The New Narrative Lie of Evangelism Success (Amid the Pandemic)

The New Narrative Lie of Evangelism Success (Amid the Pandemic) April 7, 2020

Christian evangelists and dishonesty: it’s one of the strongest pairings ever. They’ll say anything to score a Jesus sale! But we can tell a lot about their success by checking out what they don’t say in their own glowing self-reports. There’s a narrative taking form in Fundagelical-Land about evangelism amid the pandemic, and it is as false as anything else found in their folklore. Today, let me show you an example of what I mean.

looking out from a cave into a gorgeous city
(Luca Micheli.) Matera, Italy.

(Previous pandemic posts: Scoring More Jesus Sales; Atrocity Apologetics Meets a Pandemic; Why Rodney Howard-Browne Defied Isolation Orders; The New Essential Snake Oils; Kenneth Copeland’s Newest Grift; Jim Bakker’s Newest Grift; The 1973 Toilet Paper Panic of Honolulu; Christian Scammers Have Discovered Coronavirus.)

(Previous posts about narratives: The False Narrative of Martyrdom in ‘I’m Not Ashamed’; Kim Davis’ False Narrative; The Love Narrative in ‘The Last Unicorn’; ‘I Love You,’ Buttercup Said; ‘I Know,” He Said, She Said; The Kodak Marriage.)

Old Tactics, New Venues.

Classic confrontation-style evangelism is woefully ineffective. It has been for years. But popular wisdom in the Christian tribe holds and has always held that this kind of evangelism is of tantamount importance. The salespeople selling strategies for it provide glowing reviews of their product. And the flocks believe everything their salespeople say.

After all: why oh why would a fellow Christian ever lie about anything as important as growing the kingdom?

Christians consume materials from these hucksters, who promise to teach them how to successfully land a sale. They memorize these purchased instructions and immediately trot right out to test them. At that point, they crash and burn. Even when Christianity dominated America, when I was Christian myself I knew vanishingly few people who’d made a single sale. I doubt I ever did, despite trying very hard!

In an age of religious decline, however, I don’t see evangelism tactics improving, nor their statistics. They’re actually staying exactly the same in the former and declining in the latter. The only real changes I’ve seen in evangelism involve evangelists porting their unsuccessful tactics to digital venues instead of confronting their marks face to face.

So when you see Christians insisting that there’s some massive revival going on thanks to the pandemic, look carefully at what’s really being said — and what is not being said.

Reading Between the Lines.

A March 25 post at Christian Post (CP) illustrates exactly how ineffective evangelism tactics are these days. There, we learn that Global Media Outreach (GMO), a “digital ministry that specializes in online evangelism,” reports “unprecedented” rise in both conversions and “inquiries about faith, God and the Bible.” They associate this rise with “heightened anxiety and fear levels associated with the coronavirus.”

Interestingly, Christian Post’s writer, Leah MarieAnn Klett, obtained every bit of her information about this organization from its own officers. I see not one single source noted in her post that didn’t come directly from GMO.

Because I’m a curious little cat, I checked out GMO’s site on archive.today, which contains a 2014 snapshot of the org’s main page. I looked GMO up on Google, which brought me to this page, where we find no maps or stats, just a request for money. Noticing that this second page’s URL contains referral code, I typed in the domain name without all that froufrou and got this page. They also boast a daily-stats page that contains a map and stats remarkably similar to those on the 2014 capture.

Of course, all of the pages feature prominent appeals for donations.

I’m really not sure why their Google referral page looks so different from their “real” shopfront. And none of their pages ever explains much about how this “ministry” obtains its stats or what they mean.

Assertions Without Evidence.

Christian Post’s piece on GMO contains a number of assertions made without evidence of any kind. The “ministry” provided some stats for the writer, claiming among other things to have “reached close to 2 billion people worldwide.”

Really.

They’re very likely counting hits to their entire domain’s pages as individuals “reached,” but hits could come from bots and crawlers, repeat visitors, and even their own staffers/volunteers. But okay, fine, let’s assume they’re right and they’re really truly “reached” about a quarter of the world’s entire population (which is estimated as 7.5 Bn).

And yet I’ve never once heard of this “ministry.”

I’ve never once heard a Christian refer to them in a testimony, nor ever heard any Christian leader talk about them or suggest people visit them or credit them with any successes.

Then GMO’s people provided the CP writer with this very odd statistic:

[They’ve] seen more than 223 million respond positively to a message of faith and hope in Jesus. Of these, an average of 60,000 will indicate they have received Jesus and approximately 10,000 will ask for more information.

That’s weird.

A Quick Burst of Arithmetic.

Math ain’t my strong suit, despite the 8th-grade Math Team trophy displayed ironically in my living room. Still, I couldn’t help but drag out my calculator upon seeing that paragraph.

So:

  • 2Bn hits. Of those:
  • 223M “respond positively.”
  • 60k actually convert.

About 11% of their total hits turn into potential customers.

About 0.003% of their 2Bn “hits” become converts.

If we go by the 223M number, things don’t improve much for GMO. Some 0.027% of “hits” turn into converts if we use that number.

Note: I’m ignoring the 10k of “positive response” people who escaped the salespeople after feigning interest in “more information.” GMO doesn’t track them and seems to have no clue what becomes of them after their escape. These are customers who didn’t complete a sale, for whatever reason. Thus, that 10k might as well not be separated from the 223M at all.

But these numbers might be inaccurate due to quoting errors in the CP post.

Maybe a Typo?

I noticed an oddity in verb tenses in that quote.

What is this “60,000 will indicate” and “10,000 will ask for more information?” Has it not happened yet? Is GMO talking about an annual figure, a daily figure, or their grand total? Have these guys only actually converted 60k people out of TWO BILLION who’ve reached them?

So I think the CP piece might contain an error.

GMO might mean they think they convert 60k people every day. That sounds a lot closer to their website’s claims of what they swear is “real time so far TODAY.” As I type this, they’re claiming 365k “gospel visits” today, and some 55k people out of that number who “indicated decisions.”

That makes their success look remarkably different. That 365k/55k stat lands them a solid 15% success rate in evangelism.

And I gotta say: boolsheet.

No Way, No How.

If that’s so, they’re claiming to convert roughly 22M people every year. And sorry, but that’s absolutely impossible. This one “ministry” is not converting that many people. Christianity in general is only keeping up with global population booms thanks to people in impoverished, desperate countries having lots of babies and then indoctrinating them. They’re losing members everywhere else.

Tellingly, nobody at GMO explains how many of those 60k converts go on to become true-blue, dedicated, tithes-paying Christians of some local church. I’m guessing the answer is not bloody many, or GMO wouldn’t shut up about their retention rate.

Retention’s been an issue for Christians since the very beginning of their religion. Without coercion to bolster retention, converts tend to depart as quickly as they arrive.

GMO’s real success rate probably runs closer to 0.003%. 15% is an absolutely insane success rate. It’d be beyond unprecedented for any evangelism venture these days. Think about your average soulwinner and imagine them converting literally 15 of every 100 people they prey upon. Or imagine some in-person ministry knocking on doors or handing out tracts. No goddamned way are real-life evangelists managing 15% conversions with the most effective face-to-face grind-em-down tactics fundagelicals have ever devised.

That’s why RL evangelism groups have to play fidgy-widgy games with statistics by redefining exactly what “success” looks like, like 9Marks does here, or punting to the Jesus roofies of “planting seeds.”

If RL evangelists can’t manage 15% in real life, some online site ain’t managing 15% with remote tactics ending in referrals. No way, no how.

Gliding Past the Truth.

Another way that this story seems dishonest regards that 2 Billion Served figure.

Does GMO keep track of unique visits? Or visits by people who are already Christian? Or are they just counting basic hits to their website? Because 1/4 of the planet’s an awful lot for them to be such a little-known group.

The president of this outfit thinks that COVID-19 is causing the huge uptick in visits to his site from non-believers. But are we sure of that? It sounds like sheerest nonsense to me. I’m not seeing a huge number of people converting to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ during this pandemic. Mostly people seem very over fundagelical antics and horrified by their naked opportunism and their negligence regarding safety measures.

Further, a lot of Christians can’t go to church right now. Not that many actually went much before, but now they can’t in many areas. That means they’ll probably be venturing online to get their Jesus fixes. That means this guy’s uptick may well just be church-craving Christians.

Sidebar: Oooh, They’re SO RADICAL, Y’all!

By the way, GMO’s director seems very proud of how his “ministry” “got kicked out of China once” when the government “found out what [they] were doing.” I wonder if the Chinese government will notice the next bit:

“We were able to get back to China because one of our partners has a business license and can actually legitimately work there. When we tried to share the Good News of Jesus through our typical channels, we were blocked. But because we’re working with a partner there, we’re actually able to share Jesus directly using the internet. We’re reaching thousands of people a day right now.”

OOF, maximum load.

Did this guy just chortle about his “ministry” operating illegally in an authoritarian dystopia of a country?

I think he sure just did. I bet this back door he found isn’t “legitimate” at all. It sounds like he’s doing something hugely illegal in China. I’m sure his tribe approves 100%.

All the same, you can bet that when the government there catches on to his illegal activities, to his deliberate breaking of their laws, he’s going to wail night and day about MUH PERSECUTION! MUH JESUS POINTS! GIMME MUH GOLDEN MARTYR CROWN!

Hey, rules only apply when Christians are the ones issuing them. Anybody else’s rules don’t apply to TRUE CHRISTIANS™. See, there are invisible buses everywhere that they must knock people down to avoid. Freedom for me, but not ever for thee.

(We’ll be talking later about Muh Chinese Revival. It’s becoming a big part of the fundagelical wild-success narrative forming around COVID-19. For now, just put this idea in your hat.)

End Results.

At the end of the day, what are we left with when examining this decidedly one-sided puff piece from CP?

A “ministry” gave a writer at CP some obviously self-glorifying information meant to drum up more donations. She either couldn’t ask questions about what they provided — or didn’t notice anything amiss.

There’s no way whatsoever to verify the information they provided, both because no evidence came along with it and because it’s such vague and misleading information to begin with. We get numbers without corroboration and an obviously-biased testimony lacking concrete details.

What we do know is that the best-case scenario of GMO’s numbers range from abysmally bad to blatantly impossible. In terms of effectiveness, this “ministry” sounds like the most ineffective use imaginable of Christians’ dwindling resources.

The one testimony they provide sounds like someone who converted to gain material aid from the missionaries — a “rice Christian.” He got that help, after which his pin vanishes from GMO’s mental map.

The Narrative Push.

I’m getting a distinct feel of developing narrative here in how fundagelicals engage with the pandemic.

From the get-go, Christian leaders have taken as read that the pandemic is already leading to massive conversions everywhere. And now, this “ministry” pops up just in time to give glowing accounts of their wild success. We’ll see others in coming days who do much the same thing.

Every leader seems to want a little bit of that big, juicy Coronavirus-profiteering pie.

But the narrative goes further than that.

It feels like Christian leaders also want their followers to feel freer to evangelize their social networks and loved ones. A few years ago, I called Ed Stetzer out for that. We’ve seen a few others go the same route. They claim that we heathens are just aching to hear “the good news” — and ready to leap with both feet into any valid baptismal tub.

And yet Christianity still keeps bleeding members, almost all over the world. So far, I haven’t seen a single bit of evidence supporting this weird pandemic narrative fundagelicals are calling into existence. In fact, Friendly Atheist has already provided evidence contradicting this narrative.

More Contradictions to the Newest Christian Narrative.

GMO insists they’re doing business like gangbusters in that CP piece:

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the demand for spiritual encouragement and guidance is higher than ever. In recent weeks, GMO has gone from reaching 350,000 people per day to upwards of 500,000 globally.

Really.

Well, here’s GMO’s Alexa ranking:

alexa ranking: #1,157,726.
From Alexa. Patheos, by the way, ranks 9303. Also note that nothing much has changed for GMO in 90 days.

Notice that nothing’s changed for GMO in the last 90 days? And notice how awful that ranking is? Patheos is 9303 as of today, and most of the site isn’t anything close to an evangelism push for fundagelicals. (The nonreligious/non-Christian side of the site does incredibly well.)

Looking at Alexa’s listing of GMO’s top keywords, as well as their traffic overlap, it’s clear to me that the people coming to GMO are already fans of the site — or employees/volunteers there. They’re not regular consumers of heathen materials.

Until they pony up support for their claims of increased visitor counts and conversions, I’m going to call bullshit on this claim. Maybe that’s why they have a 2-out-of-4 score with Charity Navigator.

(And I just have to say: if they really are taking in almost USD$6M a year, then maybe they need to have some difficult conversations with whoever’s handling their search-engine rankings. I’d expect way better of a “ministry” sitting pretty on that kind of money.)

Not the Winning Team.

I already know that evangelism-minded Christians always like to be on what they think is “the winning team.” Thus, no leader in that tribe ever wants to seem weak or like they’re on the losing team.

Consequently, Christian leaders will happily exaggerate, distort, and even lie to make their operations more successful-sounding than they really are. In reality, they have no interest whatsoever even in finding out exactly how successful they are, much less even setting forth a concrete definition of success in the first place.

That’s where this GMO puff-piece seems to come in. These guys are hardly the only ones who are playing fiddly-trees with numbers. In coming days, I’ll show you others.

The takeaway is this: don’t ever take a desperate huckster at face value. When their paycheck depends on creating and pushing a particular narrative, then they’re going to do it even if it doesn’t fit the numbers they’re actually pulling down.

NEXT UP: An SBC leader has accidentally leaked some baaaad news regarding their 2019 stats. But it’s great news for us. I’ll show you what it is — tomorrow. See you then!


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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 volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and 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. And she still can't carry a note in a bucket. You can read more about the author here.

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