Christians face a serious problem with recruitment and retention these days, and both are related to the way their leaders have set up their system. If a Christian wants to successfully recruit new people to join Christianity, they quickly discover how difficult that task can be! And there was a time when an utterly-failed system setup didn’t matter so much. But now their system’s inability to deliver on its stated goals for recruitment has begun to matter. I’ll show you why today.
The Only Constant is Change.
The whole wide world changes quickly, lately. Recently, I saw this article at The New York Post about how Manhattan’s retail sector is “becoming a ghost town.” High rents and low sales combine there to create an atmosphere that is driving retail stores clean out of what may well have once been the most active and lucrative retail market in the country. The article’s writer, Steve Cuozzo, describes a situation that should sound eerily familiar to Christian evangelists:
The people invested in storefront retailing — real-estate developers, landlords and retail companies themselves — tell us not to worry. It’s a “transitional” situation that will right itself over time. Authoritative-sounding surveys by real-estate and retail companies claim that Manhattan’s overall vacancy is only just 10 percent.
But they are all wrong.
If we mosey over to the world of advertising, we behold the same exact thing happening. Years ago, various online news outlets began talking about the huge changes to their industry. Many of those changes involve how consumers engage with advertising. Indeed, some folks began talking about that topic even years earlier. Savvy advertisers adapted quickly–as in this 2012 advertisement for a Kinect game. It entertains so well that its nature as an advertisement becomes part of the overall charm of the sales pitch:1
Just as we see in the Manhattan retail real-estate market, many advertisers also struggle with change. In recent years, some of the biggest advertising companies in the world have posted sharp declines. Christians also struggle with a changing world. And like many advertisers and real-estate developers, their inability to change only hurts them more.
“Not Selling” is Not Optional.
In Christianity, sales and recruitment go by the name of evangelism. Evangelicals in particular consider recruitment centrally-important to their self-image. Two main evangelism strategies currently exist:
- Coercive tactics like interruption marketing and advertising based upon threats. In the former type of marketing, salespeople push into their target’s perception, asking that person to stop and listen to what they have to say. Christians happily resort to threatening behavior to try to force their prospects to hear their message.
- Indirect tactics like lifestyle evangelism. Here, the sales force tries to live in such a way as to make their targets ask what makes them so, I dunno, just so different, man, at which point the salespeople make their formal sales pitch. In other forms of the tactic, salespeople build up great amounts of social capital–and then take advantage of this created social bond with a direct pitch that, if unsuccessful, will likely obliterate that built-up social capital.
Christian leaders themselves prefer the first tactic. For Christians who simply can’t be that kind of salesperson, the second becomes a sort of fallback position. But the flocks don’t have the option of opting out of selling altogether. Eventually, if a Christian doesn’t SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY, the tribe will stomp on them with “Christian love.”
A Similarity That Runs More Than Skin Deep.
This emphasis on sales occurs in multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes as well.
An MLM needs salespeople, desperately. It would collapse without salespeople endlessly trying to recruit new salespeople.
But it cannot have competent salespeople–exactly because its product inevitably blows chunks.
See, saturation happens extremely quickly in the MLM world, despite what their recruiters would have their marks believe. If the sellers could actually competently sell their products and recruit new sellers, then very rapidly nobody would be able to achieve high sales–the sales would be diluted across an ever-expanding sales force!2
Now, you’d think people selling an inferior or ineffective product would welcome huge sales. But generally speaking, that’s the last thing they want if they have any sense at all. Bigger sales means more visibility–which means exposure comes more quickly and readily to those who bother to do such research. If you ever wondered why MLMs’ products almost never show up in major department stores’ shelves, here’s your answer. No department store wants to pin its reputation on anything an MLM decides to fling at customers.
That’s because an MLM’s actual products are almost an afterthought. MLMs are about pushing a failed, predatory business model onto desperate, greedy, ignorant marks.
Over 99% of an MLM’s dupes crash and burn after purchasing their starter kits. A few of those purchases come from people who just like a particular product and want to get a discount for their own personal use (“kitnappers“). As terrible as most MLM products are, a few do work out really well for some folks! Such customers have no intention of recruiting new sellers or selling the product. But all the rest of these starter kits get sold to people who pin their hopes on these fake business opportunities before going on to fail.
When they do, it won’t be their fault–just like in Christianity.
Way back when, I used to wonder why MLMs couldn’t be bothered to provide their salespeople with basic help in using their products, much less in honing their salesmanship skills. Do they just want to alienate vast numbers of people? Do they want their salespeople to be totally inept salespeople?
Well, maybe both answers are “yes.”
Looking at the sheer failure rate of MLM participants, it’s impossible not to conclude that MLMs set their duped sales force up to fail in every way conceivable. And Elle Beau, who appears to be my MLM sister-in-heart (and whose entire blog will look seriously great to ex-Christians), came to much the same conclusion:
To Purple – its not your fault you’re “failing”, because you’re not. Like me, you thought you could succeed in a “business” where you’re set up to fail. Don’t be duped by the promises of Law of Attraction mindset coaches, or other such nonsense.
When I read that sweet reassurance, a lot of things fell into place for me. I come to the same conclusion when I see the failure rate of both forms of Christian evangelism. Too many would-be evangelists fail catastrophically at evangelism for me to think that the actual goal in Christian groups is successful recruitment.
Sure, they want recruitment. They just don’t want it enough to interfere with their group’s real goal of maintaining its position and ideology exactly where they are now.
Having inept salespeople and a failed product sparks a certain self-selection process in prospects.
A growing number of people understand that Christianity is not even on a nodding acquaintanceship with reality or even a good moral system in the abstract. Those people aren’t going to give evangelists the time of day. Hell, most of the time they won’t even talk to evangelists.
And if the those evangelists possess even a little wisdom, they don’t want to talk to those prospects either.
Those real-estate developers in Manhattan want to talk to prospective customers, sure, but they don’t want to deal with scruffy dog hoarders from Best Disciple Town, Wherever with novel ideas about selling gently-used patriotic-themed (and wet-dog-scented) Beanie Babies. They want to talk to prospects who can afford to have shops in that area, and who will continue to be able to pay their rent throughout the terms of their leases. Our Beanie Baby hoarders fit neither criteria. Their certain doom as a business makes them a waste of time for Manhattan developers.
It’s not even worth those developers’ time to talk to people so unlikely to be good business partners. The time they’d spend hearing them out could be spent finding customers and partners who would be worthwhile.
In similar fashion, Christian evangelists–be they amateur-hour or pro-level–know where they’re most likely to find worthwhile customers. They aren’t visiting Wall Street and high-end resorts to evangelize. Instead, they’re hitting up retirement homes, hospitals, and prisons.
Sure, they wouldn’t turn up their noses at a phone call from a happily-married Wall Street investment banker with a sudden attack of the Childhood Indoctrinations. They simply know that a certain kind of prospect gives them a far better chance of success. A successful, happy person just doesn’t fit the bill.
But evangelists aren’t looking for those people anyway.
Why Christian Leaders Don’t Care.
Their leaders have crafted for their flocks a sales toolkit of sorts. Nothing in that toolkit resembles honest salesmanship because it’s based upon the same surreal, Bizarro worldview that their religion suffers from. It barely even qualifies as emotional manipulation, it’s so baldly obvious and ham-handed. But it’s the toolkit that adherents must use.
This toolkit looks like it does because the people using it are looking for one of two types of people. They seek customers who will respond to the tactics they’re using:
- Authoritarians, who will hear the covert message underneath coercive evangelism: Join us, and you’ll get to bother people and insult them openly and not only get away with it, but be praised for it. And they will gravitate to that message.
- Authoritarian followers, who will also hear a similar covert message in indirect Jesus Aura evangelism: See us? Our worldview is the only correct one. You’ll always have structure and safety in your life, if you join us. And maybe you’ll find some inner happiness and peace too, since whatever you’re doing now, you haven’t found it yet. Those promises won’t be true at all, but authoritarian followers only need the promise to buy in.
These salespeople aren’t equipped with better sales instructions because the two types of customers they want won’t care about that.
So when you hear about Christians lamenting their decline, what you’re really hearing is them complaining that fewer prospects resonate with the sales tactics they use.
Why They Really Should Damned Well Care.
In years past, Christians, as a group, commanded much more power than they do now. Membership in some church, somewhere, wasn’t exactly an option for most people. Standing apart from church culture functioned in Christian minds as an implicit request for their retaliation: shunning, ostracism, and outright verbal and physical abuse, property damage, and sabotage.
In some particularly dysfunctional areas, non-members still face “Christian love” like that. But those areas shrink more and faster with the passing of every single year. With every believer who walks away, the tribe’s retaliatory powers dilute that little bit more.
Now that people are freer to choose to belong to Christian groups or not, they’re choosing–more and more often–to decline Christians’ sales pitches and recruitment attempts.
I see a lot of studies about Christianity, friends. Not a single one of them makes me think that the situation will be changing anytime soon. We’ll hit a bottom eventually to Christianity’s decline, sure, but there won’t ever come a time when the evangelism tactics Christians favor will start working again.
But even if the religion’s leaders could see what I see, they wouldn’t change a thing.
They really can’t.
Why They Won’t Change, Regardless.
Changes to the way that Christians market their religion would require some deep changes to the structure of the religion itself. As we’ve talked about many times, those changes will not happen while the current crop of Christian leaders are in charge of evangelism.
Rank-and-file Christians have been hearing for years that evangelism looks like thus-and-such. They’ve absorbed those lessons for decades. They will not take kindly to shifts in thinking.
Most especially they will not respond to the new reality of Christian group membership.
Here’s that new reality: people want to join groups that are worthwhile.
They won’t “take one for Team Jesus” and drive for up to four hours (I saw a Facebook post by a self-important Christian about exactly this idea today) to sit in a building with tons of people they don’t know and don’t like, to hear a message that means nothing to them from a leader whose moral fitness for the job might not even be certain.
If Christian leaders can’t craft groups worth joining, people won’t join.You can tell that very few Christian groups are worth joining precisely because people aren’t joining them or staying in them.
I don’t think Christians like hearing that their groups are like any other group in the world now. Obligation won’t compel people to join and stay joined. Threats in particular will only repel and alienate people faster.
But re-tooling their groups to appeal to prospective members, and selling themselves on the basis of being rewarding and fun groups to belong to, turns Christian evangelists from authoritarian assholes-in-training to supplicant salespeople. It strips Christians of their dominance and sets them on equal footing.
Even if they could accept why people are leaving their groups, they sure as hell don’t want to make any of the changes necessary to fix the situation.
Opting Out Anyway.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think much that happens within Christianity is the result of stone-cold malignant intention. I think it happens organically and likely subconsciously. The scientific method would help them a lot, if they hadn’t already decided it’s of the devil.
So far I haven’t seen many Christians who out-and-out suggest that Christians should find new tactics. The few who do aren’t particularly powerful within their tribe–and they can expect withering criticism and ostracism for their efforts.
Just as many advertisers and realtors can’t accept their new normal, Christian evangelists can’t either. They’re counting on the decline to reverse soon enough that they won’t have to change anything. If not, they hope for the end of the world or their own deaths to happen before such drastic measures become necessary.
Christianity continues to experience steep and devastating declines in membership and credibility. But Christian leaders built their empires on a particular worldview. They want to keep that in place more than they want to reverse their decline.
Not even total, complete, utter failure can induce them to shift gears.
NEXT UP: For a while now, I’ve been promising a look at a misogynistic Christian’s whinefest on a conservative site about how female-dominated he thinks Christian churches are. Well, the time has come! See you next time! (Maybe we can talk one of these folks into a dance-off, as long as we pick the music.)
1 Who wouldn’t want to see a Presidential debate decided by dance-off? /s
2 Here’s a video from a disillusioned LulaRoe seller alleging, among a great many other dealbreakers, that her local area leaders played serious favorites with their star sellers. She was not one of their favorites.
Endnote: This is my current new favorite meme.
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