WELL. The best-laid plans and all that! I found something to lead us up to J.D. Greear’s skidmark of a post from last week. Y’all need to see this first–if only to prepare yourselves. It seems that evangelical leaders have come up with yet another way to sabotage their young people. This time, they called the strategy “Dare 2 Share.” As we speak, they’re having a big ole indoctrination jamboree in about a hundred locations nationwide. Here’s what these opportunistic conjobs want these kids to do, and why it will harm them in the long run. Maybe along the way we’ll even ask some questions that maybe Christians need to ask themselves.
So Very, Very #Edgy.
I heard rumblings about this effort yesterday. Gang, this is impressively opportunistic even for Christians. They call it “Dare 2 Share” and aim it squarely at teenage Christians. Their goal, they tell us, involves teaching teenagers how to sell their religion, then motivating them to actually go forth and do it.
Today, many thousands of these teenagers sit in venues to learn how to pester people for Jesus. The “curriculum,” such as it is, sounds much like the average youth group meeting: the adults lead a day of preaching, lectures, copious shows of talking to the ceiling, and skits–all of them trying to educate and inspire. Then the kids all leave the venues, heading out into the neighborhood to annoy people living nearby with sales pitches. (Apparently, some of them choose to gather food for food pantries instead, which is much better than interrupting people on what might be one of their only days off work. Even so, that requires no rah-rah sessions to accomplish.)
During and afterward, the leaders of this event ask the teens to share to social media how they’re putting that information to good use.
According to the October 13th event’s website, they seek nothing less than “a nation of teens sparking a church-wide movement for the cause of Christ.”
This Ain’t New, Baby.
For all the ultra-hyped-up-red-hot-maximum-overdrive-INTENSITY-TIMES-TWELVE fervor the website projects, however, you might be surprised to learn that nothing in it is really new.
In fact, Dare 2 Share has been around for over 25 years. Seriously.
We sure haven’t seen a lot of “a nation of teens sparking a church-wide movement for the cause of Christ” lately. Hell, we haven’t even seen any slowing down of the incredible-and-growing churn rate in Christianity, most of it coming from the under-30 set. Considering its own mission statement, Dare 2 Share represents an utter failure.
But that hasn’t stopped its founder from pushing it as if he just lucked into the solution to all of his religion’s problems forever.
Everyone, Meet Greg Stier–Again.
When I read the “About” section of the Dare 2 Share site, my memory twigged on the name of the founder, Greg Stier. See, we’ve met him before, though it was a brief mention. In June, he showed up in a discussion about the increasing flight of young people from Christianity.
At the time, we briefly looked at a 2009 essay he wrote that criticized a book by Kevin Roose. The essay was reprinted in 2011 in Christian Post. The book in question, The Unlikely Disciple, showed how Kevin Roose enrolled in Liberty University as a non-Christian. There, he spent some time undercover among the fundie-est young fundies who ever fundied. He came out of the experience with a lot of criticisms aimed at the students’ street evangelism.
And that criticism was not okay with Greg Stier, who thinks street evangelism can be hugely successful because on the few occasions he made a sale, “In my heart of hearts, I know many of [the yes answers] were sincere.” His anecdata defeats reality!
Stier offers, regarding the book, the usual infuriating assertion that “his heart hurt” while reading Kevin Roose’s story. (And make no mistake, me hearties, we will be diving into that execrable sentiment soon. Someone said it of me recently as well and it needs a little of our time.) Poor widdle Kevin, he cooed in his essay. BAD CHRISTIANS chased him away from TRUE CHRISTIANITY™!
He ended by turning the spotlight onto himself. He reflected on how he himself might have turned tons of people off to his product through his “lack of sensitivity.” And he tells us that he still must “wrestle” with balancing “the relational and relentless aspects of evangelism.”
So as we contemplate his “ministry,” remember that this guy admits that he has no clue how to effectively sell his own product. Still, he’s happy to take people’s money to teach Christian kids his flawed sales techniques.
“Deep & Wide.”
The heart of Dare 2 Share appears to be a strategy called “Deep & Wide.” You can download it from their site for free if you give them contact info.
(Yes, Greg Stier really calls it that. A guy who works extensively with teenagers clearly never once asked any of them if the name might be somehow exploitable. You snerk, you lose. Join me in the loser’s circle after the post. I’m pretty much permanently there and I’m making homemade pita bread and spinach-and-artichoke dip tonight. Also, I now have 50 PDF copies of this book that I can sprinkle around, according to its license. Just sayin’.)
A critique of the strategy begins,
Deep & Wide is not another ministry philosophy. It’s not intended to be a formula for youth groups. It’s not the newest, latest, wave of ministry hype.
However, what he presents after that assertion demonstrates amply that yes, Dare 2 Share is yet another ministry philosophy intended to be a formula for youth groups because it’s just the newest, latest, wave of ministry hype.
From Apathy to Passion.
“Deep & Wide” aims to turn “apathetic teens” into “passionate teens.”
The first term means “teens who don’t feel moved to make sales pitches.” That makes the second “teens who super-duper-want to make sales pitches.”
The handbook’s introduction makes clear that Greg Stier thinks it is an awesome thing to “push your teenagers into a deeper relationship with God.” He follows that idea with a Tim Keller quote that ends, “Teens need to be put in positions where they are forced to rely on God.”
OH NO honey, what is you doin’
But it gets worse.
Let’s Deploy Teens to Kandahar After a Class on Bomb-Defusing!
Oh, did that header maybe get anybody’s attention? Did anybody perhaps think I’m just making that up for comedic effect? Because I’m not. That, literally, is the example Greg Stier uses to illustrate how important it is to him to force teens to pester their friends.
On page 12, Stier trots out the header “Dangerous Discipleship!” I mean, obviously! It’s so dangerous to teens to pester their friends for Jesus, right? The example he uses is just so WTF that I must quote it.
Say your church leadership decided they want you to sit through a mandatory six week, 12 hour a day bomb-defusing class. You don’t have to pass it. You just have to sit through it. Do you think you’d be bored after about a half an hour? But what if you were told that after the class was over you were going to Afghanistan? There’s the problem right there. We are forcing our teenagers to sit through what feels to them like a 12 hour a day, boring, bomb-defusing class, but never deploying them into Kandahar Province!
“Kandahar,” in this scenario, represents teens’ schools, friendships, and social media, if you’re wondering. “Deep & Wide” is supposed to make teens regard their bomb-defusing classes as the necessary first component to their deployment to Kandahar.
YES. This is a thing that he said.
WORDS. NONE. I HAVE NONE.
(Mr. Captain: “WOW. WOW, BUDDY.”)
Thirty Pages Later… Going Wide.
This 44-page e-book spends more than 25 pages selling itself, complimenting itself, and offering poorly-worded quizzes that youth ministers can use to “evaluate” just how sold-out-for-Jesus their youth groups really are.
On page 30, it finally gets down to actually doing what it says it wants to do. That’s Step #5, by the way: “Start to Nudge Your Teenagers Wide with the Gospel.”
Nudging teenagers appears to consist of repeatedly “giving the gospel” during youth group meetings, telling them testimonies and Bible stories, and letting them tell stories along the same lines. Also, youth ministers should “make baptisms a big deal” and “mobilize your teenagers for consistent evangelistic action.”
In turn, mobilizing teenagers means teaching them to recite rote Bible verses, downloading the Dare 2 Share mobile app on their phones to help them pester people (Mr. Captain: “Mobile app? Oh, buddy. F*** you so much.”), and making them master that exact type of apologetics argument that only extremely young or extremely ignorant people would ever find compelling. Then the teens are finally ready to go at their friends, to “pray, pursue, and persuade” them.
I feel so bad for any teenagers who get sucked into this guy’s orbit. He’s training them to be Creepers For Jesus. That’s what “going wide” means for him: giving teenagers even more splash damage than they already have (NB: TVTropes Walkabout Warning).
Going deep, on the other hand, involves training teenagers to be as “like Jesus” as possible. That means feeding them Bible stories and verses, immersing them in doctrinal studies to “ground them” in “historic orthodox Christianity,” and “training” them to perform Christian observances like thinking at the ceiling, memorizing thousands-of-years-old Bible verses, and learning to appreciate insipid Christian music.
Stier promises (p. 38) that if youth ministers “equip your teenagers to allow Jesus to live His life through them, then they will be unstoppable, because it will no longer be them living in their own strength, but Jesus living through them.” He also promises that if they can become little mini-Jesuses, then “they will become compelling, effective witnesses as they live THE Cause out in their own lives.”
(Weirdly, Stier doesn’t appear to mention fasting, which the character of Jesus did often in the Gospels. How curious!)
Results-Oriented Training, Just Without Results.
Theoretically, going “Wide & Deep” will produce young Christians who stick with the religion for life and recruit plenty of other Christians to the tribe.
That’s their stated goal. Everything Dare 2 Share does orients itself to that goal.
As I mentioned earlier, however, we can clearly see that Christianity has been hemorrhaging young people for many years. This guy’s been doing this Dare 2 Share thing for over 25 years, by his own reckoning. He’s been going at it full-time since the 1999 Columbine shootings. In fact, and as shocking as this might sound, on his “Founder” page he credits that mass killing with inspiring him to make this ministry his living.
But Christian leaders are still waiting for that promised “church-wide movement” to begin.
Instead, Dare 2 Share measures itself by statistics that mean absolutely nothing but sound stupendous: how many “gospel conversations” the kids have during their events; how many students “commit to full-time mission work,” and the like.
I suppose it beats “decision cards.”
How This Is Going to Backfire.
Very little on this good dark earth creates as much cringe for me as teen evangelists. Part of the cringe, speaking for myself alone here, comes from simply remembering what I was like as a teenybopper Christian. Much of the rest comes from maturing and realizing just what ultra-level of manipulation has to occur to create young Christians like Teen Me.
And then I get a double dose of cringe from knowing all too well what’s going to happen to those kids when their leaders release them to go evangelize everybody in sight. I know because I went through what every one of them will be going through when their indoctrinations slam up against the brick wall of Reality-Land.
See, the arguments and blandishments that seemed oh-so-super-duper-compelling to me when I was 16 didn’t sway or even faze anybody. My non-fundagelical friends seemed more worried than interested in my dazzling-bright new Jesus Aura. My family actively shut down my worried attempts to save them from Hell.
I remember those couple of years as a fundagelical high-schooler as being intensely frustrating.
But it was worse than that. Those years taught me that the evangelism tricks I’d been taught were foolproof were, in fact, failures. No matter how well I executed them–and gang, I was good at this–they simply didn’t work on live targets.
Just as my prayers slowly shifted to take into account what reality taught me, my evangelism efforts shifted as well.
Missing Out on SIN!
I also look back at those years and recognize them as a slow process of alienating all my friends and missing out on all the formative experiences that teens usually get. Even today, I encounter stuff that happened between 1988 and 2000 or so that is total news to me. I can and do learn about the stuff I missed, but none of this stuff is part of my cultural tapestry the way they are for young people who didn’t get sucked into weird cults. I can only experience them at a far-away remove, like I’m a tourist in my own hometown.
Remember that movie we reviewed a while ago, Second Glance? And that scene where a shockingly-young David A.R. White whines to his dad that he feels like he’s missing out on all the fun his schoolmates get to have, and the dad barks back “You mean missing out on SIN?” That was literally what the adults in my church would have told me, if I’d been brave enough to complain.
They thought–as this Dare 2 Share guy clearly thinks–that they had saved me from pain and potential hellfire (if I died in my sins, as the Christianese goes). But adolescence is when we learn to endure relatively small and minor pains to prepare us for the vast ones that adulthood will bring. Without that inoculation, I stood defenseless against those greater pains.
And yeah, I saw that my friends were steadily drifting further and further away from me. I felt helpless to stop it. Either I made Jesus happy by selling my religion to them, or I preserved my friendships but writhed in emotional agony because I felt so guilty over not being able to “save” them. We won’t even get into the body shame and sexuality issues I ran into; you can guess, I’m sure.
That’s the adolescence these teens cruise straight toward.
Passion Does Not Produce Sales.
Of course, back then pretty much everybody around me was already Christian, so evangelizing them meant moving them from the wrong type of Christianity to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. Nowadays, there’s an even-steven chance that a teenager isn’t Christian (in the United Kingdom, that chance shoots up considerably–71% of people 18-25 describe themselves as non-religious).
For a long time now, I’ve noticed that fundagelicals seek to instill as much rah-rah-GO into young people as they can. The thinking appears to be that this passion will fling young people into Christian adulthoods, where they’ll be safely ensconced in church communities before it wears off.
But that ain’t what’s happening!
I respectfully submit that turning teens into zealots doesn’t make them into fervent adults. It might well simply slam them into an early breakdown between expectations and results that will show them all the faster that Christianity’s claims are false.
And About Those Adults.
Here’s my Columbo and one other thing observation.
The sound quality on this is uneven, but it’s excellent. I adore this show.
Remember, during the Unequally Yoked Club posts, how I gave considerable side-eye to newlywed men and women in fundagelicalism who kept giving all this WTF marriage advice?
That’s how I feel about these efforts to radicalize young people.
It sure looks to me like the people involved in this predation know perfectly well that adults typically reject the childish manipulations going on in these efforts. Worse, adults recognize that nobody ever falls for such puerile talking points. And they value their social capital way too much to waste it on a sales pitch. They know how hard it is to make new friends and keep those bonds alive for years.
But teens? Maybe they’re different now, but back when I was one, I never imagined a time when I wouldn’t have tons of friends or be able to make new ones easily and quickly. It was tough to realize, as a freshly deconverted adult, that I really had no idea how to make friends as an adult without the ritualized, transactional interactions of religion.
It’s sickening to see Christian adults literally encouraging young people to destroy their friendships to make sales. But that’s Greg Stier’s ideal for teenagers. That’s what he wants to see teenagers do. He’s stunting their entire futures as people–and in his “one-on-one” with Ed Stetzer about the event today, he sounds like he celebrates every single friend they lose.
The Solution, Obviously.
As it stands, the last time anybody checked, young people evangelize more often by far than any other age group. Barna Group’s research isn’t awesome, but very few other sources study stuff like how often Christians try to sell their religion. Back in 2013, they discovered that between 2010 and 2013, Millennials’ efforts far eclipsed those of older generations.
Five years later, Barna noted with alarm that more evangelicals than ever consider evangelism “optional.” They also noted that various long-standing Christian evangelism techniques–like “challenging the other person to defend their beliefs” and “quoting passages from the Bible” –were quickly falling out of fashion.
Barna totally blames “overarching cultural trends of secularism, relativism, pluralism and the digital age,” which are all “contributing to a society that is less interested in religion and that has marginalized the place of spirituality in everyday life.” Their spokesperson laments that “Christians in America today have to live in the tension between Jesus’ commands to tell others the good news and growing cultural taboos against proselytizing.”
And remember, those cultural shifts happened while Dare 2 Share and numerous other similar businesses sprang up to stuff young people as full of rah-rah as they could. Despite all of those efforts (or because of them!), this is where Americans are now.
It seems to me that what these efforts do is create ex-Christians more than anything else. I just mourn the losses those kids will experience as they slowly realize what a pack of lies Christianity is. I already know what the road looks like for them. At least they’ll find lots of people walking it alongside them when the time comes.
NEXT UP: Fundagelical leaders prefer to prey upon children, but they’ll take adults if they must. Next, we’ll see how much weirder that process looks. See you soon!
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