Hi and welcome back! In the past, I’ve talked about Christianity as a business and evangelism as a salesmanship process. And I wasn’t kidding around. It ought to disturb non-Christians to know about the sheer amount of advice that Christians make available for free online about overcoming evangelism objections. Worse, Christians phrase this advice exactly as such. Today, let me show you some of the stone-cold salesmanship practiced around evangelism — and why that’s actually not a bad thing for Christians.
(When I jokingly talk about Jesus Power, I mean that vial of magical pixie dust labeled “Jesus” that evangelicals think makes their Jesus-flavored endeavors successful. If they sprinkle Jesus Power over anything, it works exactly the way they want it to. Amazing — I mean, as an example of motivated reasoning and confirmation bias, at least! Incidentally, a Jesus Aura is the bright halo of Jesus Power that TRUE CHRISTIANs™ believe encircles them and can be sensed by non-believers. As the situation requires, heathens are supposedly disgusted or drawn close by this aura.)
What It Means to ‘Overcome Objections.’
In salesmanship lingo, an objection is simply any reason a potential customer gives for not purchasing a product. Salespeople seek to know that potential customer’s objections so they can overcome them. In turn, overcoming objections involves defeating those reasons somehow.
So if the customer’s objection involves cost, then overcoming this objection might involve stressing the value the product provides, comparing it favorably with similar products, or offering a rebate against the full price. As a last ditch effort, the salesperson might even slightly lower the product’s cost.
Sometimes, customers have a lot of objections regarding purchase. Some of these objections can be overcome fairly easily. For other objections, not even the best salesperson could ever overcome them.
(Examples of such difficult objections include not liking the product’s brand, being extremely poor or even homeless, hating the salesperson’s entire industry, or having a serious aesthetic preference, like color, that the company doesn’t actually offer for that product. Don’t worry, though! Advice exists for those too!)
For example, here’s a flowchart from a multi-level marketing scheme (MLM). It teaches hunbots how to overcome literally any objection from their marks:
This is scary stuff. No legitimate company would ever expect any salesperson to go this far to overcome objections. However, a salesperson who desperately needs a sale can become downright harassing and scary toward customers as they seek to grind down resistance.
And sometimes, salespeople trying too hard can even go viral — for the worst reasons.
“The OFFICIAL Full Version Comcast Call with Ryan Block!” Uploaded July 17, 2014 by Robert Mercado.
And Now, Evangelism.
I know, I know: evangelism-minded Christians absolutely hate hearing that they’re salespeople. That makes their behavior seem way too coarse and self-serving for their liking.
Seriously, check out this hand-wringing over being compared to salespeople:
- The Gospel Coalition (TGC): “Evangelism is Not a Sales Pitch.” Main objection: takes all the Jesus Power out of the process.
- DZone: “Evangelism is NOT Sales.” After a hilariously snooty lead-in, the writer offers a beyond-cringey attempt to play Silly Semantics (equivocation) with the words “sales” and “evangelism.”
- Relevant: “The Gospel Is Not a Sales Pitch.” Writer inaccurately claims to be getting nothing out of performing evangelism tasks. She also inaccurately thinks evangelism offers a long-term “relationship.” (With Jesus? Her church? Herself? Who knows? Does she?) It’s not not not the “quick fix” offered by sales. Nope!
- InterVarsity Evangelism: “Don’t Sell Jesus.” This one’s absolutely delusional about the nature of evangelism. Essayist offers the usual blahblah about a sales mentality removing Jesus Power from the conversion equation.
In all of the posts I consulted, I noticed the same trends. Evangelists bristle at the mere suggestion that evangelism belongs on the same shelf as ickie, worldly salesmanship.
(In Christianese, “worldly” means anything not 100% focused on Jesus. The word goes far past just “secular.” Even Christians and Sunday morning church services can be “worldly!”)
Officially, evangelists want to be ambassadors.
Secretly, they’ll happily settle for being lords over everyone else.
But in reality, they are just salespeople.
Worse, though, they’re really bad salespeople.
The Evangelism Sales Flow: Same as the Secular One.
For all their hatred of being compared to salespeople, evangelists still seek to convince people to sign up for a product. They can Jesus-ify this process all they want. The processes remain exactly the same.
- Offer the product.
- Describe the product (like with FAB).
- Ask for the sale.
- Seek objections.
- Overcome objections.
- Ask again.
- If more objections remain, go back to Step 4. If none remain, go to Step 8.
Successful salespeople stand to gain both directly and indirectly from evangelistic sales. Evangelism is not and has never been a disinterested, purely altruistic endeavor. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) shows us that truth constantly.
Incidentally, evangelists’ product isn’t Jesus. Heck, it isn’t even Christianity.
Rather, it’s active membership in their own groups. That’s why evangelists get all crinkly when one of their marks converts — but joins the “wrong” group or no group at all.
It Doesn’t Matter if the Sales Flow is Super-Jesus-y.
Of the sources I saw (some listed above), evangelists didn’t like being lumped in with salespeople. However, they all accepted, tacitly if not explicitly, that successful evangelists used salesmanship tactics to score sales.
Many Christian sites suggested a salesflow process that has evangelists pretending to be Jesus. Listen like Jesus, y’all! People love that! It works for real!
But what actually happens in practice is evangelists simper and preen like they’re totally listening, then reveal they weren’t at all. People who can actually practice real two-way, meaningful communication don’t last long in evangelism. Or else they never enter the field in the first place.
Clearly, folks pushing this tactic don’t realize that the Gospels are not actually real historical documents.
Thus, the techniques listed in the Bible for anything don’t usually work in real life.
Also, at least last time I checked, Christians weren’t actually the living embodiments of Jesus Christ, so… you know.
Evangelists: Never Accept a Rejection.
At no point do we see the truth of evangelism as a sales process than when a mark rejects the evangelist’s pitch. And oh, they will. Be it ultra-Jesus-y or ultra-salesmanshippy, marks reject it all the same. The only product evangelists have to offer is one that very few people want anymore.
So obviously, evangelists know quite well that almost everyone will reject them (and I’m being very generous with that “almost” there). But they don’t think any of these rejections are virtuous.
Whatever you say to them, if it isn’t a full purchase then they can and will weaponize it. They’ll do anything they can to establish your rejection as invalid according to the rules of King Them. After they do that, of course, then they’ll insist that you’re now morally obligated to purchase their product — or else King Them will think less of you.
Of course, they’ve already decided that every single reason for rejecting them falls under the invalid category in their rulebook. Thus, anything you say becomes just another objection that they already think they can overcome.
So know this: whatever you say as a reason for rejection, evangelists’ leaders have already developed a completely bamboozling line of irrational blahblah meant to defeat it. You’re just sending them back to Step 4 in the sales flow.
That is the literal only reason evangelists will ever ask why you’re rejecting their evangelism attempt. They just wanna know how to start Step 4 again. They’re hoping against hope that you’ll pick up the script if they just start running lines from it.
Confuse ‘Em and Lose ‘Em.
The sales flow revolves around finding customers’ objections and overcoming them for a reason. Objections are crucial to the sales process. If a customer won’t give the salesperson an objection about their product, then the salesperson will be a loss to overcome objections.
Luckily for evangelists, customers’ biggest objections to their product (which is, remember, active membership in their groups) are quite well-known.
This 2000 post from Christianity Today might be the earliest one I’ve seen that specifically described what evangelists were doing as overcoming objections, though they don’t use that specific phrase. I especially liked the beginning of the post, by the way:
Recently someone approached me with the following problem: “Nobody can talk me out of being a Christian, but I can’t talk anyone else into it. Can you help me?”
Evangelicals have never, ever been accused of excessive self-awareness, have they? But the post overall illustrates how evangelists have tackled the concept of objections over the past 15ish years.
They might call overcoming objections “responding” to them (as that 2000 post does), “handling” them (or not, since the writer literally punts in all cases to Ray Comfort’s failed are you a good person manipulation tactic), “dealing with” them, or whatever else they please.
But overcoming is, indeed, what they’re trying to do here.
Overcoming Objections: Evangelism Style.
As I mentioned earlier, Christians have created a vast wealth of techniques for overcoming objections to evangelism.
One such source comes to us from TGC. A few sections above, TGC’s writer got all snippy about calling evangelism sales in the first place. Now, another writer for them says that’s fine. I wonder if this 180-degree flip comes from the years between the essays? This essay comes from 2015, which is barely the first year Christians understood and accepted that they were in decline. However, the first one mentioned came from 2018 — well into that decline.
Either way, the writer of this one invokes the ghost of Francis Schaeffer (père) in a very interesting, telling statement:
It’s said that Francis Schaeffer was once asked how he would share the gospel with someone in an hour. He said he would spend 55 minutes listening and five minutes talking, because only then would he know how to share the gospel in a way that would overcome objections.
All Schaeffer is doing, in this anecdote, is listening because then he’ll know what objections someone has to his product. Once they’re done talking, then and only then will he offer his mark a very carefully-crafted sales pitch that hopefully covers all objections they hinted at having.
The entire essay describes a salesmanship attitude completely, but that one bit really caught my eye because it specifically used salesmanship language to describe that late-great evangelical leader’s stated evangelism technique.
Opting Out of the Overcoming Objections Sales Flow.
However, let’s say you don’t answer at all. You just say “no” to evangelists. You don’t give them an opening for the spewing of their canned, memorized talking points. Instead, you present them with a brick wall of rejection.
In that case, evangelists just pick an objection they think you have and try to overcome that.
This cold reading flailing is downright hilarious to watch — as long as you’re very aware of the process and why it’s happening. Even then, it can be really frustrating. If you get in on the game, you have a better chance of enjoying the spectacle without emotional investment.
Be careful about investing too emotionally in evangelists. They’re extremely focused on their sales flow. They’ve got a lot of talking points to corral, and they’re never sure how long you’ll sit there and let them do it.
As a result, they have a tough time interacting like real humans having a conversation — because evangelism is not about conversations. It never was. Any moments the evangelists don’t spend talking, they’re just waiting for you to shut up so they can leap into action again with another talking point meant to suffocate your reasons for rejecting their product.
What you say in response to their talking points might plant a seed, to use the Christianese. Those seeds might blossom later into doubts. But you likely won’t bother them much right then. Keep your expectations grounded in reality.
Why It’s Not Terrible for Christians to Kinda Focus on Good Salesmanship.
What’s funny is that evangelists themselves help contribute to Christianity’s decline. Their own behavior demonstrates exactly why their religion needs to decline. Their credibility has dissolved like morning-mist at noon. And I think a lot of that lost credibility has to do not only with their own hypocrisy, their own inability to live by their group’s stated rules, but also with how obvious it is that they can’t interact with others like normal human beings.
Fred, over at Slacktivist, described most evangelism attempts as “a sales pitch [that] ends in an argument.” And that really is how most evangelism works. It’s clearly done for the benefit of the evangelists, not for any good that might come to the marks upon purchase. (This is why so many evangelists favor techniques with extremely poor returns on investment (ROI) even by evangelists’ abysmal standards — like so-called tract evangelism.)
Like look, I know I’m hardly the first or only person who’s ever observed that evangelists operate a whole lot like pickup artists or Nice Guys™. Sometimes, it feels like evangelists do their very best to deter anybody from joining their groups. It’s like they’re going out of their way to demonstrate exactly why nobody should come anywhere near their groups.
So if they start learning some legitimate salesmanship techniques, at least they might stop making themselves a good reason to reject their product.
How to Opt Out of This Disturbing Reindeer Game.
Remember, though, that no die-hard, tryhard salesperson ever accepts any valid reason for rejecting their product. Whatever virtuous excuse you think you’ve got, they probably know a talking point to cover it already.
And you won’t convince them after they parrot out their talking point that it isn’t at all persuasive — that it’s a manipulation attempt or a logical fallacy. They don’t understand how to critically assess their own talking points. Heckies, they don’t even accept that they should do this with literally everything their Dear Leaders teach them. Often, they’ve been bamboozled into thinking that these manipulation tactics and fallacies represent actual honest-to-goodness objective support for their claims.
The only real way you can win with an evangelist is to defuse the virtuous excuses game before it gets started. Learn to quickly discern when someone’s set up such a game for you to play without your consent — and more importantly, when they’ve specifically set up the rules for that game to make you lose it unless you play exactly the way they want.
Also, learn to recognize a person’s sincere request for information and a salesperson fishing for an objection to overcome.
Asked and Answered: The Magic Phrase.
Whenever you’re dealing with an authoritarian looking for marks, whether it’s an MLM hunbot frantically hunting for downline, a misogynist looking for a date from you, or a right-wing Christian in full soulwinning mode, learn to be short-n-sweet in your rejection. Remember, “no” always constitutes a complete sentence and a 100% valid response. Repeat as necessary.
“Asked and answered.”
“I already answered that.”
“My answer isn’t changing.”
If they flail around by guessing your objections, don’t get drawn in unless you want to play.
Don’t worry if King Them thinks less of you, or if they try to make you feel silly for repeating the same rejection over and over again. They’re the ones trying to impose upon you.
After all, the biggest reason why evangelists despise the sales paradigm itself might well be that it puts them, as salespeople, well below their marks in terms of power. Exercise your rights as a consumer, and let the salespeople do as they please with your rejection.
NEXT UP: A legislator in Idaho reveals why he voted against much-needed education money — demonstrating that the Republican War on Women continues in earnest. Feminism remains the A-#1 enemy of fundagelical men — and for a very important reason. See you tomorrow!
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