Retailing Religion

By Julie Roys
Could you imagine if the Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah met a current marketing consultant?
“Jeremiah, listen – this whole death and destruction thing – not going over well. People respond to hope, love, prosperity. Now, I understand, ‘judgment is coming.’ Perhaps, though, we could shift the focus a bit: you know, try more ‘eat, drink and be merry’ and less ‘tomorrow we die.’”
Crazy, right? Yet, it highlights an important truth. Once one adopts a marketing model, which makes the consumer the priority, one’s message inevitably conforms to demand. For decades, church marketers have denied this phenomenon. Marketing, they say, simply helps churches overcome misperceptions and connect people to the truth.  It changes the package, not the message.
Historically, though, marketing has dramatically changed the church’s message. Dr. John Hardin documents this change in his scholarly work, “Retailing Religion.” He writes that in the 1970s, Pastor Robert Shuller popularized a church marketing model that adapted method and message to fit the consumer. Among those who attended Shuller’s Institutes for Successful Church Leadership are some of today’s most prominent mega-church pastors. These pastors, Hardin says, “generate(d) a church marketing explosion in the 1990s” that propelled Shuller’s philosophy into an era of staggering influence.
Specifically, Shuller urged pastors to survey their communities; find out what people want; and then design church accordingly.  He also advocated tweaking the gospel to appeal to what Hardin calls “a modern therapeutic and consumption-oriented audience.” Shuller reduced sin to “a lack of self-esteem” and God to “a means (of) temporal and material satisfaction.”
Today, researchers have a name for this gospel. It’s called “moralistic therapeutic deism” – and researchers say it’s the prevailing belief among today’s young people.
You see, following market forces leads to heresy because God’s truth is not consumer-friendly. Jeremiah was thrown into well and Jesus nailed to a cross.  God calls churches to proclaim the gospel, not sell it – and to follow Him, not man.

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1 thought on “Retailing Religion”

  1. Can you say, “Screwtape Letters”?
    This can be attempted to be masqueraded as an attempt to draw people to church, but in reality it is an attempt (I would suspect not deliberate) to remove people from the Church; the pillar and foundation of truth. It is a very clever method of divide and conquer that has used un-suspecting, otherwise Truth, goodness and beauty seeking people to lead people astray in the name of comfort and convenience leaving the Church vulnerable.
    THankfully every so often God sends us a signal to get our heads on straight. This instance seems to be our current political policies that have not only caused us to reflect on what, or Who Truth is, but has also caused us to form alligences among not only denominations, but religions as to the nature of mans recognition and relationship with the One who is the same yesterday, today and always.
    Man does not have a better marketing tool for Truth than Truth itself. We can just look to ancient Israel to see whose “marketing plan” works best.

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