Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about an evangelist named Greg Stier. Like many similar evangelists in his market, he sells his products not to teenagers but their parents and pastors, who grow more desperate by the month to slow down Christianity’s decline. To make sales, he offers his customers various promises about what his products will do for them. And those promises are false to the point of whimsy. Today, let me show you what youth evangelists like Greg Stier sell, and what these products actually accomplish.
(Previous posts about Greg Stier: Counting False Costs; Greg Stier Counts the Costs; Mobilizing a Teen Army for Jesus; The Falling Away of the Young; Dare 2 Share and the Sabotage of the Young; Soulwinners Hope to Score More Sales in the Pandemic; Greg Stier Thinks Teens Will TOTALLY Save Christianity; The Redemption of Johnny Lawrence; How Teens Will Save Christianity; Greg Stier’s Reframing Game.)
(SBC = Southern Baptist Convention. UPCI = United Pentecostal Church, International.)
Greg Stier’s Big Promises.
I’ve come to consider Greg Stier a kind of standard-issue youth-evangelist. He’s not as slick or as wily as the big names in that sandbox, and he’s got a huge body of written work to consider. I feel about him much the same way that the God Awful Movies guys seem to feel about the twit who made LEAP and LEAP 2: Rise of the Beast. Every time I see something new out of Greg Stier, I find myself marveling at what a stone-cold hustler this guy is.
To make his living, Greg Stier sells evangelism materials like seminar guides and streaming licenses to his seminars. He sells this stuff to the evangelical parents and youth ministers of teenagers. And to make those sales, he makes promises to these adults that go so far past the moon that they’ll never return to earth again.
For example, before his most recent “Dare 2 Share” video shindig last week, Stier laid out three promises to the parents and pastors who forced or persuaded their teens to sit through his presentation. The following promises come straight from his post:
- “Generation Z is the first post-Christian generation in the history of the United States. We need to take drastic action to reverse this trend.”
- “Teenagers come to Christ faster and can spread the gospel further than adults. We need to unleash them. Dare 2 Share LIVE will do just that.” [I omit here much blahblah about who’d be preaching, singing, and performing hi-LARE-ee-us comedy skits for JEEzis, man!]
- [#9 on the list] “Your teens will be mobilized with thousands of other teenagers and hundreds of other churches to reach their generation that day.”
If you’re wondering, #10 involved the shindig being something to do for bored teens. Dude really wanted to hit that magic 10 number on his listicle, but ouch, I cringed on his behalf.
So Greg Stier promises some very distinct and tangible benefits here.
Testing Effectiveness, Or Not.
Unfortunately for everyone, Greg Stier has no idea how to test the effectiveness of his products. In an unusually candid 2008 post, he frets about this exact problem. Toward the end, he confesses that he really has no clue how to set metrics for his organization.
A metric is an objective, tangible measurement of success. It’s business lingo. And Stier has no metrics. His business had set three objectives for itself, but he could devise no way at all to measure how well it achieved any of them:
“Campuses ‘claimed’ for Christ.”
His metric: “We will have to figure out how to measure productivity as we go along.”
“New conversion growth in the context of the youth group.”
His metric: He blathers some numbers but ultimately has no idea how to measure this one either. If a youth group grows at all in size after Dare 2 Share hits their kids, then he’ll just assume Dare 2 Share was responsible.
“The number of new converts that are being mobilized to evangelize.”
His metric: “How do we gauge this number? I have no idea…yet.”
Dare 2 Share been around since 1990, according to that post. And yet they were still in the “toying with” phase of setting metrics, as he put it. As far as I could find in his writings, he never went further than that, either — not that evangelicals would ever notice or care. I strongly suspect he realized there wasn’t any real way to objectively measure success in his industry, nor any way to set goals he could actually meet anyway, but that nobody’d care either way if he just didn’t have metrics at all or meetable goals, so he just stopped worrying about it.
Ultimately, then, Greg Stier has no idea in the world if his programs actually fulfill any of his promises about them. He just makes his sermons and sales presentations as Jesus-y as he possibly can, stuffing as much rah-rah into it all as he possibly can, and then he insists his products will totally have all these benefits that adult evangelicals want desperately nowadays. How? Oh, through Jesus Power, I suppose!
If a huge national Great Teen Awakening ever were to erupt in America, I feel like Greg Stier would simply assume it was his doing.
No No, I Mean Really Testing the Promises.
But what really happens to the teenagers who attend shindigs like Dare 2 Share and come out of it all fired-up for Jesus?
I refer here to the teens who actually really do become the “activated,” radical, sold-out Jesus fanatics that Greg Stier is certain will save evangelicals’ bacon-wrapped shrimp? What happens to the teens who do reach that pinnacle of zeal, then rush right out to evangelize their entire schools and totally rescue their friends from invisible oncoming buses so their loving god doesn’t torture them forever after they die?
Well, I was part of his target market of teens in the late 1980s, and so were all of my friends. I don’t think he’s much older than me, so his evangelism notions were being formed right around then. Seriously, everything this guy talks about, all the products he offers, it’s all stuff I heard myself and experienced back then. He’s stuck in the 1980s/1990s.
If he’d known about us, if our evangelists had used his products, he’d have featured us on his site forever after as success stories, as PROOF YES PROOF that these sorts of products worked to recruit teens and then retain them.
So, maybe I can answer the question of how effective these teen-evangelism shindigs really are — or rather, aren’t.
The Real Effects of Teen Evangelism Programs:
Greg Stier promises that his products will increase retention rates in evangelical churches. In other words, teens who attend his seminars will stay Christians for life instead of sliding out of the religion like so many of them do as soon as they can. Many similar hucksters make this same promise.
Stier and his evangelism peers would likely have considered that fateful SBC pizza blast I attended a roaring success. I was far from the only terrified teen who got dunked that night! I can’t remember the exact number, but it was about a dozen, I think, maybe even more. We all waited in a long line in our voluminous baptismal robes, shuffling forward one by one to be baptized. But a month later, I remember noticing that none of the other baptize-ees attended youth group anymore. The youth group sometimes poached teens from smaller evangelical churches in the area, but they rarely captured brand-new Christians and actually kept them.
Similarly, during the Pentecostals’ “88 Reasons” Rapture scare, many dozens of my schoolmates and I joined that Pentecostal church in the run-up to the big day. Similarly to the SBC church, almost all of those converts drifted out again — most within weeks of their joining. By the time the dust settled, only a few of my peers remained. Eventually I left too. When I rejoined about a year later, I didn’t see many familiar faces at all. Some Pentecostal adults blamed that churn on how poorly run their discipleship program had been.
Both churches featured youth programs and revivals exactly like the ones run by Greg Stier and similar hucksters. And yet I have read countless sorrowful blog posts from youth ministers about how poorly all of their efforts work. It doesn’t matter how excited they get teens to feel about Jesus or Christianity or how well they immerse them in doctrine or how much Bible study they do. Teens still deconvert by the truckload.
So these programs don’t seem to have any marked positive effects on retention or churn.
Similarly, all of these hucksters like to promise that their products will inspire and “equip” (<— just sayin’, I HATE that vague, say-nothing bit of Christianese) teens to get out there and sell sell sell without mercy.
Both churches I attended expected their youth group members to get out there and make sales too. Indeed, both church events I described just a moment ago were thrown specifically to help their youth group recruit new people. Their pastors thought it was a lot easier for teens to get their friends to attend a special function that sounded fun than it was to get normies to agree to attend a Sunday service. They weren’t wrong, either.
That said, maintaining that evangelistic zeal after the special events turned out to be a lot harder. And for the converts bagged-and-tagged that way, this zeal would cost them dearly in coming months.
As it turned out, these programs did nothing to “equip” teens to make sales.
Staying On-Script, Or Not.
Zeal + lack of life experience + lack of social skills + woefully ineffective scripts = heartbreak and humiliation for any teen innocent enough to actually try to make sales the way evangelists routinely teach the process.
I’ve noticed that almost every evangelist out there sells a little system that’s kind of their thang. They all promise their little system works to score sales. But all of their systems are laughably obvious, manipulative, and ineffective.
Worst of all, these systems amount to sales scripts, a cattle-chute run toward a gotcha zinger conclusion — but people in real life never stay on evangelists’ scripts. All it takes is one out-of-place question about something that aspiring soulwinner has never considered before and can’t possibly answer to derail the whole endeavor.
So despite trying very hard for a very long time, way past the time most of my peers did, I made no sales whatsoever. Neither did most of my acquaintances at either church.
Of course, in trying to make sales as hard as we did for as long as we did, we lost a lot of friends, alienated our families, and wrecked our futures.
And in failing to make sales as profoundly as we did, we tortured ourselves emotionally with feelings of hopeless despair over the eternal fates of our loved ones.
The evangelical adults around us did absolutely nothing to ease that torment — in fact, they just made it worse every chance they got.
It’s Really Gotta Suck.
To a certain extent, I can sympathize — a little — with evangelical church leaders. They’re staring down the twin barrels of unstoppable churn and inexorable recruitment declines. Absolutely nothing (that they’re willing to do) has worked to even slow down those trends, much less reverse them.
Their entire ideology consists of sales promises without any evidence of effectiveness. So when a huckster comes at ’em waving spreadsheets around and spewing nonstop promises out both blowholes and loads of virtue-signaling Christianese, what are they going to do?
They’re going to write a big fat check to that guy, that’s what they’re going to do.
And then, when nothing really changes afterward, they’ll just chalk that failure up to their imaginary friend. They’ll never hold the hucksters themselves responsible for their promises.
How could they? The spirit didn’t move right then, that’s all. Maybe next year. Get that checkbook out to reserve YOUR spot at the next shindig!
Friends, see these businesses as signs of Christianity’s decline. They’ve always been around, but in recent years they’ve proliferated to take advantage of easy money and desperate, gullible shepherds.
By the time any of those shepherds think to demand objective effectiveness, those hucksters — and Christian dominance — will be long, long gone.
NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides! Then, we take a look at evangelical youth groups. See you tomorrow!
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Last notes: Greg Stier obliquely compares himself to Jesus Christ. Not kidding.