We live in a world of skeptics. This generation is so used to “free” things having strings. This generation is so accustomed to everyone having a marketing agenda. Offering something for a legitimate price of “nothing” is hard to come by in today’s marketing-saturated society where everyone is trying to sell you some product, some relationship, some religion.
I saw this first hand from thousands of 18-22 year olds this past Sunday.
Sunday afternoon, Aletheia, our church plant was part of the activities fair for the University of Pittsburgh. This is a time where Freshman, transfer students and any other interested student can go to the Peterson Events center (where Pitt plays Basketball) and find out what’s going on for students on campus. Literally thousands of students poured into the Pete to check out the sports teams and student organizations (which there were over 350 of).
We had as a church were able to have a presence here in this very large event.
We were giving out free cookies and free bags of trail mix. We also had a raffle where if you filled out our information card you would enter in to win a $25 gift card to your place of choice…yes, in some respects a ploy so we can engage with them outside of this event, but keep reading.
Many people looked at our banner, deduced we were Christian and completely ignored us. Disgust, anger, skepticism, fear and in some cases hatred flashed upon their faces. They didn’t know us, but they saw “who we represented” and thought they already knew us.
Some of these skeptics came up to challenge the process. “You just want our email so you can spam us!” they said. I then would gently say: “We would like to get in touch, yes. However…if you don’t want any emails from us EXCEPT if you actually win, we will honor that. We’d love to give you this for free if you win, no strings attached.”
Some believed me. Others couldn’t accept that I would actually honor my word.
One freshman came up and began laughing out loud in pure disgust of what we were doing. Once she heard my response similar to that above she softened a bit, and started to ask why we would do that. Everyone she’d engaged with was out for themselves and didn’t have any authentic desire for others. Mick (Aletheia’s intern) and I ended up having quite a good discussion with her about who we were and why we are doing what we do.
A young Jewish freshman came to our booth as well and said: “I’m Jewish, I will never come to your services, so you probably don’t want me to enter the contest, right?” Mick replied: “Enter! In fact, fill out two to double your chances” (or something to that effect).
This response so shocked this young lady that she went, grabbed four of her friends and asked us to tell them what we were about.
For all the amazing incidents like this that occurred, we had many more of people simply walking away in disgust and disbelief, without even talking to us. We offered them what we had and many clearly thought it to be ONLY a marketing scam or “regular church evangelism” moment. Many feared we would try and convert them right there and not try and get to know them.
I’ve known the reputation of the church was bad, but rarely do I have to face the harsh reality so strongly for such an extended amount of time. It was a lot at one time to experience, but God is using us on this campus (as well as other groups) to bring truth and love to those who need God.