For some reason, Christians have been out in force this past week. I normally get one or two door hangers or postcards inviting me to local churches maybe once every couple of weeks. This week, however, I got three of these invitations. I want to show them to you, and then examine the advertising methods on display. Today, Lord Snow Presides over yet more sucky Christian church marketing.
(See the endnotes if you’re curious about my tangential connection to the San Juan Capistrano Mission.)
Ineffective, Right Out of the Gate.
Most evangelism methods (if not all) suffer from woeful returns on their resource investments.
That said, mass handouts probably constitute the very least effective imaginable method of evangelizing. Even tract evangelism, which involves Christians handing out religious pamphlets to passersby, involves some person-to-person contact–if even for a moment. But leaving a card or hanger on (or jammed into) someone’s door omits even that brief flutter of human connection.
Maybe it’s just me, but mass-handout invitations feel so sinister and weird. Mass-market mailings likely represent equally poor returns, but at least when I get one in the mail I don’t end up creeped out like I do with door hangers and cards. I start thinking Wow, some total strangers stood at my door today and left me a note threatening me with Hell if I don’t fall into line with their Pretendy Fun Time Game.
But if you try to tell Christians that any style of evangelism is ineffective, they instantly go from zero to 60,000. I’ve personally witnessed their reaction to such attempts. Especially if the Christians involved like that style, and even more so if they’re involved in a “ministry” making and selling the swag needed for that style, they defend it to the death. Even if they’ve never made a single sale with that method, they think they’re planting seeds that will one day bear fruit in the form of a miraculous conversion. Or their Aunt Brenda knows someone in her church who totally converted after someone used that method on them. Ugh.
When Thom Rainer himself disses door-hanger evangelism, you know it ain’t good.
Rules Are For OTHER People.
I live in an area that forbids door-to-door selling. Those rules are posted clearly near every entrance to my home.
However, when door-to-door salespeople get desperate, rules go right out the window. And no salespeople are quite as desperate as Christians, nowadays. When I mention those rules to them, they tend to react all wide-eyed. “Oh, but we’re not selling anything!” they cry out, as innocently as sleepy kittens.
I don’t think they realize what they’re telling me when they act like that. They think they’re impressing someone (if only themselves) with their pure intentions or eagerness to share the good news or whatever.
Instead, they’re telling me that when they don’t like a rule, they simply ignore it and then expect everybody else to look the other way so they can stomp wherever they want. What other rules will they ignore whenever it suits them? So yes: in a very real sense, these Jesus salespeople subtly inform every single person they meet that they are not safe people to be around.
When they combine that lack of regard for rules with marketing campaigns that involve threats, things get even worse–for them.
Invitation #1: Hey, Everyone! We Exist!
This invitation was the most recent as well as the most innocuous. I found this exact design on VistaPrint.com (ID#2028902), which means these guys probably paid $16.49 for 50 of them if they caught the sale. Even at that price, these were spendy! Another site charged like $15 for 150 hangers. I looked up their address and it’s a tiny storefront church in a large business center, so they probably can’t easily afford to spend this kind of money in the first place.
The Positive. For a door hanger, this one’s inoffensive. The colors caught my eye (I like these shades of green and blue, come@me). Its printing reads easily enough and the font doesn’t irk me right out of hand. It provides relevant names and other information, and even offers a phone number to call if a prospective visitor needs a ride to the church. A map would have been nice, but often printers charge extra for graphics so maybe that was out of budget.
The Negative. I know nothing whatsoever about this church. Their tagline could indicate literally any doctrinal leaning. The second half of it, “Connecting People to Jesus Christ,” appears to come straight from Cru (such as here, under “What is Cru?”), which makes me think this is an evangelical church. But who knows?
The Verdict. I honestly can’t envision who would respond to this hanger. Maybe someone needing a ride who’ll trust strangers to come get them. If so, that’d be someone who is either very young or cash-poor (this city is pretty car-dependent). Thus, even if this church bags a new recruit from this card, it won’t be someone who’ll add much to their bottom line. But at least the church sounds friendly. If they included childcare info on the card, they might get a few bites from disengaged Christians.
Invitation #2: The Threats Begin Flowing.
Our second invitation takes the form of a postcard. And what a postcard! The front is a four-way full-color photographic bleed, laminated, with graphic text. Back when I worked for a chain of printers, that represented some cash money for us. The back isn’t laminated and is just white print on a gray background.
The Positive. Again, I can tell what the name of the church is. The postcard also tells me who the pastor is and some other relevant info including the church’s website. There, we discover that this is a basic fundagelical church, but we probably guessed that already from the curved tagline. (Fun fact: They spelled “Satan” as “Satin” on their doctrinal-beliefs webpage.)
(Mr. Captain: “They don’t need to worry. Nobody actually reads those things.” Me: “Wait, but I just did.”)
The Negative. The card contains nothing whatsoever about what kind of church this is, aside from it having “Baptist” in its name. That word indicates a high probability of this being a fundagelical culture-warrior church, but even they vary quite a bit. That said, I looked up their address. They share space with a much-larger fundagelical church. So yeah, these folks probably go in for all the usual Southern Baptist folderol.
When we read the back, that high probability becomes a near-certainty. There, we discover a long-winded threat of Hell and a tutorial on how to repent and become Christian. Seriously, it’s a scream.
Blah blah blah! It’s really hard to believe Christians think this is what they need to have on their invitation cards, like yeah, that’ll really make people want to check them out. Heck, belief in Hell is very slowly dropping among Americans these days. If someone doesn’t even believe in Hell, then threats of Hell won’t get Christians very far.
The Verdict. Hard fail. Even someone who might be attracted to visiting a new church would see the weird threats and whatnot on the back and hopefully realize that a church that spends its one opportunity to impress its audience to make threats is not a good church to visit or join. The only people they’re likely to draw with this are people who already believe in Hell and fear it, and they won’t need to be taught how to recite the Sinner’s Prayer. (If you don’t know what that is, see the endnotes below.)
Invitation #3: SERIOUS BIZNISS.
WOW, our third invitation. It’s also a postcard–and it’s even more costly than the second one was. Laminated photographic four-way full-color bleed on the front. The back is the same, just without lamination. The church name is very, very fighty-sounding. These guys mean business. They do the real live SPEERCHUL WARFARE, YAWL.These guys operate an honest-to-goodness Independent Fundamental Baptist Church–the full meal deal, King James only and everything–out of the pastor’s home, according to the address on the card. It’s a tight porkchop-shaped suburban street too, cheek to jowl with little houses. I bet every one of his neighbors haaaaaaaaaaaaates him. Other than that, the card provides a phone number and email address on the front, along with a completely unnecessary photo of the pastor and his family. He doesn’t appear to have a church website.
On the card’s back, we find a better-laid-out threat of Hell and another sinner’s prayer. They don’t list a church website, but they do have their own YouTube channel. The card does not list the URL for it but it’s not hard to find by the church’s very self-important name. After viewing part of one sermon, I find myself wondering if the city zoning board knows this pastor holds thrice-weekly church gatherings in what appears to be his garage.
The back of the card also provides a full link to a particular YouTube video that elaborates on the threat of Hell. The church on the card didn’t make the video; it’s from a whole other church. And I wonder if that other church knows that this one used their video’s link on their card.
I’m dying laughing here. Go to the endnotes if you want to learn why. I won’t spoil this one for you. Just go. You (probably) won’t regret it and I promise I’ll bring you right back here afterward.
The Positive. Well, I can say with absolute certainty that anyone receiving this fighty church’s card will instantly become 100% aware of what this church believes, practices, and thinks about pretty much everything. That’s something, right?
The Negative. Anybody who doesn’t immediately knee-jerk grimace and shudder at what this church believes, practices, and thinks probably already belongs to a church just like this one.
The Verdict. The hilarious part here is that my part of town reliably votes Democratic. In fact, according to surveys I’ve seen, the population here consists almost entirely of liberal Christians and non-Christians. I reckon this church’s very aggressive, in-your-face culture-warrior bravado will get them even fewer bites than the second invitation will.
Christian Marketing Still Sucks.
Christians: OMG Buy our product! If you don’t ACT NOW, our imaginary friend will torture you forever!
Christian Marketing: Reader’s Digest Version
It amazes me, though it shouldn’t, to see just how bad Christians are at marketing their groups. Granted, I’m a heathen so wouldn’t be likely to see these invitations and be moved to visit anyway, but I used to be. It’s impossible to see such efforts as providing any kind of return on the money and time spent to create, purchase, and distribute them.
The two cards containing the threats of Hell were the worst, though. They don’t even pretend to be all about the lovey-dovey Jesus stuff, that boring charity and compassion and forgiveness side of the religion that Jesus told Christians to do and show. Nope, they plunge right into their biggest gun: threats of eternal torture at the decree of this god.
A group focusing this tightly on punishment–and escaping that punishment–is not going to be a good group to join under the very best of circumstances. That focus represents the surest mark of hardcore authoritarianism that a Christian leader can possibly display short of showing up at the pulpit come Sunday morning dressed up in Frollo cosplay.
Maybe that focus is a little part of why not one reputable survey house gives Christians a single chance in, well, Hell of reversing their decline.
NEXT UP: Tomorrow, we examine why Christians don’t often engage in personal evangelism. Then we ask a very important question about one of the biggest broken promises Christians make–and find out how they deal with that signal failure of their religion. Oh, and look for a Super Special on Saturday–bet you can guess the theme! See you tomorrow!
Regarding that header photograph: When I was about 10 years old, I thought the San Juan Capistrano Mission was gorgeous. I even tried to make a copy of it in modeling clay and cardboard tiles for a school diorama project. That worked about as well as one might expect. Eventually, Mom talked me into a standard construction-paper-and-shoebox affair. Some thirty years later now, I saw this photo–and recoiled. The scent of the oily reddish-brown clay and feeling of sheer frustration filled me all at once. Still, it’s not the building’s fault I bit off so much more than I could chew for my project (or that the clay permanently dyed my mom’s kitchen floor).
The Sinner’s Prayer is Christianese for the canned prayer uttered by people who want to join Christianity. Lots of Christians walk new recruits through saying it; others reject it and think it makes baby Jesus cry. I don’t know, it just seemed so anticlimactic at the end of Chick tracts for the repenting characters to recite it. They always acted so overjoyed afterward, but it just isn’t very photogenic to depict in art, I suppose. (Back to the post!)
So, that Sinner’s Prayer video: Apparently someone thought this video would be hilarious to spam a busy Call of Duty multiplayer server with. All these CoD players have since descended on its comments to inform the uploader that religious spam is unwelcome in their chat. I. Can’t. EVEN. Could there possibly even BE a less welcoming audience? I mean maybe a pagan orgy, but still. Wow. Just wow.
If sincere, the move backfired dramatically. But I award plot-twist bonus points to the stunt if the spammer wasn’t actually Christian at all and this uploader really has no idea why all these enraged gamers keep showing up on his straightforward Sinner’s Prayer sermon to chew him out. (Back to the post!)
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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.