A Christian Aid Ministries billboard along Interstate-69 in Evansville, Indiana. (Source: Google Maps)
If you’ve ever taken a road trip in California, you’ve probably noticed the provocative evangelist billboards and posters that line the state’s major highways. Their emphatic slogans — “After you die, you will meet God” — and the 855-FOR-TRUTH toll free number are part of the familiar landscape of our interstate system.
The group behind the signs, a religious nonprofit called Christian Aid Ministries (CAM), recently launched ‘blitz’ messaging campaigns in two of California’s most populous cities — San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to the Amish-Mennonite non-profit’s annual financial report, it spent over $3 million on “billboard evangelism” in 2015 — up 400 percent since 2010.
† Click on the cross icons to see images of the billboard
Salt Lake City, Utah is the market area with the highest number of CAM billboards — 22 in total. (Data Sources: Christian Aid Ministries / American Bible Society / Google Maps)
So, how does CAM decide where it puts up its billboards? One local news report suggested that the non-profit targets places where people seem to be “walking away from God and truth.” But, the numbers suggest otherwise.
A gospel billboard off the highway in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. (Source: Google Maps)
Data collected from Google Maps shows at least 17 unique billboard messages. According to a CAM representative, the non-profit uses different gospel messages to target two specific audiences — non-Christians and Christians who they believe have strayed from the bible. So, I split these messages into two categories:
The waffle charts show that over 75 percent of the billboards are located in the nation’s top 100 most “bible-minded” market areas — shown in shades of red on the map above. The rankings are based on a survey conducted by the American Bible Society that ranks TV Nielsen designated marketing areas by “bible-mindedness.” According to a CAM representative, the non-profit uses the data from the American Bible Society’s study in determining its marketing strategy.
A Christian Aid Ministries billboard in Coachella, California. (Source: Google Maps)
But, the messaging on the billboards doesn’t appear to change depending on the “bible-mindedness” of the location. Even the top 15 most “bible-minded” market areas have fairly even distributions of billboards with messaging that targets Christians and non-Christians.
A message to drivers heading into Clinton, Montana. (Source: Google Maps)
You may have noticed that I only had messages available for about a quarter of the gospel billboards. That’s because CAM declined my request for a complete list of US billboards with their messages included. So, I had to get creative. I went through each billboard location and plugged its unique longitude and latitude coordingates into Google Maps. Then, I did this…