Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been discussing Beach Reach. That’s a short-term mission trip organized by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). During American colleges’ Spring Break every year, hundreds of SBC college kids descend upon one particular beach in Texas. There, they seek marks through the performance of charity. Every single thing they do gets done with one aim: to put a sales pitch in front of each and every mark. But how, oh how do they get to the point of being able to issue that sales pitch? That’s what we’ll find out now. Today, let’s see how earnest SBC evangelists learn to use transactional small talk to open the door to a sale, at least in theory.
(Training docs link. Previous Beach Reach Posts: What It’s All About; Why Evangelicals Use Evangelism Techniques That Don’t Work; How and Why to Craft a Testimony. When I talk about evangelism as a sales process, the product isn’t Jesus or even belief in Jesus. It’s active membership in the evangelist’s own group. Related posts: The Truth About Christian Zingers; Being Genuinely Helpful vs. Being Christianly Helpful; The Duggar Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Grifting Tree; Teen Evangelism Hits a New Low; How John Stott Moved the Evangelism Goalpost.)
Beach Reach: Training Authoritarians to Mingle.
There really is something desperately hilarious and sad about Beach Reach. I can’t stop smiling as I look over all their training modules, available here. But my amusement is always tinged with regret and sadness — and secondhand cringe.
Every single service that Beach Reach offers has one goal and one goal only: to get marks to feel obligated or coerced into sitting still long enough to hear a sales pitch about joining the evangelist’s religious group. That’s it. That’s literally all Beach Reach’s organizers and volunteers care about, officially.
(In reality, there’s a much darker and grimmer goal at work here, but we’ll get to that at the end.)
For five solid weeks, Beach Reach organizers teach their volunteers how to manipulate a mark into feeling that way. Those organizers insist that their training works, that it will successfully get marks into the desired headspace. They promise that if volunteers will practice their techniques until it all feels natural, then they’ll totally become lean, mean, soulwinnin’ machines.
And well, so much of this training focuses on how to have a normal-sounding small-talk conversation to guide marks down a cattle chute toward the inevitable sales pitch.
Reading Weeks 3 and 4 of Beach Reach training feels like I’m eavesdropping on space aliens teaching their soldiers how to blend in with real humans.
Beach Reach Week Three: Simulating That Strange Human Interaction Called ‘Conversation.’
In Week 3 of Beach Reach training’s student handout, we get this very odd exercise:
Number the following question in order of when you would ask them in a conversation.
What follows are innocuous small-talk questions sprinkled in with downright-sinister leading questions. Again, as per the instructions above, Beach Reach volunteers must set them in order from, presumably, “What’s your name?” all the way to “Would you like to know how to have a personal relationship with God?”
Here are some of the creepier questions they’re supposed to set in order:
In your personal opinion, what is a Christian? How does one become a Christian?
What brings you the greatest satisfaction?
What is your spiritual background?
Has anyone ever shared with you how to have a personal relationship with God?
Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and He was to say to you, “Why should I let you into Heaven,” what would you say?
What do you do during free time?
I have seen an illustration that clearly explains how a person can know that he has a relationship with God. Would you like to see it?
Would you like to know how to have a personal relationship with God?
Why did you come to Padre for spring break?
It’s important to remember that volunteers have already been taught how to create a sense of obligation or at least resignation in their marks, so they can get to the point of starting up their cattle chute routine.
And yet I can imagine not a single multiverse plane of reality where these questions get asked and don’t spark a shocked stare, quickly-retreating steps, or howled laughter in reply.
The Pickup Artists and Nice Guys of Evangelical Christianity.
In so many ways, evangelicals remind me of pickup artists (PUAs) as well. Pickup artists are guys who have no idea how to interact with women. Indeed, they don’t want to truly communicate with women at all! They see women as subhumans who will destroy them if given half a chance. So they don’t know how to flirt or gauge interest correctly. If they even know what consent actually is and what it looks like, they despise it — because it denies them their desires so often.
By selling their PUA techniques as successful, various weirdos rise to leadership positions within PUA communities. These leaders teach their followers tons of manipulation techniques that are meant to simulate natural flirtation.
That’s why Week 3’s exercises sound a lot like the description of how a Nice Guy™ operates:
Putting niceness tokens into their marks until their desired results fall out.
In the case of Beach Reach, the desired result isn’t sex. It’s getting their marks to sit still long enough to get a sales pitch in front of them.
Learning to Fake Human Conversation.
Evangelicals, especially sales-minded ones, do not naturally know how to have real conversations. They’re authoritarians, and the last thing authoritarians want is to really open themselves up to any other human being. Instead of real communication, they learn to interact in a way I’d define as “work friends.”
You don’t really see work friends outside of work or functions associated with work. If you leave the job, you’ll never see them again. But y’all are friendly, and you make sure to smile at them in the hall and ask how they’re doing if you find yourselves sharing the same general patch of carpeting. If one of them asks you how you’re doing, you’re not going to tell them the heartbreaks you suffered last night. Instead, you’ll say you’re doing “fine,” or at most, “I’m surviving” or somesuch.
Your interactions with work friends are largely surface-level and transactional — and largely, socially scripted. If someone were to go off-script, it’d make both of you feel hugely uncomfortable.
That’s what’s going on here with Beach Reach. A bunch of young evangelicals are learning how to fake real conversations. Very few of them will know how to have real conversations already, and the ones who do will set aside any concerns they have because obviously, these techniques must work, or why else teach them?
Who Needs to Learn These Skills? Evangelicals, That’s Who.
That’s why Week 3 involves such a heavy emphasis on practicing these fake conversation tactics.
Authoritarian followers don’t tend to be really outgoing, gregarious people. They aren’t comfortable walking up to strangers and introducing themselves and making small talk for the hell of it. (Mr. Captain calls this “sniffing butts,” like cats do.)
And like look, fine, lots of people don’t like small talk for various reasons. Many of them are not authoritarians, even. It’s just a social skill like any other, is all, and thus it’s so remarkable to me that Beach Reach’s training focuses so heavily on teaching and practicing a skill that normie kids usually learn very young. It’d be like an evangelical etiquette course that began with teaching students not to put beans up their noses in public.
Beach Reach volunteers are highly unlikely to see anything weird about numbering various conversation elements in increasing order of invasiveness and creepiness. They don’t understand the ebb and flow of conversation — or know when to move a budding friendship to the next level of intimacy in a natural, consensual way.
Indeed, Week 4 assumes implicitly that if anything like an “intimate conversation” occurs, then obviously a sales pitch got made. Whether it got accepted or rejected, it still got made. At no point, they assume, would a volunteer get too deep into conversation with anybody without finding this opportunity.
Beach Reach: Looking For the Sale 24/7.
When I was fundagelical myself (Southern Baptist and then Pentecostal), I remember learning to steer all conversations toward my sales pitch. I’ve compared it here to a cattle chute, because that’s what it is. All topics get funneled toward that end. At all times and with all people, I had to be alert to any opportunity at all to get a pitch in front of them.
If you’ve ever been friends with a particularly fervent multi-level marketing (MLM) victim, you know exactly how it feels to be around someone like that. You have to watch what you say around them, because they’ll pounce on anything as the opening to an invitation to “join their team.”
In the case of fundagelicals, though, missing a shot at a sales pitch doesn’t just mean losing the chance to sign up another victim and fatten one’s wallet. It means potentially damning those people to Hell forever. Just going to the wrong fast-food restaurant could mean missing out on meeting the person Jesus meant for a Christian to encounter and pitch to.
If you’re wondering, going through life like this is absolutely exhausting. And it’s no fun at all to be on the other side of that constant search for new marks, either.
Beach Reach: Creating a Careful Bubble.
The other day, I ran into a Christian online who complained that he’d managed to alienate and irritate every one of his loved ones, friends, and neighbors with his constant sales pitches. That’s exactly the effect Beach Reach training will have on its own volunteers.
They’ll learn to pounce on anything their marks say to initiate a sales pitch. But marks aren’t dumb, especially not college-aged marks nowadays. They know how to spot a self-serving, leading question. And literally all of the questions on that numbered list sound like they’re leading toward a sales pitch of some kind.
There is no good reason I can perceive for fundagelical volunteers to ask for any personal details about the people eating their pancakes and riding on their vans. And people nowadays are a lot more careful about what personal details they give out to strangers — online and in real life.
Worse, Week 4 can only offer volunteers various apologetics resources by way of dealing with difficult objections to their sales attempts. Apologetics, as an industry, exists to enrich its creators and distributors. It is not and has never been any kind of genuine resolution for those objections.
So volunteers are, in a very real way, being set up to fail. The evangelism techniques they learn will only lead them to crash and burn.
When that happens, though, don’t worry. They’ll be able to run back to their tribal bubble to heal and gain encouragement. Their indoctrination will only be reinforced. And after all, that is probably the real reason why Beach Reach exists in the first place.
NEXT UP: Ruh roh! Atheists and “Cultural Catholics” have entered the Beach Reach chat. Since our training has, so far, been so completely trustworthy, I’m sure they won’t teach their volunteers anything that’ll completely backfire or make anybody cringe into the core of the Earth. Yep. We’ll see tomorrow!
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Last thoughts: There’s a very important reason why Beach Reach is structured exactly as it is, and why it targets happy normie college students and not some other, more-desperate group. Please keep that in mind about that as we flow from topic to topic in this series.