Why Pick-up Lines Almost Never Work

By June 28, 20105 Comments

I should have mentioned this sooner but I’m actually out of the country right now, which is why I’ve been posting a number of re-runs from the past. The following post was written over 3 years ago and, as will be quite obvious from the context, before I met my husband. It made my smile to read it again!

Today I realized something interesting about typical strategies of evangelism. The realization came after spending a couple hours at UNC tonight handing out free lemonade as an exam outreach initiative. We weren’t asking students to sign up for anything or come to church in exchange–we were giving the lemonade out with no strings attached.

Surprisingly, the students were still very suspicious. A lot of people ignored us when we asked if they wanted something to drink. And the ones that did come to the table were immediately apprehensive when we told them that we were from a church. You could just see it in their eyes–they were waiting for something Christiany to be thrown at them like a Gospel tract or the Four Laws. They were bracing themselves for it.

As I was driving home tonight, I was reflecting on these students’ reactions and the reason behind them. The easiest scapegoat for their skepticism is judgmental Christians who scream at people and tell them they’re going to Hell. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that it probably wasn’t judgmental Christians that these students were tired of, because most Christians aren’t actually like that. Sure, non-Christians may run into a couple scary Christians along the way, but the majority of their experiences were probably with “normal” Christians, which means their opinions of the church were probably shaped by such “normal” Christians.

No, it wasn’t the crazy Christians alone that were scaring the non-Christians away. It was also the majority of Christians who are nice but are constantly scheming to convert people. The way we do evangelism may not be scary or loud, but it nevertheless sends non-Christians running in the opposite direction, and I think I know why.

Tonight, as I looked in the eyes of these young people and saw the distrust therein, I was startled to realize that I recognized that feeling, because it is the feeling I frequently get when interacting with single guys. In the last several years of my life as the pressure to get married has been mounting on everyone my age, I have become extremely hesitant about meeting new guys, even Christian ones, because many times guys will start flirting with me, to some degree or another, the moment that we meet.

When this happens, it’s as if they don’t see me at all–all they see is my potential as a wife. And I hate that feeling, because I know that it is not based on their desire to care for me, but their desire to care for themselves. All I am is a means to an end–the end being marriage.

I think that is the same vibe that we often give off to non-Christians. It’s not that we’re mean or judgmental, but our evangelism is about as sincere as a pick-up line. In the same way that a guy’s initial advances are inherently insincere since they don’t know me, non-Christians receive a similar message because we don’t know anything about them.

And in the same way that guys hit on girls because their vision is dominated by dreams of marriage, non-Christians know that all we can really see is our hopes for “conversion.” Our eyes are so focused on that goal, that we miss seeing the person. Though unintentionally, they become just a number to us, a means to an end. And non-Christians are no more impressed by that kind of evangelism than a girl is impressed by some cheesy line about how her legs must be tired from running through a guy’s mind.

The advance is lacking in any sort of genuineness, and it has little to nothing to do with the actual person. All it does is make people want to run away as fast as their “tired” legs will carry them.

And this analogy can be taken even further. One of the reasons that Christians keep on engaging in this kind of evangelism is because it does, occasionally, work. Of the hundreds and hundreds of people you talk to, at least one or two take the bait. But I suspect that the kinds of people who respond to that type of evangelism are no different than the kinds of women who respond to pick-up lines–they’re desperate.

There’s a reason that guys keep using pick-up lines–they actually work from time to time. If you approach enough women, you’ll eventually find someone who is either insecure enough or desperate enough to accept it.

But that success is not so much a commentary on the quality of the pick-up line as it is the state of the girl. In the same way, I suspect that the people who are most likely to respond to formulaic evangelism are those people who are at the end of their ropes.

Granted, it is important that we reach those people, and for this reason we should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in case we are called to this kind of evangelism, but we should be extremely discerning about this method because, if used incorrectly, it can do quite a bit of damage in the mean time.

Just think about it–because so many guys indiscriminately hit on girls, I am now suspicious of any attention a guy gives me as soon as I meet him, thus making it that much harder for any genuine guy to pursue me, even as just a friend, in the future. Similarly, non-Christians become so jaded by the impersonal outreach strategies of the Christians they’ve encountered that it becomes more and more difficult for Christians to reach out to them in a genuine way in the future.

So yes, pick-up lines do work, but in general, they tend to do more harm than good. Why? Because pick-up lines are never sincere. They are never the reflection of a person who genuinely wants to care for and love another person. They are the fastest, easiest means to getting something.

And I think that is what Christian evangelism is often reduced to. Christians comfort themselves with the knowledge that we are not being hateful or narrow-minded, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually loving people in an authentic way. Real love is the kind modeled for us in Christ–it is personal, intimate, sacrificial, and patient, so just because we share the Gospel with someone doesn’t mean we’re actually loving them.

More likely we are conveying the same cheap imitation of love that you can find at a bar any night of the week–a love that is fast, easy, and requires very little of us to get what we want. But whether the target is a cute blonde at a party or a non-Christian in the student union, the fact of the matter is that pick-up lines almost never work.


  • ::thumbs up:: What a great analogy. I have always felt uncomfortable with the “pick-up line” evangelism methods you mentioned and this post really brought into focus as to WHY my gut reaction was so negative to this. Thanks!

  • Jeremy says:

    So when a Christian single guy meets an attractive single Christian girl, he should ignore his desire for marriage and replace it with a desire for friendship?

    I understand that if a girl doesn’t respond to his advances then he needs to have the sense to cut it out.

    It is not selfish for a guy to be sexually attracted to a single Christian woman and have intentions of pursuing her in a Godly way. It is not selfish, it is Biblical and how God intended it to be.

    I think young women tend to be so flaky, emotionally on and off, because they have may suitors and have some romanticized version of Mr. Right ingrained in their mind thanks to the Disney channel and Hollywood movies.

    Guys don’t have girls competing for their attention, so we have to work harder and be more intentional. Of course, if you don’t like him, then don’t flirt with him. Make sure he gets the point. Give him some time to get over it. And then treat him with respect as a brother in Christ.

    But don’t encourage single Christian guys not to pursue single Christian women because it is selfish. I have never pursued a girl without really caring about who she is as a genuine person, and I don’t know many good Christian guys who flirt with women without really caring about “who” they are as an individual. So what you said when it comes to meeting Christian guys seems like sophistry. Well-worded, but far from the truth.

    You should be encouraging Christian guys to be pursuing rather than adding more reasons why a guy should be hesitant about getting intentional about marriage.

    I agree with you on everything else.

  • Sharon says:

    Don’t get me wrong–it’s GREAT for Christian men to pursue women instead of passively expecting a woman to do so. What is frustrating for single women is when guys come on too strong without knowing them at all. There is certainly a spectrum of pursuit between appropriate boldness and unwanted aggressiveness.

  • It’s a good analogy, I grant you. It gives me the same uncomfortable feeling to be hit on by a cheesey guy in a bar as it does to be preached to by someone offering juice (for example). But then no amount of advances from either are going to work on me because I am happily married and happily atheist.

  • Sharon says:

    Jennifer, thanks for your input. We all do one another a favor when we treat one another like equal human beings worth listening to instead of competitions to win or enemies to be conquered. Thanks for stopping by!

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