Why are you smiling at me?
Is the question I find myself asking more and more. And the events or occasions that have triggered this question, has led me to conclude that marketeers (and by profession, marketing) has robbed (and is robbing) Christianity of Christians. Let me explain.
I go to a specific shopping centre quite often and on a few occassions in the last few months, have observed how a certain product stands’ sales people have approached shoppers. It has been quite amusing I must add. These sales people are promoting one or other range of beautifying products. The amusing part is that the guy sales people target the women shoppers, and the girl sales people target the men shoppers (and it worked many times).
What I noticed was that the approach was always started with a very big smile. And if someone smiled back or made eye contact, KABOOM, they’d hone in on them and start with the sales pitch. And this is the truth that you and I both know – smile back or make eye contact and your time (and maybe your wallet) is toast. You may even walk away with a sense of guilt for not stopping and listening, as we have been brought up to greet back when greeted (that’s just manners).
So what do we do? We DON’T smile and we DON’T make eye contact. Becasue we know that if we do, it’s tickets. And herein lies the problem – as a genuine ‘trying-to-reach-the-lost’ Christian, I (and others) have become conditioned to NOT smiling or looking at people (strangers). And unfortunately, this phenomena has been carried over into the Church.
This poses two challenges for us. The first is that we struggle to get members to eagerly want to smile and greet strangers – they’re simply not accustomed to it. The second is that the strangers themselves are weary of smiling back, wondering “Why are you smiling at me? What do you want from me?” They themselves too know that they’re being smiled at for a reason.
Now yes, our reason as Christians for smiling at them is (hopefully) to make them feel welcome and a part of the family. But THEY don’t know that yet. Remember, they’re just used to being ‘abused’ if someone approaches them that is smiling, not genuinely interested in them themselves.
But there is a third challenge that this whole situation presents us with – the sales people themselves. They are being conditioned to believe that if you want something from someone, you put a big fat smile on your face and talk nice to them. And if they (the person being approached) are not interested in what you have to offer, you simply move onto the next one.
Now consider that this very sales person could be that very same new stranger coming to Church with this background conditioning, thinking, “why are you smiling at me”. And later still, this very same sales person may be the one smiling and greeting people, but still have this ‘smile-and-move-on’ conditioning embedded in their sub-conscious, possibly contributing to a lack of genuiness approach. And so the cycle becomes viscious and unending.
So what are the answers to all this?
There are no easy answers. We live in a secular world. Marketing is not going to be going away soon. In a world where it is dog eat dog, even Christian business people have to succomb to the marketing strategies that ‘appeal’ to the consumer. But they can also explore alternative approaches. Jesus never said it would be easy in the end times. The real question is where does your faith lie? In man or God? Does your trust lie in man’s way of doing things or God’s? Pray and ask God how to market your business in a responsible way (see Phillipians 4:6).
For every Christian believer, Jesus said that we must carry our cross (Luke 14:27), and as strange as it might sound, smiling is a cross that we have to bear. Considering what I have said, it is a cross, because it means opening ourselves up to being targeted by strangers with the intent of being used. But we then also open ourselves up to the potential blessing of entertaining angels (see Hebrews 13:2).
We need to then also carefully consider how we as Christians approach strangers as we too may come across as only wanting to engage because we ‘want’ something. We need to therefore consider how the stranger perceives us. We MUST therefore still smile. But we MUST be GENUINE. Let us not fall failure to the warning of Jesus that in the end (because of wickedness), the love of many will grow cold (and we will no longer smile) (Matthew 24:12).
my name is darryl
and this is what i have to say
Philippians 4:6 (NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Luke 14:27 (NIV) And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Hebrews 13:2 (NIV) Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Matthew 24:12 (NKJV) And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.