Sunday, January 18, 2009

Like toothpaste and toilet paper

American Protestants are just as loyal to their denomination as they are loyal to their toothpaste brand. In a survey conducted by Ellison Research, church goers were asked their specific denomination and, hypothetically if the respondent had to find a new church, they were asked what role of their current denomination would play in the decision-making process. The results:
Just 16 percent of Protestants surveyed said they are exclusively loyal to one denomination, while half (51 percent) preferred one denomination but would be open to another. By comparison, 22 percent of Protestants said they would use only one brand of toothpaste and 42 percent indicated a preference for one brand while being open to others.

Similar levels of brand loyalty exist for bathroom tissue (19 percent would consider only one brand and 40 percent had a preferred brand), pain reliever (16 percent and 42 percent, respectively) and soft drinks (14 percent and 56 percent).

Rod Sellers, head of Ellison Research argues that denominations have poorly developed their brand loyalty:

"Church denominations certainly are not the same as hotels or soft drinks, but some of the same rules apply," Sellers said. "The brands that develop stronger loyalty tend to do a better job of differentiating themselves from other brands and demonstrating key elements of the brand very clearly."
To which Bill Leonard, the Dean of my Wake Forest Divinity School, opines:

"Fewer religious Americans think of their primary religious identity in terms of a denominational identity," Leonard said. "Loyalty to local congregations as the primary source of religious identity seems to be increasingly normative."

He added, "Many folks can switch denominations as readily as toothpaste, I suspect."

Exactly. The other day, I argued that hyper-denominationalism had its hand in the American individualization of theology. Here is another consequence. Denominations over-fragmented during the last century and a half, and this has caused theological confusion among the laity. The average church goer cannot tell the difference between their denomination's theology and another denomination's theology. Without strong theological and denominational differentiation, the average church goer approaches church-finding with a consumeristic mentality: i.e., who has the best church music, the best children and youth programs, the best community atmosphere, and the like.


Darren Staley said...

Looking at this from a market standpoint, isn't having more demoninations good for the overall goal of Christianity, bringing more people to Christ?

Also, if you shrink the pool, would you not have more blind faith and less innovation and adaptation?

What am I missing here?

Drew said...

No, that is a legitimate point. Maybe this is a good thing. I don't know...but in my gut, it leaves a bad taste.

I guess, I just have too much Baptist in me, and I think that Baptist polity is good (i.e., seperation of church and state, autonomy of the church). Those are fundamental Baptist tenets, and I don't like that the average person doesn't appreciate these tenets over and against other denominational principles.

Vince said...

"Without strong theological and denominational differentiation, the average church goer approaches church-finding with a consumeristic mentality: i.e., who has the best church music, the best children and youth programs, the best community atmosphere, and the like."

or do they base their decision on fellowship and the strength of the connection they develop with other members at a particular church? maybe this could be a good thing insofar as communion is trumping excessive, unhealthy ideology.

Drew said...

Interesting Vince. I did say "who has a strong community atmosphere" to your point. I realize I embedded it too far down the examples, and I agree that this is a powerful force in selecting a church ... to Dean Leonard's point.

By 'communion' i assume you mean like community or koinonia, not the actual sacrament. But I am provoked by the thought that community can help trump excessive and unhealthy ideology. Can you go into that further.

Vince said...

I do mean 'communion' in the sense of koinoneia. As you've said before, excessive individualism has infiltrated theology and led to many, many divisions within the Church. This is manifest in the multitudes of denominations that exist in this country. Perhaps the lack of loyalty to particular denominations is indicative of a turning away from that trend.

I think you posted something a while back about bars and AA groups functioning as religious gatherings of sorts on the grounds that they are outlets for genuine fellowship. While I would not reduce religion to koinoneia alone, I would say that--in my experience--it has been lacking in many churches. Theologizing (in the unhealthy, difference-emphasizing sense--maybe better referred to as "ideoligizing"), on the other hand, has not. I, for one, find hope in the fact that Christians seem to be beginning to embrace the former over the latter.

Darren Staley said...


I guess you went to a different Baptist church than I did. Nobody there had any qualms about mixing church and state.

Darren Staley said...

BTW, I now know what Koinonia means. No thanks to you Theology majors who can't decide on a spelling! ;o)

Drew said...

Sorry, how pretentious of us. Koinonia - basically an intimate community or fellowship.