HANSON — Look up the phrase “marketing quotes” on the Internet and what you get is a lot of droll observations on the cynicism of selling product.
That’s not what Tim Johnson is all about, but he is using the skills he learned as a marketing major, combined with his own experiences in the Peace Corps to bring young people into church — specifically, the First Congregational Church in Hanson.
“The way somebody put it recently was ‘Pastors are Jesus’ marketers,’” Johnson said.
He has been hired by the Rev. Peter Smith as the church’s youth and families ministries coordinator. A graduate of Stonehill College, Johnson, 24, is now organizing youth events and other church programs while preparing to study at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass. It is the same seminary from which Smith graduated.
While Johnson grew up in Thomaston, Conn., and knew Smith from his time as pastor in that town, Johnson has earned this job while on the job, as a counselor at summer camp.
“I had seen Tim work with youth at a summer camp and knew that he had a genuine interest in connecting young people with the God who made them and loves them,” Smith said. He added that Johnson’s “experience in persevering in ventures where he was on his own in unfamiliar circumstances” in both the Peace Corps and on a 1,400- mile solo bicycle trip from Connecticut to Florida also recommended him highly for the job.
“I do a good amount of marketing for the church and the things I’m trying to put on with the church,” Johnson said on a recent afternoon in the church library. “I put on events pretty much every month and market them online, but a lot of [it] is just calling people and asking if they’d like to come.”
While that kind of marketing is not precisely what his job description entails, it has been a natural avenue for him as he works to connect with the congregation’s youth as part of his outreach mission to youth and families.
He uses the Internet to advertise programs such as a July 14 yard games tournament on the parsonage lawn and a recent excursion to Scituate for a beach cookout.
He also facilitates a Bible study group, which has been reading “The Case for Faith,” by Lee Strobel, an agnostic investigative journalist for The Chicago Tribune who found faith while trying to debunk it.
“He’s a cool example of how a very critical, skeptical view of Christianity can actually turn around when you look at it,” Johnson said. “You don’t have to come into the church and abandon all logic. That’s the most important thing I want to get across to people — that was my biggest worry about going into ministry.”
While he’s still trying to figure out a definitive career path, which he calls one of the blessings of being a millennial, it definitely includes the ministry.
“A lot of us will have three or four different careers,” he said. “Mine might be ministry and marketing and economics.” But right now he’s leaning toward marketing as he tries out church work such as and gets to know a new community.
He’s used to being new in town.
“I feel very new — just in how much I know and my personal relationships with people here,” he said. “But I feel very comfortable. People here are so welcoming.”
Johnson said he has already been invited to Sunday lunches by several church members, an extension of welcome to a new neighbor.
“In that sense I feel like I’ve been here a long time,” he said. “But I want to serve this church well and in order to do that I need to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the whole town.”
He has yet to find his way to the Commuter Rail station on the first try.
Johnson has done one presentation to introduce himself to the church, but much of that centered on Senegal — and he said he’d like to do a more formalized program on his Peace Corps work.
For 18 months he lived and worked for the Peace Corps in Mboro, Senegal on a two-year mission to help with small business consulting in an economic climate not conducive to such theories.
“In order to be effectively work there you had to, more or less, forget what you were taught in business school,” he said. “Business in Senegal is more of a social endeavor. It’s more about just having enough money to get by and, if you are doing all those American business things, you are essentially stealing from your neighbor.”
But he fell in love with the people.
“I had always wanted to join the Peace Corps,” he said. “That was a life-long goal since I was in about middle school.”
A smattering of French under his belt and an affinity for West Africa in his heart helped land him in Senegal, which is both of those things, as he puts it.
“The friendships were more valuable than anything,” he said of the Peace Corps experience. Some of his new Senagalese friends now connect with him on Facebook. An ocean is not insurmountable in a digital age.