In our lifetime, religion has moved from being intensely personal to being intensely marketed and advertised. What are the implications of this change in North American culture for our students?
In his new book Shopping for God: How Christianity Went From In Your Heart to In Your Face, James Twitchell takes the reader on a compelling journey from the Puritans through the megachurches and examines how religion has been merchandised and marketed. Some interesting points drawn from the book include:
- The second most popular use of the Internet is for religious or spiritual purposes.
- As denominations have become less important, people are putting together their own personalized spiritual plans.
- Christian bookstores have grown by 285% since 1983 and experts expect the religious book market to increase almost 50% from 2004 – 2009.
- While a new megachurch is born (by going over 2000 members) every three days, country churches are dying at a rate of one every eight days. While there seems to be more religiosity, the numbers of believers has not increased. The largest 10% of megachurches now contain about half of all churchgoers.Similarities between the medieval cathedral and the modern department store: both are concerned with salvation via consumption, getting the Word out (proselytizing/advertising), ranks of affiliation (devotion/brand loyalty), sacred texts (Bible/catalog), functionaries (clergy/clerks), signs of spiritual election (salvation/goods), holidays (religious/sales), heroic lighting (stained glass/spotlights), music (hymns/Muzak), and financial transactions (tithe/purchase and collection plate/cash register).
- Branding and shifting – once a brand choice is made in later adolescence, it sticks longer – the reason why advertisers target teenagers. Estimates are that it takes $200 of marketing to get a 50 year old to change brands, but only $2 to get an 18 year old to do the same. 4% of adults in 1955 moved from the church of their parents as compared to about 50% today. Mainline denominations now account for only 16% of the U.S. population.
- While the Catholic church’s voice has been raised against customization of religious belief, Protestant voices have largely been silent due to habits of individualism, ex. Reformation.
- Social transformations such as lack of social class distinction generated by church affiliation, the rise of a divorce culture (children of divorce are 62% more likely to no longer identify with the faith of their parents), and the mobility of parishioner and pastors have contributed to the problem of “shopping” and “slipping out the side door.”
- Megachurch marketing has intentionally tried to appeal to males: bigger is better, use of technology with a de-emphasis on traditional singing and emphasis on karaoke style singing, backing away from being lectured at/shamed, being purpose-driven and achievement oriented vs. relationally focused, and emphasis on sports facilities and male “pack/club” groups.
The megachurch was a reaction to churches that preceded it. The emergent church/village movement appears to be a reaction to the excesses and “shopping” nature of today’s megachurch. Let’s be aware of human weaknesses demonstrated in various church models and discuss them with students so that we may encourage in our kids an authentic and reflective personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in hearts of gratitude and lives of service.