a beach at sunset
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Elliot Tanin.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! For the past week, we’ve been focusing on Beach Reach training. Beach Reach is a short-term mission trip (STM) organized by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Every year, many hundreds of college-age SBC-lings descend upon South Padre Island in Texas to evangelize unsuspecting partying college normies on Spring Break. We’ve had a good look at their training by now, and the SBC prints very limited information about their effectiveness in their Annual Reports. As a result, we know for 100% sure that conversions aren’t actually the goal here. So, what is the goal of Beach Reach? Today, I’ll show you. I’ll warn you, too: it’s dark, even by evangelical standards. You see, the Beach Reach volunteers themselves are the marks here, not the people they’re taught to regard as their marks.

a beach at sunset
(Elliot Tanin.)

(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; Deploying Small Talk; Atheists and Cultural Catholics Have Entered the Chat; Followup for Creepers. 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. Also, check out these 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, And the Potential Marks They Ignore.

Like their god, Beach Reach organizers and volunteers alike have the weirdest, most twisted, most downright baffling set of priorities imaginable.

Indeed, Beach Reach costs the volunteers money — and focuses on a group that provides a nearly nonexistent return on investment (ROI).

The last Beach Reach for which we have statistics, 2019 (as recorded in the 2020 Annual Report), involved “almost 800” volunteers achieving “some 42” conversions. Beach Reach costs each volunteer USD$565 for each volunteer, so we’re looking at a bit less than $452,000 spent just by the volunteers.

Of course, we’re not counting whatever the sponsoring churches spent. They likely kicked a good bit of money into the pot as well for the vans and pancake mix and whatnot. However, I’ve never seen any participating churches reveal what they pay for the privilege of helping with Beach Reach. In fact, we don’t ever even hear how many churches participate. In the 1986 and 1987 Annual Reports, we learn that 190 and 138 churches, respectively, participated. I’m pretty sure those years represent the only church counts we ever get from the SBC, and even then we never learn what financial burden they shouldered.

Even just considering the volunteers’ burden, that’s one helluva lot of money there.

Here’s a website listing charities local to South Padre Island (SPI) who could use that money a lot more than partying young adults on vacation from college. I see animal rescues, Christmas toy-donation charities, ecology groups, cancer charities, and even a group protecting endangered sea turtles! Here’s another website full of charities. It tells us about charities benefiting veterans, children, and even car donations.

If Beach Reach volunteers wanted, they could even give that $565 to forced-birther fake women’s clinics. Indeed, I see a few nonprofits local to SPI that fight the essential human right of consent.

No no, instead they concentrate only on partying college students on their Spring Break from college.

There’s a reason for it.

Beach Reach: A Typical Short-Term Mission Trip.

Just to be clear, we ourselves know that short-term mission trips (STMs) aren’t about making sales. Even Christian missionaries, like this gal, know this. They’re about injecting young evangelicals with tons of rah-rah and good memories — and vastly enriching the trips’ organizers, of course, since STMs are a huge evangelical industry at this point. The conventional wisdom holds that STMs create lifelong fervent consumers of evangelical leaders’ product, so we’re unlikely to see STMs going away any time soon.

However, let’s look at these trips from the point of view of their organizers’ stated goals. A post on Texas Baptists reveals it:

The primary purpose of the mission experience is to share the love of Christ with fellow college students through acts of service and through intentional Gospel conversations.

That’s a slew of Christianese. That sentence, taken as a whole, just means they use hard-sales evangelism to try to score sales. They only view “acts of service” as the best way to get their foot in the door, so to speak.

If these folks could get into close contact with their prey through any other means, they would. If they could get those marks to sit still for a sales pitch in any other way, they’d definitely do that instead of offering favors, even favors that come with a price tag.

Evangelicals are not, on the whole, charitable or even kind people, especially to their outgroup.

Defining Ingroups and Outgroups.

A few days ago, we talked about how Beach Reach volunteers get taught to behave around their tribe’s declared culture-war enemies: atheists and cultural Catholics.

But atheists and ‘cultural Catholics’ aren’t actually a Southern Baptist’s worst enemies. They’re not their outgroup.

In sociology, a person’s ingroup is the social group they most consider their own. Their ingroup might be their family (and usually is, for very young people), their best friends, the other students at their school, the little clutch of friends they make at their school, the fans of their favorite sportsball team, whatever. It’s just whatever group they most consider theirs, that they most identify with.

We naturally resonate most with our ingroup.

A person’s outgroup, then, becomes the social groups they consider their ingroup’s main opposition. It is not necessarily the group most opposite to them, or furthest away. In fact, that’s almost never the outgroup.

In groups afflicted with tribalistic thinking, members might consider other groups to be enemies who are inferior to themselves in every way. The group may even start seeing those other groups’ members as a threat to themselves somehow.

Southern Baptists definitely constitute an ingroup to themselves. They exist in a thick social bubble that insulates them from all other groups and contradictory information, and they definitely view other groups as subhuman enemies who threaten their existence. So now we must find the outgroup for the particular Southern Baptist members who volunteer for Beach Reach.

It won’t be a long hunt, though, because we know exactly how to find an ingroup’s outgroup.

Finding the Beach Reach Volunteers’ Outgroup.

To identify a Beach Reach volunteer’s outgroup, we must look much closer to their own ingroup of young Southern Baptists. That is the correct way to identify an outgroup, according to the incredible Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex.

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

The entire essay is 100% worth your time. I do hope you’ll read it. This bit, though, summarizes nicely what we need:

An outgroup is group that’s nearly identical to the ingroup, but its members have some small difference from the ingroup that the ingroup finds absolutely intolerable.

Age sorts younger people more reliably than similarities in circumstances or beliefs. Put them in a room with any mix of people, and they will likely identify with and relate to the one who is closest to them in age. Thus, I think college-age Southern Baptists’ outgroup will be their fellow college students who don’t buy into evangelical nonsense.

Because of that, it makes sense that SBC-lings would be most upset about other college-age people who don’t embrace evangelicalism.

And just like that, we’ve found their outgroup.

How Beach Reach Trainers Teach Hatred of the Volunteers’ Outgroup.

All through Beach Reach training, we see subtle digs at the volunteers’ own outgroup.

In Week 1’s student handout, we see the SBC’s reasoning behind offering free pancake breakfast to their marks:

It is designed to provide an atmosphere where spring breakers can go to talk, sober up, and relax outside the bar setting.

Oh, I bet that “sober up” thing grabs young SBC college students by the feels, given the SBC’s traditional hateboner for alcohol. Just imagine: Poor dears, they’re so drunk they’re not even sober again by morning!

Week 2’s student handout pounds hard on denigrating the volunteers’ marks. It doesn’t specifically tell volunteers to look upon their marks as inferior, broken failures. It doesn’t need to say that part out loud. Its evangelism system does the heavy lifting on that point quite well enough on its own.

Evangelism generally is an expression of great disrespect to its targets. That said, this particular system of evangelism is even worse than usual. There’s no way a young SBC-ling could learn this system and deploy it from a place of mutual respect and reciprocity. Instead, SBC-lings taking these systems to heart learn to view others as vastly-inferior enemies with no hope, values, morality, or even purpose in life.

It’s all subtly done, but the message likely hits home regardless. These marks might seem like you, this evangelism system teaches evangelists, but they are not at all like you. They’re not as smart, wise, humble, charitable, or discerning as you are. Poor things! But we can fix them.

Always Fighting the Urge to Judge the Outgroup.

Because this style of evangelism solidly drives home all the differences the ingroup perceives in the outgroup, and because it comes from a position of perceived superiority over inferior and pitiable enemies, judgmentalism is a natural emotion for Beach Reach volunteers to feel.

And as such, the leaders of Beach Reach must constantly restrain the volunteers’ natural inclination to overtly judge their marks.

Week 3’s student handout pointedly reminds volunteers not to judge their marks. Gee, why would volunteers need that reminder if their constant and immediate impulse wasn’t judgmental in nature?

On that note, check out #1 on a LifeWay blog’s list of prayers for Beach Reach: Jesus, magically strong-arm those volunteers into feeling “broken” instead of “judgmental” toward marks.

Or this 2015 news article about the creepy founder of Beach Reach, Buddy Young. From start to finish, he sounds utterly contemptuous of his marks. Here’s how the article begins:

Thousands of college students have made their way to South Padre Island for Spring Break, but one group didn’t show up to party.

We come down here to serve people, said Buddy Young, the coordinator of a church-affiliated organization called Beach Reach.

The article ends with a quote from “a member of Beach Reach,” who lies her rump off about why Beach Reach exists — and in the most paternalistic way possible at that:

“We want to actually be an example of God’s love and show that ‘No, we’re not here to judge you. Have fun. We just want you to be safe,'” said Desiree Padilla, a member of Beach Reach.

Just yikes. Safety is absolutely not why they’re there, and it’s also really judgmental to suggest that these students couldn’t possibly be safe without these dishonest evangelists on hand.

Over and over again, I’ve seen Beach Reach volunteers cautioned about judging their marks for making decisions they don’t like or agree with. Those admonishments exist for a reason. Authoritarians are by nature judgmental, and very few authoritarians are quite as authoritarian as fervent Southern Baptists.

Hate is Learned.

It’s said that compassion comes to us naturally, but hate is learned. Indeed, even babies can display sympathy at six months and empathy at two years.

Hatred and -isms get learned as part of identification with one’s ingroup. The ingroup’s leaders create messaging that gets absorbed by followers, who then perpetuate this messaging and act on it. And this set of biases and prejudices can be a powerful reinforcement of religious indoctrination.

Evangelical college students training for Beach Reach learns to view other college students as not only sales marks but also as inferior, degraded, hopeless, meaningless sacks of flesh.

This intentional separation of SBC-lings from normies keeps them from developing any close relationships with the people who would otherwise represent their most resonant ingroup. It also keeps them from any meaningful interactions with people who could best contradict SBC-lings’ indoctrination.

How Beach Reach Snips Away Support Threads.

Perhaps worst of all, these Beach Reach volunteers learn to insulate themselves from this potentially-invaluable source of social support and friendship through the adoption of 24/7 always-be-closing salesmanship techniques.

These techniques are both inept and counterproductive, but sales isn’t the point here and never was. Retention of existing customers is. And these volunteers are, first and foremost, existing SBC customers.

So now we have arrived at the truly darkest part of Beach Reach: this dividing line SBC leaders insert between SBC-lings and those outside their bubble. Evangelicals’ style of personal evangelism always seems disrespectful, but Beach Reach really drives home that disrespect.

That instilled sense of contempt for volunteers’ otherwise closest support network is perhaps the most reprehensible and cruelest facet of what would otherwise be simply a useless and meaningless waste of volunteers’ time and money.

And as we’ve seen with our drive-by Beach Reach veteran, Jadon, that instilled sense of contempt and judgmentalism pays off for life for the SBC.

NEXT UP: Another utterly cringey new evangelism tactic, just for fun.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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