How Churches Get You Hooked, Part 2: Before the Sermon

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When we left off in Part 1: In The Door, we saw how U.S. Christian churches entice newcomers to stop by. The next step, is taking somebody from the parking lot to a seat in the aisles, and keeping them there in time for the magic to begin. Continuing to reference my outsider-coming-to-church-cookout experience, let’s see which persuasion techniques churches have in their favor between your arrival and the sermon proper.

(More) Social Proof:

Knowing that some familiar faces would be at church may have got you in the door. This was certainly my case, having been invited by a friend and her family. The social proof does not stop at the door, however. If you weren’t aware of how many peers were regular churchgoers, prepare for lots of face-recognizing! If you had second thoughts about this visit after seeing the giant intimidating cross outside, let them melt away as you meet and greet people! And, if you don’t know anyone there, at least marvel at the locals meeting and greeting around you! Even without direct participation, you can see and hear people in comfortable emotional states and social interactions. Surely an occasion for this many reuniting groups couldn’t be bad, can it?


Another Influence technique in play that Sunday was my initial commitment. Yes, it was rather small in the scheme of things, and I didn’t brag to everyone about it so they would pressure me to go (that’s mixing it up with precommitment, or “self-binding”). Still, agreeing to go to the church on a specific day, entering it into my calendar, and even looking forward to the food, the friend, and the novelty of it… Let’s just say I had many “hooks” in my mind, anchoring me to the sermon, drawing me in, keeping me from running at the first sign of vaguely-uncomfortable evangelism and persuasion.


Speaking of first signs of persuasion, some of the church volunteers (or are they employees?) were handing out gift bags! Mine came with a pen, some honey, and a free book! (About getting into Heaven). No donation required, no merchandise-hawking, just a pure gift! This, of course, made me less apprehensive about going inside the church, and more willing to play along with whatever happened in the sermon.


“Liking” is possibly the most broadly-defined method of persuasion in the book that inspired part of this series, Influence. It means a person’s affinity for the one doing the persuading, and it encompasses attributes ranging from clothing and compliments to height and accomplishments. Still, anything the church officials could do to create a friendly and professional image, they did. Some likeable attributes spotted: gentle tones, middle-age-casual clothing, and plenty of smiling (but not too much; this is not one of those 1990s movies where people in the wrong smile too much and it’s all an allegory for America in some way and there’s elements of satire and black comedy and existentialism and and and…).

Also, if stereotypes exercise subconscious power on your mind, you may be interested in the fact that many people at the church were, coincidentally, kindly elderly folk.

Cultural Habits

If many Americans have grown up without the church experience, very few can claim to have avoided all public entertainment events. You don’t have to be an opera lover to know proper behavior in an audience just before the show begins. Practically everyone in the U.S. has gone to at least one sports game, or movie theater, or school assembly; most of them are, in fact, good audience members much of the time! Tying in with social proof is a kind of macro-cultural proof: it’s not just everyone around you who sits down and shuts up for the event, but everyone around you every time you’ve been in a similar situation in the past.

In closing:

Join me, the next time Beeminder reminds me to post something, as we dive deep into the mechanics of the sermon itself. At least, the sermon I went to on that fateful Sunday…

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