Another one from Mbirder Jason Redcay:

I recently heard a story on The Moth Radio Hour about Jen Lee, an amateur evangelist and Mary Kay Cosmetics saleswoman searching for souls and customers in the aisles of a Target store (if you’re not familiar with the amazing work being done by The Moth, you can find out more about them here). The story deals with her struggle to promote/sell Mary Kay and the Gospel at the same time, and, as you can imagine, it is in turns amusing and sad, not to mention uncomfortably insightful about church culture.

If you don’t have time to listen to the entire story, the transcribed excerpt below should help:

“So a lot of people are raised with a religion, and I’m one of those people that was raised with two. There was our official religion – my family is and I was at the time Conservative Evangelical Christians – but then there was our unofficial faith and hope we had in Mary Kay cosmetics. Many of the women in my family had been Mary Kay beauty consultants since I was a child. I loved Jesus as long as I could remember but that Mary Kay thing, I was hoping to dodge that bullet. I was this brainy grunge girl from Boulder County. I wore hemp jewelry and clothes from the Salvation Army. I had moral objections to wearing makeup, and when I got a scholarship to go out of state for college, I thought I’d made my big escape. But my last visit home I listened to one recruiting tape too many; the logic and reasoning finally got to me, and I signed the dotted line and started my business as a Mary Kay beauty consultant. Now, on paper the business plan looks foolproof. All you’re supposed to need is one friend to host a party for you, where you sell skincare and makeup to her friends. Then you’re supposed to book two more every time so your date book is never empty. But I could never book two more. I used the script, I thought I was fun to be with, I don’t know what the problem was. But, luckily for me there was like a hundred other ways they trained us to get bookings, and one of these ways was to strike up seemingly natural conversations with perfect strangers. And we had a name for this…. we called this Warm Chatter.”

You might be able to see where this is heading. Jen eventually tells us, “Mary Kay’s company tagline at the time was Changing Women’s Lives. Which, if you think about it, isn’t that different from Saving Peoples Souls.”

As an owner of a design business I can certainly see how tempting it is to apply marketing and business principles to church life and mission. But that doesn’t make it any less odd to see these types of plans coming from a church – you can’t help but make some conclusions about what that church believes about their mission, especially about who’s actually in control of it.

Not too long ago I was at a lecture at a local Christian college and the speaker was from The Barna Group an evangelical Christian polling firm. They presented all kinds of data and research about a group of young people they polled, current trends, and analysis. The parallels to the marketing research a business does to better understand it’s customers were uncanny. In business, for example, we use acronyms like SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time) or TOST (Target, Objective, Strategy, Tactics) to lay out plans and achieve goals. I tried to apply the TOST acronym to church mission and evangelism, and this is what I came up with:

  • Target: Everyone (Niche market – the Elect)
  • Objective: Raise people from the dead to be reconciled with God
  • Strategy: Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • Tactics: Deliver this message from the Holy Spirit through sinful people

You have to admit, cramming Gospel mission into an acronym sounds nearly as disturbing as polling people to learn how to sell them Christianity. I asked myself how would I have felt about this gathering just a few years earlier, before I came to believe in Christianity. I’d have been a bit angry and may have even felt like people were trying to manipulate me, that they really only cared about a conversion, rather than me as a person. You may know someone (or even be someone) who’s jaded or cynical about Christianity as a result of a conversation or experience they had with a Christian along these lines. I’ve been on both ends of such unfortunate interactions, both the target and the opportunistic evangelist. On behalf of us all, please forgive us.

Don’t get me wrong, evangelism is not easy by any measure – you certainly can’t blame people for wanting to share the Gospel in an effective way. But “sales” (I use that term loosely) is ultimately about relationships. The best way for people to be open to a message of good news is via a relationship built on trust, respect, and integrity. If you heard the news of a world changing event that would dramatically impact you and those around you from, say, The Inquirer you probably wouldn’t even think twice about it. But when The New York Times delivers this same news people sit up and take notice. Why? Because of the trust that’s been built over years and years of solid reporting on real events. The same is no doubt true in evangelism: it’s not a one-night stand but a life-long marriage. And like any marriage, with sinful people relating to other sinful people, it can get very messy. Some might say that it’s only by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit that our hearts are softened enough to hear the Gospel.

The Moth story finishes with the question “Are you in or are you out?” Thank God He decided we are “in” while we were still “out” and incapable of making that decision for ourselves.

Along similar lines, it’s so refreshing to hear from Christians that can laugh at themselves and their feeble attempts at “saving souls”. Check out this episode of The Two Words as Nick Lannon and Jacob Smith confess to Contact Evangelism. The confessions are at the end of the episode. Thank God for men like these that know of God’s faithfulness and continue to proclaim this Good News in the midst of their own weakness.