible verses by category. They thoughtfully include all the culture-war topics.

Evangelism Explosion International appears to be some kind of internal ministry app. It offers up a section called “The Gospel,” but since that’s an audio sermon of some kind I noped out of it.

And Then One Last (and Dishonest) One.

I’ve got no idea who thought The God Test was a great idea. It appears to be closely affiliated with that awful God’s Not Dead movie franchise. It uses the same fonts and of course the phrase itself. Inside, we find something called “Train Me” and then “Start Test.” The training consists of videos indoctrinating users into an evangelism method called “S.A.L.T.” (They act like it’s some amazing, groundbreaking new thing. It’s not. It’s just Christians trying to “start conversations” to horn in a sales pitch when they can manage it.)

And this “God Test” thing is simply a cattle-chute quiz of evangelism questions. None of them actually accomplish what the testers want. We’ll come back to it, since it’s such a perfect example of authoritarians trying not to look so authoritarian. But for now, I’ll just say I had a good time with it. (It turns out the questions allowed for essay answers.)

This app also offers up PROOF YES PROOF of Christianity’s claims, which turns out to be a link to yet another app by the same outfit called God’s Not DeadThere, app users can cruise around the PROOF YES PROOF offered up by the books and movies of the franchise. The app creators clearly hope that nobody will remember that the franchise did not actually ever offer up anything approaching credible support for any Christian claims, much less for evangelical claims.

Yeah. We are coming back to that one sometime.

The End of the Line.

All of these apps come to us from evangelical groups. And those are some very authoritarian people.

Authoritarians love established routines. They freeze when they must come up with new ideas.

But authoritarian Christians also know that they’re steadily losing members. As outsized as their political influence still is in so many places, culturally they grow more and more irrelevant–and more and more distrusted, and more and more disliked. People are beginning to reject the whole worldview that feeds into authoritarian Christian groups.

In response to these mounting losses, authoritarian groups have only one strategy: drill down harder on the stuff they’ve always done. They can’t question their message. And they think a god signed off on their methods. Literally all that remains is doing the same stuff they’ve always done, just more of it and harder. So they’re cloaking the same old dysfunctional system in shiny new 1s and 0s and buzzwords, and then they’re running around in circles congratulating each other for TOTALLY evangelizing the new generation, all while their churches continue to empty.

Wow, gang.

This is gonna work out just fine.

Yep.

There’s no way whatsoever that this strategy could possibly go wrong in a world where they can’t control our responses or coerce our compliance–and where someone, somewhere will always remember the terrible things they say and do in their quest for dominance.

NEXT UP: Out of every single thing authoritarian Christians love, they LOVE gatekeeping labels. We’re diving into that tendency next time–and maybe we’ll figure out why they do it even though it drastically backfires so often. See you soon! <3 <3 <3


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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