Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reaching the Sinner

This is the tale of two search phrases. When I wrote Church Website Design, I chose a title that reflected the content of the book. My goal was to match the target audience of the book with a name that they are likely to use in searching for books about a topic that interests them. This is what publishers try to do with every non-fiction book title. It creates a win-win situation because I’m more likely to sell books and the potential readers are more likely to find a book that solves a problem they have.

Now consider the second book, Searching for Mom. In that case, I chose a title that I hoped would convey the premise in that Sara uses the Internet to search for a mother. What I did not anticipate is that this is also a popular search phrase for a certain segment of Internet users. I felt I had done my due diligence by running it through Google and seeing what results I got. I went several pages deep and saw nothing to convince me that I shouldn’t use that title. It wasn’t until I started tracking that title with Google Alerts that I began to wonder about the people who are likely to be finding this title through Internet searches. On several occasions I have seen results from people who have typed in things like Searching for Mom making love to Son. I never even considered that it might be part of a pornographic search phrase.

These two phrases provide very different results. Even though searching for mom is probably typed in more frequently than church website design, fewer of the people who type it in will notice my book, much less purchase it. At best, my book is hidden deep within the search results of those people who type in searching for mom, but even if they happen to see results pointing to my book, they are not going to be interested because they are blinded by their lust for images of things that ought not to be. I still like the title of Searching for Mom, but if we expect our titles to find readers, we need to pick titles that fall within the interests of the people who are using that particular search phrase.

Some people have the idea that Christian fiction would accomplish more if we tried to write edgier stuff so that it would attract sinners and then we would be able to reach them for Christ. It sounds good when they say it, but if we were doing that, we would be doing something similar to what I inadvertently did with Searching for Mom by creating books that fall within their search phrase, but I haven’t seen many porn seekers buying my books.

In looking at how we can use our books to reach the lost, I think people are looking at the lost in the wrong way. We don’t have to write a book that participates in sin to get it in front of a sinner. Go to any place of employment and you will find many people who appear to be pretty good people. They aren’t drunk, they treat women with respect, they may talk about what they do with the wife and kids. But that’s just what they do at work. On the weekend, you may not see them without a beer in their hand, they may beat the wife and they may have a girlfriend on the side. And maybe they know those things are wrong and they don’t want to do them, but they can’t seem to figure out a way to get away from it. In any case, the person they pretend to be is likely the person that goes out and buys books. We don’t have to write books that appeal to the evil person inside, just the good person this person wants people to believe he is. If we can connect with that person, then we can write about subjects that will influence the evil person.

If you doubt that, consider how many of the televangists operate. They aren’t trying to reach the devout Christians, but the people who are weak. They stand up there and talk about how forgiving God is. Then they talk about how much their ministry needs money. Then they tell people about the great blessings they will receive if they give to their ministry. What you don’t hear is “you are a sinner on your way to hell.” They present a message that makes people feel better about themselves, then they encourage these people to think they can feel even better if they give money.

I won’t suggest we do what televangists do, but I will suggest we turn that around. Let’s tell people how good the stuff they are doing is, then lets tell them that isn’t good enough because “all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Let’s appeal to their good side and then tell them how God wants them to be better.