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Selling the Gospel
by Major Beverley Smith

 Selling the gospel: what we can learn from sales theory  


A persistent salesman knocked on a door only to have the man who answered say “I don’t need anything today”. The next day the salesman returned and was told “Stay away” by the man. The next day the salesman came back. “You again!  I warned you!” shouted the man, so angry he spat in the salesman’s face. The salesman smiled, wiped off the spit with a handkerchief and said to the man “Must be raining.” He got his sale. 


The gospel is not a sales pitch, said Relevant Magazine’s Kimmie Lucas. “We do not peddle the word of God for profit” echoed the apostle Paul in a similar vein. Yet Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as a dragnet, disciples as fishermen, evangelists as harvesters, and himself as THE WORD, implying that, especially in this day of information overload, skills in communication, getting noticed,  and hooking someone, not to mention closing the deal are all involved in attracting others to Christ.  And let’s admit it. Many of us have found ourselves sold on something we never would have imagined, just because of the skills of the seller.  We owe our current stellar Salvation Army reputation to our forebears selling the gospel not only by being practical providers of hospitality, food and shelter, due to their loving concern for others, but also by their skills of persuasion on the streets and from the pulpit. So are there some things we can learn from sales theory to propagate the gospel?


Accept that we’re all in sales


Of course we do not peddle the word of God for profit, but we do peddle it. Whether we are in family services, corrections, territorial headquarters or corps officership, we are selling the idea of salvation to whoever we meet. We start with ourselves. Whether it’s our Facebook page or the clothes we wear, we are presenting ourselves in a particular way to influence others. When that influence can make a difference in someone else’s life, we’re pleased. But we also recognize that lasting difference only comes from the eternal power we know as Jesus Christ. Whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven”, we are asking God to give his power to our influence to bring his kingdom to bear in every situation in which we find ourselves.


Ask questions instead of delivering a pitch


According to researchers Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin, we are more likely to accomplish goals with interrogative self-talk than simply cheerleading. The ‘little engine that could’ should have used questioning self- talk “Can I get to the top of the mountain?” instead of his well-loved phrase “I think I can, I think can, I thought I could” in order to crest the hill. When we ask ourselves “Can I do this?” the question helps us to tap into inner (and higher) resources rather than trying to psych ourselves up to forcefully or unnaturally deliver good news to our neighborhood.  We ask ourselves questions when we begin the task of evangelism “Can I influence this person for Christ?”   Clearly the answer is yes if the Holy Spirit has already gone ahead of us as we believe He has.  A little faith goes a long way. But what about asking questions of those who don’t know Christ instead of bombarding them with information totally foreign to them.  Jesus found this technique worked better than a statement at the Samaritan well “Can I have a drink?” rather than“You need Me to save you from your destructive lifestyle.”  “What do you think of God?” might be a good place to start with someone, while asking yourself some questions. What do we have in common? And what are my neighbor’s needs and goals?


Don’t offer too many choices


With the information superhighway we don’t need mediators finding the right information for us. We can all do our digging on the internet. But we do need an information curator, someone who helps carve down the choices into a manageable few. It is true that if a donut store offers too many choices in donuts, their sales drop. People can only take in so many varieties.  Information curators help us ask the right questions and frame simple ways to accomplish our goals, showing us the way to accept Jesus, help out at the food drive, do the 5 K walk or simply donate, with the least amount of effort and trouble. Ooops that’s too many choices for you to process.


Use contrasts to raise the stakes


The story is told that copywriter/advertiser David Ogilvy met a beggar in Central Park who wasn’t getting much money in his hat.  His sign read “I am blind. Please help.”  Ogilvy bet his companion that he could improve the blind beggar’s lot just by adding a few words. He scribbled them down and sure enough, - when they passed at the end of the day, the blind beggar had increased his profits enormously.  What were the words David Ogilvy added?  “It is spring…. And I am blind.” When men and women passed by, they were drawn by the contrast between their situation and the blind man’s. They felt blessed that they could see and enjoy the springtime in a way the beggar couldn’t. And they gave.


Don’t let rejection discourage you


For every person who says yes to Jesus there may be many more who hear the gospel and say no.  We need to remind ourselves that rejections do not mean we’re no good at evangelism. Oceans of rejection are navigated by staying afloat, as Daniel H. Pink’s book “To sell is human” reminds us.  We stay afloat by paying attention to self-talk, keeping our successes in mind as well as failures, and supporting each other. We also stay afloat by recognizing that the kingdom, the results and the ocean itself are the matrix of God. We live and breathe and proclaim and “sell” God while embedded in him. Whatever the results of our efforts at evangelism, we are bound as Salvationists to make others’ salvation the overriding purpose of our lives. So keep going. Negative responses to the gospel are not necessarily permanent, pervasive or personal. They’re just a fact of life in an increasingly secular society. If a Christian loses hope, then everyone’s in trouble, because the gospel is all about hope. “Let us press on then, never despair.”











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