beach reach claims this is its target
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Adi Cohen.) The SBC sees all these people as sad widdle heathens comforting themselves in their brokenness, especially if they ever figure out that this picture depicts a gay pride parade in Israel.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! A while ago, we talked about Beach Reach. That’s the hilariously failed evangelism event held every spring by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). For two weeks (usually), young SBC-lings converge upon a beach in Texas to offer faux-charity to partying college students who are only there to enjoy Spring Break. Last time we talked about it, we determined (with a drive-by SBC-ling’s help) that Beach Reach only exists to further indoctrinate Southern Baptists themselves. Today, we’ll check out an overview of Beach Reach to see what it’s really about — and what it says it’s all about.

beach reach claims this is its target
(Adi Cohen.) The SBC sees all these people as sad widdle heathens comforting themselves in their brokenness, especially if they ever figure out that this is a gay pride parade in Israel.

(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 some related posts: 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. BTW: I decided that we needed a refresher on Beach Reach before we plunge into the training part of it. I hope you’ll find the wait worth this setup.)

Beach Reach and Its Stated Goals.

Every time I look at Beach Reach propaganda, I have to laugh because seriously, it hypes itself so very much for an event boasting almost no progress at all on its stated goals. Check out the official Beach Reach website for their purpose and stated mission statement:

Now, during Beach Reach, hundreds of Christian college students join together to verbally share the gospel of Jesus with those they encounter as they seek to meet their physical needs for food and transportation. This is a strategic moment to proclaim the gospel in the midst of brokenness. Join us as we meet needs in His name that we might proclaim his love to thousands of college students who invade South Padre Island during Spring Break.

From this, we can ascertain the stated goals of Beach Reach:

  • Proclaiming the gospel as Southern Baptists misunderstand it to poor, sad, sinful widdle heathens who don’t realize their fun week of partying to create lifetime memories they’ll cherish actually represents “brokenness” to the toyless-and-joyless crowd.
  • Meeting “needs” — only so they can get their feet in the door to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY.
  • Ultimately: Making much-needed sales for their cash-starved denomination.

My goodness, these are some lofty goals!

They’ve operated under various other names. Originally, SBC leaders called this mission trip “Pioneer Penetration” in 1986, then “Operation Penetration” in 1987 — I kid you not. Sometimes, they make “Beach Reach” one word. As a result, it’s hard to find necessary info at times. As you can tell, too, they’ve been at this thing for decades now.

And by the way, Beach Reach is not free to its young volunteers. They pay almost USD$600 each for this privilege, as we’ll discuss later.

So what have all these volunteers over all these years, spending all this money and time of their very own, actually accomplished during Beach Reach?

The Complete Failure of Beach Reach as a Missionary Effort.

I keep a spreadsheet of SBC statistics — including whatever I can find about Beach Reach each year.

Even on the many years I must read between the lines to get any idea of that year’s successes, it’s downright hilarious to see how poorly this program does at its own stated goals. In the 1997 Annual Report, we see claims that Beach Reach achieved 80 conversions that year. It’s the first year they ever mention conversion numbers at all.

Around 2003, near the height of evangelicals’ cultural dominance in the United States, they record 106 conversions and 23 “rededications.” But all of it’s very murkily worded:

During March 2002, up to 25 BeachReachers were challenged to share the message of Christ in
Panama City, Florida. During the course of the month: 8,361 van rides were given and 11,494
people were served a pancake breakfast. The BeachReach Web site received 7,500 hits and over
5,200 people logged on to pray. Professions of faith were made by 106 students, and 23 rededicated their lives. [p. 160]

Now, we never learn how these “professions of faith” got made or exactly who received them, nor how the SBC differentiated between those and “rededicating” Christians. They absolutely do not include any information about baptisms, so draw your own conclusions about just how solid these professions were. I certainly have already drawn mine.

That was their big year. After that, sales successes aren’t mentioned at all — or else they range in the 70s for most years. By 2018, they record 50 professions of faith. In 2020, we learn of “some 42.” The 2021 Book of Reports contains nothing about Beach Reach stats, though they did hold events for one of their usual two planned weeks. Instead, it offers bland, passive-voice statements: blah blah, Jesus things got done, van rides got offered, and pancakes got eaten, blah blah.

Verdict: As a missionary effort, Beach Reach is and has always been a complete failure. It does not and cannot fulfill its own ultimate stated goal of making sales for the SBC.

The Unstated Goal of Beach Reach.

But Beach Reach isn’t actually a missionary effort.

Like most short-term missions trips, Beach Reach is an indoctrination effort. Beach Reach actually exists solely to cement the beliefs of their own earnest young volunteers.

We can tell that by looking at what Beach Reach, as a project, actually does.

Just looking at what Beach Reach actually does, what can we guess about the organization’s goals? Do their words and behavior actually speak to their stated goals? If not, what do they tell us instead?

If they wanted to make actual sales, then they would train their volunteers in actual sales techniques. But they do not. As we’ll see tomorrow, the techniques they use are cringey and laughable. But in teaching their volunteers these tactics, they actually hope to create lifelong Southern Baptist pew-warmers.

If they wanted to perform charity, they’d be doing it without attaching it to demands for their volunteers to be hyper-alert for any opportunities to make sales pitches. That’s because the sales pitches are the actual goal here, not the charity.

And those sales pitches represent the entire goal — not sales results. That’s why Annual Reports happily offer glowing reports of the sales pitches themselves, but say very little about actual successful ones. Their success stats are pathetic, especially considering how many resources are being slammed into the project.

The processes are what is actually important here. Yes, those processes are guaranteed to backfire and fail in almost every case.

But SBC-lings who master those processes are, the denomination hopes, on their way to becoming lifelong butts in pews (BIPs, a measure of evangelical dominance).

The Real Targets of Beach Reach.

So the volunteers of Beach Reach become the actual and real targets of Beach Reach’s entire operation.

Oh sure, if one of those volunteers happens to luck into someone who’s already leaning hard in the direction of buying their product, sure, they’ll complete the sale. They’ll even call it a success for Team Jesus. (Hooray Team Jesus!)

That said, everything about Beach Reach, everything they do, everything their leaders teach volunteers, it all leads me to think that what they really want to do is hardcore indoctrinate those unsuspecting young adults who think they’re heading to Texas to totally share the gospel with poor widdle hurting heathens.

Of course, those heathens don’t realize they’re hurting or pitiable at all. They would probably resent such an implication. Worse, they’d probably consider those evangelical volunteers the truly pitiable, broken ones. And they’d be right.

But don’t you worry your pretty li’l head about that. It’s very important to Beach Reach’s leaders to teach their volunteers to perceive their tribal enemies in this demeaning, dehumanizing way. Indoctrinating young evangelicals with this exact misperception is a big part of why Beach Reach operates at all.

To that point: Remember that drive-by I mentioned earlier? He went on Beach Reach. And this poor guy still has no idea that he himself was the target of his own mission trip.

The Testimony of a Beach Reach Volunteer.

Here’s what this very displeased evangelical, Jadon, told us:

One of my good friends got saved from a conversation with a Beach Reacher. 5 years later she’s still serving the Lord, active in her church, and about to marry a guy who also loves the Lord. Can’t put a price on even one person coming to know Jesus.

I went on Beach Reach twice and got training in evangelism. I also got to spend the week serving God, worshiping him each morning and evening with my friends, building community with other members of my church, and witnessed a girl from Michigan accept Jesus. She is still friends with one of the girls from our church.

Cost of the trip was about the exact same as a vacation would be [citation needed]. I applaud students that choose to spend their spring break serving God [citation needed] than on a cruise.

Alas, Jadon could never understand that he was the target of Beach Reach, not the happy heathens he completely and utterly failed to persuade.

Indeed, Beach Reach did exactly what it was supposed to do all along with Jadon. It indoctrinated him. It helped cement in his mind all the antisocial behaviors and antiprocess shields he’d need to remain evangelical in the face of overwhelming contradictions to every belief (supernatural and earthly) that he holds about this world, the people in it, and his place in relation to them both.

And in his case, it worked grandly. He’s now one of the reasons why the SBC is facing such a catastrophic decline: its members fail both the so-called Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment, and utterly lack the coercive power needed to force others to comply with their demands anyway.

Now multiply this belligerent, tiresome hypocrite by many thousands of SBC-lings who’ve gone on their own pious frauds of a vacation. No, we need not wonder why evangelicals have become so absolutely toxic as a group. With friends like their own flocks, evangelicals don’t need enemies.

Serving God or Serving Mammon?

Jadon and his pals weren’t “serving God” during Beach Reach.

Instead, they were just getting indoctrinated and paying their own (er, I mean, likely lots of other people’s) money to enjoy a Jesus-flavored vacation. In that way, they’re just like every bright-eyed evangelical kid raising money for their own piously-fraudulent Jesus-flavored vacations.

The short-term missions system succeeds at its unstated goals. That’s why evangelical leaders lean so hard on these endeavors. Their faux-missionaries make very few sales, but that’s okay. Its leaders think short-term mission trips indoctrinate SBC-lings for life, and that’s all they can really hope for nowadays.

(I wonder how much longer they’ll think that, though, what with their membership numbers being in free-fall for years now.)

More importantly, this system also vastly enriches the people running it. Thus, it will never truly die away — not until it’s no longer profitable, so maybe not until the grand pious fraud itself, modern right-wing Christianity as a whole, dies away.

NEXT UP: Looking at the actual evangelism training of Beach Reach. Alcohol recommended. See you soon!

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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,...