time to get trained!
Reading Time: 10 minutes Let's Play! (Cade Proulx.)
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we had a refresher about Beach Reach. That’s the annual Spring Break missionary trip sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Every year, hundreds of young SBC-lings converge on a beach in Texas to offer various free services to partying college students. Of course, they only offer these services to gain the opportunity to make sales pitches to their marks. The sales pitches are what really matter here. Today, we’ll learn how Beach Reach leaders teach their bright-eyed missionaries how to protect themselves from genuine, two-way conversations.

time to get trained for beach reach!
Let’s Play: Beach Reach! (Cade Proulx.)

(Fundagelicals are evangelicals who are also fundamentalists. Typically, this group is extremely sales-oriented. 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. 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. Also, this should be obvious, but just in case it’s not: in real life, I am not actually a doctor, a professor, or the captain of any ships or military organizations.)

The Name of the Beach Reach Game is Sales!

Hi, everyone! Come on in. Take a seat — we’ve got enough for everyone. I’m Dr. Cassidy McGillicuddy, your instructor for Beach Reach Training. If you’re here for Navigating Modesty Rules 401 or Screeching Like an Outraged Basilisk 202, those are down the hall. .. Question? Sure.. Nice to meet you, Asa. I’m a Doctor of Fundagelical Studies. I usually teach at Fundagelical University.

As I look over the training course for Beach Reach, thoughtfully placed here by the official Beach Reach site, the first thing I notice right off the bat in the first module is that expectations get very firmly set about what will, ideally, be happening during a volunteer’s shift at Beach Reach.

In the student handout to module 1, linked here, we see the various activities of Beach Reach:

  • Beach Evangelism: As you would expect, here fundagelicals accost strangers with cringey apologetics routines and soft-shoe pretenses at friendship.
  • Free Ride “Hotline”: From 8pm to 4am, Beach Reach offers free van rides to potentially drunk Spring Breakers. Well, they’re not really free. Like all charity offered by sales-minded Christian groups, this one comes with a hefty price tag: enduring an earnest but cringey sales pitch and pretenses of friendship.
  • Midnight Breakfast/Morning Breakfast: Serving inexpensive food in order to loosen up the marks for sales pitches. Again, this “free” food comes with a price tag.
  • Worship/Share Time: Social hour for fundagelicals who have no idea how to really socialize with anybody. At these times, they report on their totally-not-exaggerated exploits of the day, encourage each other to keep on Jesus-ing despite crushing failures, and annoy other Spring Breakers with Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) singing on the beach.

Beach Reach: The Indoctrination Begins.

Yes, Lyman?… You see it correctly. We’re not actually there to do charity. It’s just the only way we can get our shoe in the door to evangelize. Every service we offer creates a sense of obligation in its recipient. We think it makes us much more effective… Donny, you had your hand up… Actual conversions last year? Well, we prefer to think of Beach Reach as planting roofies seeds for Jesus. Dean Aquinas promises personally that they will always sprout somehow, even years later. No more questions about this, please.

Right after an orientation, which is supposed to last 10 minutes according to the leader instructions, students get fed indoctrination points about prayer.

There’s no evidence that prayer influences anything at all. Thus, it’s as useful as any other magic spell. In similar ways, prayer might concentrate the mind somewhat. However, saying words doesn’t make things happen by themselves. No, no gods at all are standing by to receive their followers’ requests and get right on them. But it’s vitally important to the SBC’s top leaders that Christians get fed nonstop malarkey about prayer.

These volunteers likely grew up in fundagelical churches, so it’s hard to fathom why they even need to be told stuff like the total and overwhelming importance of prayer. But belief in the usefulness of prayer is like any other untrue belief: it needs to be hammered into believers constantly, or else just existing in reality will drain away their faith in that belief.

After that, Beach Reach leaders teach their volunteers the usual listicle of canned, mechanical, scripted, totally-surefire-successful evangelism steps to use on their marks.

SALT: This Will Totally Work.

Okay, now let’s turn to the next page of our course syllabus. It’s our evangelism guide. Once you’ve learned these steps, you will be able to start a “gospel conversation” with anybody — and they’ll listen to you! … Yes, Frank?… Well, yes, I know that every creator of an evangelism guide says that. And then you try it and get completely humiliated when your target refuses to play along with the script. This time, we know for sure… Oh, we prayed about it. Jesus told us it was exactly what he wanted. It’s even got an acronym based on a word found in the Bible! How could it fail?

This time, the acronym for these steps is SALT. Ignore the fact that to fundagelicals, “salt” usually indicates being control-freaky asshats for Jesus. This time, the acronym means:

  • S – Start Conversations
  • A – Ask Questions
  • L – Listen to Answers
  • T – Tell them the Good News about Jesus

Y’all, whoever came up with this cringey system is outlining a basic fundagelical coffee date.

The problem fundagelicals have with personal evangelism, which is what’s going on here, is that very few of them know how to relate to people outside their bubble. Within their bubble, they learn very mechanical, hierarchical, transactional, surface-level interaction styles.

This interaction style feels safe to authoritarians like them. Everyone knows (or quickly learns) how they’re supposed to behave. Nobody introduces any really uncomfortable ideas into any exchanges. And they hate actively listening anyway, and this style of communication cuts down severely on any chance that might come into play.

So SALT works perfectly for the authoritarian fundagelicals learning it. It’s exactly the safety net they need.

SALT: Why It Won’t Work.

What, this system sounds exactly like all the other evangelism systems? Well, no, it’s not. See, it’s called SALT and they’re not, for one thing. Also, see how it tells you to “listen to answers?” That means you listen! Those other systems don’t let you listen like this. They may say they do, but this is totally different… Yes, Knoxton?… You’re listening for anything that’ll open the door to a sales pitch gospel conversation, of course.

Alas, however, fundagelicals’ targets aren’t like them at all.

Every evangelism guide I’ve ever seen has gone exactly like SALT. They may call their steps different things, but they’re all the same. Similarly, they all seek to create a sense of obligation in their marks. And they all demand the fundagelicals performing those steps to find some opportunity, some nook, some chink in the wall, to exploit for a sales pitch.

These scripts didn’t work when I was Pentecostal. They work even less now.

As younger generations grow up increasingly on social media, they learn how to spot fake or self-serving communication more easily. They can spot a sales pitch opening from a mile away.

I’ve heard many fundagelical leaders profess admiration or even awe at how easily, even naturally, younger adults can do these things. In truth, though, it must frustrate them mightily. All their old tricks don’t work anymore.

But they don’t know how to develop new tricks, because they literally cannot communicate in any way but what I’ve described.

SALT is just another substitute for real communication. Beach Reach volunteers learn it so they don’t accidentally land themselves in the middle of a genuine two-way conversation.

The Dangers of Really Communicating.

We’ll be practicing SALT for the next few weeks. Make sure you line up bunches of fellow TRUE CHRISTIANS™, including your already-overworked pastor, to pray with you about this trip. Tell him all your hopes and fears, and he’ll help you talk to the ceiling pray about it all. He’ll also give you guidance and counseling with all his spare time. However, you must also practice the script. The more you practice SALT, the more naturally it’ll come to you in the mission field — and the less likely you’ll get drawn off-script by someone outside the fold. It’s vitally important that you keep to your script. Yes, Tremper?… Jesus wasn’t talking about evangelism, only prayers. It’s okay to use formulaic repetitions in soulwinning. Necessary, in fact.

Actually listening to people outside the tribal bubble is dangerous. It could create empathy for fundagelicals’ tribal enemies. Worse, it could create a real bond, which would threaten fundagelicals’ beliefs like nothing else.

Fundagelicals who go out truly communicating with others learn that their declared enemies aren’t bad at all. They’re probably better than anyone in fundagelicalism, in fact. They aren’t suffering at all. Heathens don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything that their new fundagelical friends might claim to have. And they’d definitely bristle at being called “broken” for not believing in fundagelicals’ nonsense.

In truth, the marks fundagelicals prey upon with opportunistic faux-charity during Beach Reach probably think they’re the broken, defective, sad, suffering ones who are missing out on all the fun they could be having in their youth.

And largely, those marks are the ones perceiving the situation accurately.

Beach Reach: Silly Diagrams and More Indoctrination.

As we continue through our program, you’ll notice that we’re actually strengthening your own faith with our boot-camp approach to the trip. That’s on purpose. If your own faith isn’t strong, then what you encounter during Beach Reach could break its back. We have to put those future experiences into context ahead of time, so none of it fazes you. Yes, Derek?… Why, thank you. We definitely try very hard to protect you all. Now, let’s turn to our diagram-making instructions.

I truly suspect that most of the cost of Beach Reach isn’t hotel stays and feeding and clothing the volunteers. (Volunteers pay for a special hoodie to wear. They’re not allowed to bring their own Jesus swag, probably because it’d put their marks on high alert.) No, the cost likely covers paying someone to sit down and teach them all the protective spells they’ll need to know to maintain their faith during their shifts on the beach.

I’m not even kidding. Week 2 has them learning a hilariously-failed diagram-drawing system called “Three Circles.” Every generation seems to have its favored evangelism diagram that can be drawn on the spot to illustrate the so-called “plan of salvation.” These diagrams exist to make fundagelicals’ demands seem a little less obviously cruel, self-serving, and control-grabby.

“Three Circles” functions as this generation’s favored diagram, is all. Here it is, if you’re curious:

three circles that don't make one bit of sense
From this church handout, but you can find it errywhere.

The evangelist is supposed to draw the circles and doodles starting with the top left one with the heart, then progress clockwise while explaining their demands.

It doesn’t even hold up to cursory rational examination, but combined with SALT it must make Beach Reach volunteers feel invincible.

(It’s not even the only diagram, by the way. They’ve got another with a chair that you’ve gotta see to believe that anything could be this egregiously wrong.)

Landing the Beach Reach Sale, or Not.

Now that you’ve learned all the diagrams, your seating arrangements on the vans, and non-versation talking points to hit with each mark, let’s talk about landing the actual sale. Because sooner or later, you have to ask for the sale or you won’t get it. You must prod your marks a little here, because people don’t naturally want to make big decisions very quickly. Yes, Ricky?… It is a little like selling used cars, yes. But it’s the most important car anybody could ever buy, so it’s totally okay! Now then, here’s how you react when your marks refuse your demand that they become just like you.

Before we wrap up, I’ve got to draw your attention to Week 3’s leader handout. This made me laugh to my bones:

After sharing the gospel the student can ask this or a similar question: 

“What would it take for you to turn from your sin and turn to God right now?”

Oh my gosh, those poor things. Oh, dear.

The first time I read it, my jaw dropped. Can you even imagine today’s Zoomer/Alpha getting hit with that hard-sales, high-pressure sales demand? Can you even?

I know I sure can’t. My even has left the building — along with my sides, which are in orbit right now.

sides in orbit
Just wow.

Words cannot come close to conveying my sorrow for any Beach Reach volunteer who actually trots this one out.

Beach Reach: Setting Young Christians Up to Fail.

Armed with these diagrams and scripts, you will be able to talk to literally anybody about salvation. And the way we’ve set up our charity efforts, you’ll come into close contact with tons of young adults who are definitely not like you. That’s why we want to make sure you know how to administer a Sinner’s Prayer. Ezra, you had a question?… Well, yes, chances are that only one in 20 of you will ever come even close to taking a conversion during Beach Reach. But you’ll know how to do it forever!

Could it be that Beach Reach’s leaders are actually setting their volunteers up to fail? Because I can’t even imagine a world where a demand like that gets met with anything but a shocked stare and then laughter.

I mean, if so then it explains a lot about the sheer belligerence of today’s fundagelical. They get taught this surefire way to evangelize. Then, they get shot down constantly for a solid week when they actually try it out in the wild.

These scripts only work successfully on a very particular kind of authoritarian-leaning, magical-thinking, grandiose, narcissistic/histrionic kind of person, and there seem to be fewer and fewer of that type in every new generation.

The Real Targets of Beach Reach.

How many of you know any atheists?… Wow, that’s more than ever before. And how many of you have tried to talk about salvation with your friends?… Just one? What happened when you tried it, Billy?… Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. Did you use SALT?… I thought not. Don’t worry. That won’t happen on Beach Reach. You’ll know how to handle rejection this time.

This situation just sounds so downright hilarious.

But then, I remember that almost all of these volunteers come with expectations of sharing the gospel and get stuffed full of visions of earnestly praying the Sinner’s Prayer and drawing diagrams for wide-eyed young adults who’ve never encountered such a blinding Jesus Aura before now.

And what actually happens gets so thoroughly repainted as hagiography that it stops representing reality at all. (Don’t believe me? Check out these self-important testimonials.)

As I said yesterday, in the end Beach Reach is much more of an indoctrination session than a charity service or even an evangelism mission. The people paying to go on these trips don’t even realize that they’re the actual marks here, not the partying students they’re falsely taught to pity, other, and dehumanize.

And those real marks pay money, which is someone’s money if not their own, to get hardcore indoctrinated with evangelism tactics that will fail much, much more than they’ll ever succeed.

Seriously. For a fundagelical gravy train, you just can’t beat short term missions. They’re the gift that keeps on giving — to their organizers, at least.

NEXT UP: We’ll be looking at Beach Reach’s suggestions for dealing with “cultural Catholics” and “atheists/agnostics,” how to follow up with marks, and other such important stuff.

Fundagelical U’s Beach Reach Training continues to be in session! Be there or be square! (Cuz you won’t be a-round, get it?)

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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,...