'Bless Every Home:' Personal Evangelism Done Super-Creepy

Participating evangelicals get quite a lot of information about their neighbors with this new evangelism program -- information those neighbors didn't consent to give them and might not ever want them to have. And that's just the beginning of my concerns.

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Hi and welcome back! For years now, evangelical leaders have despaired at their ongoing decline in membership. Long ago, they pinpointed personal evangelism (person-to-person selling) as the way to fix that decline. But the flocks refuse to do it. Despite wearing a religious label that directly emphasizes the importance of recruitment, they despise selling their faith to others. They’ve made that fact crystal-clear for longer than my Gen-X rump has even been alive. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) devised a new — and creepily invasive — way to force their flocks to get out there and SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY. Today, let me show you ‘Bless Every Home.’

(Shuvra Podder.) A gorgeous monument in Bangladesh. Credit: Shuvra Podder / Unsplash

(When I talk about evangelism as a sales process, the product in question is not Jesus or even religious faith in anything particular. Rather, the product being pitched is lifelong, dues-paying, active membership in the salesperson’s own group. Think I’m kidding? Tell an evangelist you already believe in Christianity, but name a different group from the one the evangelist likes. Chances are, they will redouble their sales efforts. Evangelists spend a lot of time trying to convince Christians that they bought the wrong product.)

Personal Evangelism: An Overview.

Personal evangelism is simply Christianese for person-to-person selling. Instead of a professional Christian evangelist leading the effort, it’s done by regular pew-warmers. Mostly, evangelicals use this phrase — though one sees it out of traditional Catholic (tradcath) zealots too. Though largely impromptu in basis, I’m seeing more and more large-scale church-organized efforts like J.D. Greear’s stalker-y “Who’s Your One?” initiative.

To perform personal evangelism, our hopeful evangelists seek out sales marks. Their process looks very similar to the one used by multi-level marketing (MLM) recruiters. They often pretend to be their marks’ friends to get close to them (which takes them into friendship evangelism territory), or they get involved in charity efforts like Beach Reach (which takes them similarly into service evangelism territory).

Then, also just like MLM recruiters, personal evangelists ferret out their marks’ insecurities, hopes, and needs. Drawing upon that information, they then craft sales pitches accordingly.

As you might guess from the term evangelical, evangelicals are supposed to care greatly about evangelism. Their entire label emphasizes the sheer importance of recruitment through hard-sales. Evangelical leaders constantly stress the importance of personal evangelism as well, especially as their organizations’ money dries up for organized big-tent evangelism outreach. These leaders deluge their followers constantly with entreaties and instructions (like this one) for personal evangelism. They beg the flocks to just try, telling them that just trying is more than enough.

Unfortunately for them, though, the flocks don’t wanna.

At least, that’s how it used to work. The other day, I spotted a post from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) that indicates their leaders are starting to play hardball about personal evangelism.

(See also: Harsh Truths for Pastors About Personal Evangelism; Come Meet the SBC’s EVANGELISM TASK FORCEIntentional Evangelism Fails Too; An Introduction to Jesus Aura EvangelismI Bet You Had No Idea Soulwinning Was This EasyThe Perilous Position of the Sales-Minded ChristianCounting the Costs of My Teen ZealotryThe Flocks Still Don’t Like Evangelism: Reset Button EditionAuthoritarian Leaders Are Trying Evangelism Apps Now.)

A Very Creepy Sign of the Times in Personal Evangelism.

Over at the SBC news site Baptist Press, I spotted a December 3, 2021 news release about a new personal evangelism initiative introduced in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. They call it “Bless Every Home.” Here’s their introduction to the concept:

Every Great Commission-focused church wants to reach its neighborhood for Christ. Door-to-door visits, passing out flyers and tracts … such traditional methods still work but may be less effective in today’s increasingly mobile society where neighbors often do not know the folks down the street.

Imagine being able to pray daily for neighbors by name, to care for them, to share the gospel with them.

To encourage that dynamic, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is offering its affiliated churches the opportunity to learn about their neighbors and track evangelism efforts by making Bless Every Home’s Bless Partner service available.

Bless Partner facilitates one-on-one evangelism with those around you, said Bruno Molina, SBTC language and interfaith evangelism associate. [Source]

That “Great Commission” blahblah likely got used because for years now, the SBC has been trying to change its name to “Great Commission Baptists.” It’s a hamfisted attempt by the SBC to get away from their own irrevocably-tainted brand. J.D. Greear really liked that name-change idea and pushed hard for it. And isn’t it sly how the writer slid that “to share the gospel with them” in that list of otherwise-innocuous, harmless activities?

But this initiative is creepier even than usual for the SBC, and I’ll show you exactly how. First, though, let’s see how it works.

The Big Lie About “Bless Every Home.”

The website for “Bless Every Home” has a video on it that starts with a clip from the awful 2015 evangelical movie War Room.

War Room was about a woman learning about the mythical power of prayer from an elderly Christian. She then used prayer to heal her marriage, bring her family together, solve her husband’s serious work problem, and stop her feet from stinking up the house. I audibly groaned when I realized what I was watching, but then, evangelicals have always tried to PROVE YES PROVE their wackadoodle claims with obviously fictional stories.

So “Bless Every Home” sells itself using an obviously-fictional bad movie, and evangelical leaders see nothing whatsoever wrong with that. (Why use peer-reviewed scholarly studies about the real power of prayer? Oh, because there aren’t any? Never mind.)

Even more hilariously, this entire effort appears to have been created by the same liars-for-Jesus who made War Room, the Kendrick brothers. Indeed, Sam Kendrick appears on the ad video after the clip.

So I’m guessing the money from their equally-failtastic Love Dare/Fireproof movie and book has dried up.

If this new thing only involved prayer, we wouldn’t care about it. That’s because prayer does nothing tangible. In fact, it’s the quintessential illustration for the concept of magical thinking. So I’m all for encouraging Christians to talk to their ceilings all day long. Prayer would keep them out of a lot of trouble, if more of them actually did it.

But “Bless Every Home” is not about prayer.

It may pretend it is, and it may sell itself to the flocks that way, but it isn’t about prayer at all. It’s about surveillance.

FORCING Personal Evangelism.

“Bless Every Home” is a combination of mapping, identifying, and surveilling. And the video makes that clear about 30 seconds in, when Stephen Dervan (“Associate Pastor, Sherwood Baptist”) starts talking. His expressions, as he talks, make me immediately distrust him, so you get this image to go along with the following transcript of his explanation:

please share my misery
(Source.) Confidential to Texan Authoritarian: Get your blood pressure checked.

The ease of use and convenience, as literally taking away every excuse that we could possibly come up with for whah we cain’t engage the Lord on our neighbors’ behalf.

I find this idea absolutely horrifying, but it gets worse.

Way worse. Prepare yourself. Deep breath.

How “Bless Every Home” Works.

First, of course, a church must join the “Bless Every Home” network. Once they do, individual Christians in that church can join up as well. And once they do, they’ll be able to access a list of all the neighbors’ names in their area, with their addresses. Here’s the image from the video on their site:

(Source) WTAF

Participants even get a dashboard on their computer program that color-codes and categorizes their efforts.

not getting better
(Source.) Not gettin’ better.

As we see, participants get a number of stats and metrics to track:

  • “adopted” households, meaning how many the participant has claimed responsibility to convert
  • “prayed for” households
  • “cared for” households, meaning the participant has learned those people’s names and sometimes does nice things for them
  • “shared with” households; sharing means “made a sales pitch to”
  • “discipled” households, meaning how many have accepted the sales pitch and are now under the participant’s wing as li’l baby Christians

One has to stifle a laugh at the stats here — out of 86 households, only 15 have received a sales pitch, while 11 have accepted and are being “discipled.” My goodness, that’s hopeful.

Here’s how their map of the participant’s neighborhood looks like, using the colors from the above dashboard:

this is absolutely dystopian
(Source.) Seriously WTAF levels of invasive!

Every day, the participant gets reminders about who specifically to talk to their ceiling about. The designers of this program encourage participants to write journal entries about each household.

“What are we waiting on?” asks an unnamed voice. “The harvest is now!” Moreover, the announcer informs viewers that if everybody were to join “Bless Every Home,” the ensuing revival would completely turn Christianity’s decline around.

This new initiative will totally work, claim the initiative’s designers and principal salespeople.

A Disturbing New Trend in Personal Evangelism.

I watched that video with increasingly wide eyes and my jaw dropping more every second.

We don’t know how the Texas SBC is gathering this information or storing it, nor what they’re doing with any information they gain through participants’ journal entries.

But we do know a lot. “Bless Every Home” is horrifyingly invasive and staggeringly presumptive, with absolutely no care whatsoever given to whether or not the participants’ “neighbors” even want to become a “discipling” project for zealots with no respect for boundaries.

The SBC is not just piously “facilitating” personal evangelism with “Bless Every Home.” They’re not even just invading the privacy of non-members and enrolling them in evangelism projects without first gaining their permission.

They’re going to be tracking the flocks’ obedience to this new initiative, too. They don’t mention that on the introductory-info page, but the SBC article mentions it.

The New SBC Surveillance State.

In the SBC article, we learn how churches will be using the program:

Something as simple as helping your neighbor take out her garbage is an example of caring. The Bless Partner app allows church members to log such events and note times when they have prayed or shared the gospel with someone. The church can see the same information, Molina said. [Source]

Well, wasn’t that a sly little aside. It caught my immediately, though, and it should raise endless alarm bells for any evangelical tempted to join “Bless Every Home.”

Why are churches seeing this info? What will they do with it? How will they convey this understanding with participants?

And what happens if a participant ain’t making sales pitches on schedule? Or making sales through those pitches? What if not enough church members sign up to invade their neighbors’ privacy without consent? What will church leaders do then?

Oh, and the article ends thusly:

The New Movers service provides churches with weekly lists of up to 25 households that have moved within a 15-mile radius of the church. According to the Bless Every Home website, the list includes the new residents’ names and address and notes how many miles they have moved from their last home. Church staffs can mobilize their member Lights who have opted to visit new movers. The Lights receive email notifications to pray for and visit the appropriate new movers. These contacts can also be logged.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m absolutely aghast at this whole thing. But this last bit bothers me possibly more than anything else involved.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience Meets the Broken System.

We already know that evangelicals are the very last people on Earth we should trust with literally any information. That is because evangelicalism is a broken system.

A broken system isn’t always a failed one. Many broken systems last for centuries. Being a broken system simply means that this group is utterly dysfunctional. Its people lost the ability long ago (if they ever had it) to fulfill their own stated goals. Instead, their system functions mainly to gratify the group’s leaders at the expense of the membership. The leaders of broken systems seek personal power above all else — and then, once they get it, they seek to flex it. Meanwhile, members seek leadership positions — so they can start gaining and flexing power. In a broken system, we encounter little else besides endless power plays.

The leaders of a broken system are obsessed with gaining and flexing power. Because of their obsession, they tend to subtly shift their group’s rules to allow people into power who couldn’t gain it in more-functional groups. A functional group wouldn’t allow a dysfunctional, power-maddened zealot anywhere near real power. They’d throw that person out long before they could reach a leadership position.

But a broken system exists to allow such people into power.

Once ensconced, a broken system’s leaders count on their fellow leaders to protect them from all accusations of unfairness and wrongdoing. And their fellow leaders do, indeed, protect them — for as long as it’s profitable to themselves to do so, and so long as they get protection returned when they need it too. This is why we should always expect to find scandals involving all manner of abuse and fraud in broken systems.

What I describe here is where the Southern Baptist Convention finds itself now.

The Bright Lining: The Flocks Still Hate Personal Evangelism.

And now the SBC is busily sending maps of homeowners’ names and addresses to SBC-lings who know their churches will be able to see everything they do with those maps.

I mean, really now, what could possibly go wrong? 

On the way minus side, this initiative could result in some very serious stalking.

But there is at least a plus side:

The flocks still hate personal evangelism.

An app that prods and pushes them to do stuff won’t make them like it more. And once a guilt-riddled SBC-ling annoys the wrong household with their invasion of privacy, I don’t think it’ll go ignored.

So Texas homeowners beware: The SBC knows where you live, and they’re sending your information to local churches.

NEXT UP: Gimme an L! Gimme an S! And gimme a P! What’s that spell? A very special retrospective LSP! Next week, I’m also hoping we get time to check out The Gospel Coalition’s vocal defense of Tim Keller’s awful, failtastic tweets about Original Christianity. They’re just as clueless about early Christian history and why people reject Christianity as he is, so they’re a lot of fun. See you tomorrow!

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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,...