Last week I visited a church for a work-related purpose. I was still sitting in my car making some notes when the man I was there to meet suddenly appeared next to my window. After introductions he handed me a tract. He told me he knew god had intended for us to meet that day and that nothing else mattered outside of our salvation.
He wasn’t assuming I was an atheist. In real life, no one ever assumes that. I got the impression he had given this same speech a thousand times before. He was a salesman for Jesus, and this was his pitch. It reminded me of all the times I used to feel bad after missing an opportunity to witness, and my subconscious social etiquette found me responding to him with a form of polite encouragement.
Of course I didn’t tell him I’m an atheist. I didn’t tell him I was a believer, either. That isn’t why I was there. I just smiled and asked questions that were relevant to my visit. To do otherwise would have been unprofessional, and definitely the wrong strategy for anyone wanting to change the subject (as much as I wanted to change the subject).
Besides, he wasn’t a jerk and I had no desire to argue. In the end he decided I would make a lovely addition to his church, and I told him where my family
used to currently attends church. Problem solved. No big deal.
For Christians, any time is an appropriate time to share faith. I’m so familiar with the concept that I am never surprised or even uncomfortable when confronted about my personal relationship with god. Occasionally I will be in the mood to discuss it the way I do here, but most of the time it’s easier to simply redirect. It all depends on where I am and how offended I feel. After all, I am under no obligation to have god debates every time the opportunity presents itself. And I’m done feeling guilty about failing to force my “good news” on others.
There’s no one to save anymore.
It really is a sales pitch, though. And that part can be annoying, because some Christians are just better at it than others. I’m so tuned in to how people relate to each other that I still get caught up in the technique. If I were on the fence, what would work on me? I would rather rate the performance than criticize the product. I also enjoy the reminders that even in the most confident presentation, there is always evidence of human insecurity.
At one point in the conversation this man asked if I had any children. When I told him I had an eight year old daughter, he began promoting the church’s school. My daughter goes to a specific school that has an Autism program, so that was an easy out for me; but it threw him off for a moment. He fumbled a bit on how to transition from there, telling me about a church member who had been sick and had seizures which left him not quite the same “in the head”…. and how he would definitely be able to empathize with our situation.
I know after I left he was probably kicking himself for that last part, but sometimes we keep talking and say all the wrong things and we just can’t stop ourselves. I’ve been there.
The best sales pitch is always the one that doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. So he loses points on that. Ideally what he wants is a connection that has nothing to do with what he is selling. If we like and respect someone, we are going to consider what they have to say. A relationship usually isn’t built during one conversation in a parking lot, but first impressions do matter.
Obviously I am not going to attend this guy’s church, but if I had been looking for a church I would certainly consider it. On the other hand, if I had no understanding of god—his approach would have overwhelmed me. Asking about my salvation right up front would have definitely freaked me out. And “God intended for us to meet today” is also startling.
Maybe the best approach is to be genuine and friendly, establish a connection, then end the conversation with an invitation to the Sunday service. And hope there will be a next time to build on what you started. The goal shouldn’t be immediate conversion, but rather a pathway to the next opportunity to connect. But what do I know? I’m an atheist.
Closing the Deal
Getting someone to actually accept Jesus as their savior can be incredibly intimidating, or exhilarating—depending on your personality. Churches have found that luring impressionable children and teens to events is an easy shortcut, and they aren’t wrong. They are in the business of saving souls, after all; and it is in their best interest to be effective. If you actually believe in the Christian god of the Bible, saving people is the right thing to do.
When I look back at my time as a missionary in public schools (again, I’m sorry), it almost seemed too easy. Before the last song of our evening concert, one of the singers would pray the prayer…. you know the one. The “let’s all invite Jesus into our heart” prayer. Then the singer would tell the audience that during the last song we wanted everyone who had prayed that prayer to go to some designated place (where I would be waiting).
Sometimes no one came. Other times everyone came. And really, most of them were already church-going Christian kids who just wanted to be part of something. Like me. Once in a while I would get someone who had never been to church. We would pass those names and phone numbers along to whatever local church contact we had and they would put their youth pastor on it right away.
We had introduced the topic and let peer pressure do the rest. If most of the kids were into it, non-Christian kids would join in. I am sure for many it was only for that one night. Do I think there were some kids who then started going to church with friends and are still believers today? Absolutely.
In the world of sales you are going to hear “no” more than you hear “yes,” right? As a missionary there were some nights when we received a very loud “no” in the form of people walking out or attempting to shut down the performance altogether. Good for them. (I would have stayed and watched out of curiosity. You know, write a blog post about it or something.) But hearing “no” a thousand times is worth that one “yes.” Every good Christian knows that.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Many churches put a huge focus on evangelism. The smart ones make it easy by creating events and missions projects. They get their names in the community with outreach and volunteer days. It’s a great marketing plan, and a shy Christian who wants to do their part can feel useful participating in such things.
But inevitably every Christian faces people one on one in their everyday lives, and the pressure to bring up salvation is strong. It’s an opportunity to save someone from eternal hellfire! How can you stand by and do nothing? Well, it’s surprisingly easy.
It’s also another opportunity to fail god.
Some Christians beat themselves up for not having the guts to share Jesus, while others beat others over the head with Jesus like he’s a weapon. There are members of my extended family who form “connections” with others by refusing to associate with them until they change their wicked ways.
At what point are churches going to figure out that maybe not everyone is cut out for sales? In fact, some are hurting business far more than they are helping. Assign them to exclusive prayer duty or something. Please.
Then there are great sales men and women who find god. They are the best at bringing in souls, but they are also the ones to watch out for. Sometimes they stop believing, but they don’t stop selling. Sometimes they never believed at all; they simply found an opportunity. If someone makes their living selling a god they don’t believe in to a group of believers who they do not respect— they might never tell the truth about that. Religion makes it too easy to take advantage of its followers.
I’ve seen it all. So when a nice man meets me at his church and offers me Jesus in a non-threatening and genuine way, I can appreciate it. The irony is that in this particular situation, I was supposed to be the salesperson. And you know what? I suspect we will meet again.