Thursday, May 14, 2009

Marketing Faith

With the rise in religiously unaffiliated (1, 2), "nones" is the new trendy word, churches and faith groups are looking for ways to market religion. The atheists are doing it, and in a similar fasion, religious organizations are realizing the power of marketing - good thing since denominational brand loyalty is at an all-time low (1, 2). As such, according to this article, marketing is the source and solution to the growing number of "nones" in America. Money quote:
"Look at the parallels between religion and marketing, and it's almost identical. People become attached to a religion in the same way someone takes on a brand," said Mara Epstein, author of "Brands of Faith," and associate professor of media studies at Queens College. She and others contend that it is marketing, and our consumerist society, that has given people the idea they have a divine right to choose whatever they like -- and to treat faiths just like they'd treat any other brands, switching religions or choosing to have none.
Marketing alone isn't to blame for religions' faltering -- an influx of new religion choices via immigration, the rise of the megachurch and widespread criticism of organized religion all play a role -- but marketing is increasingly the tool of choice for religions seeking to reverse the trend.
Many denominations are looking to market their brands, using television and new social media websites (like this), targeting specifically the "nones" in the younger generations. The article concludes with the following discussion:
Ultimately, the question is: Can marketing work for any religion?

"Marketing is sort of a necessary evil. It's part of our culture at this point, and if faiths want to be part of the culture, they're going to have to do marketing, or they'll get lost in the conversation," Ms. Epstein said.

As a general idea, I'm okay with it, as I've said before:

I also do appreciate using [new strategies] to communicate your religious message and try to bring people into your religious community.... Church attendance is dwindling, and meeting people where they are at ... is a perfectly legitimate strategy to develop and draw in the next generation of religious adherents.
Anything is better than the mysterious, annoying knock-on-the-door marketing strategy.


Katie said...

Anything is better than the mysterious, annoying knock-on-the-door marketing strategy.Yeah, true. No good has ever come from knocking on someone's door to share with them the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.

I've also got to say that I'm not sure about the idea of a "solution" for the so-called nones. Having no faith tradition is not necessarily a deficiency in one's life, but rather a way to understand one's own existence. I think to suggest that it requires a "solution" indicates that it's a problem to have no religious belief... which is, frankly, more than a little unsettling.

Drew said...

okay. nice snark. door-knocking-for-jesus has never been an efficient way for people to grow congregations, and it has been my experience, that, almost universally, nobody enjoys the that type of evangelism. do you have a different experience? it is inefficient and ineffective. that was my point.

in several recent posts, i haven't claimed that those who are religiously unaffiliated have a deficiencey, but as polls and interviews show, many, if not most, consider themselves very religious, but haven't found a church that satisfies them. So, marketing can provide a solution to this problem ... trying to garner enough energy for "nones," especially the youngers, to re-try organized religion.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Oh I don't know, guys. I always kinda enjoyed the Jehovah's Witnesses who knocked on my door. But then I'm naturally curious and willing to talk to anybody about religion for hours, especially odd minority religions.

Seriously, Rodney Stark, a controversial sociologist, wrote an interesting book about the rise of Christianity in ancient Rome. It's called, "The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History." And his main contention is that there was nothing miraculous or mysterious about the way Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire.

According to Stark, Christians were good neighbors, befriended people and invited them to their meetings, and cared for those in need. Especially, during plagues and epidemics, when most Roman citizens avoided the ill because of fear of catching the disease, Christians risked their lives to care for the sick, even non-Christians. Many individual Christians succumbed to illness, but, overall, the faith grew because they impressed their neighbors.

Maybe it's really that simple. If Christians started acting like Christians and loved their neighbors, fed the poor, healed the sick, and visited those in prison, they would start growing again.

Anyway, here's a link to more info on Stark's book:

Drew said...

Nice. Matthew 25 and marketing through Christian praxis. I'm sold.

Katie said...


I tend to go with AIAW in that I also enjoy talking to Jehovah's Witnesses, etc., who come to my door.

While I can't speak to my own experience as a religious evangelizer, I can speak as someone who has knocked on a hell of a lot of doors for various campaigns (which probably explains why I don't mind talking to people who come to my door!).

My understanding of the principle behind canvassing in a campaign context is that even if you don't necessarily flip the vote of every person you meet, you are at the very least leaving the germ of the idea of whatever it is you're promoting, with the person to whom you've spoken. If we're going to talk about a marketing model for proselytizing, it seems only natural that we can extend it to a campaign comparison.

So, yes. It is inefficient. But it always seemed to me that the value for the JWs was in each individual conversation, not in hitting their numbers, per se.

faithfull said...

Drew -

I think that DemBones, Street Prophets, and other venues that offer valuable, substantive, thoughtful conversation on religion is the best marketing that religion has in the long run in regards to the American public.

Keep it up!

pyutaros said...

Perhaps I'm a little backwards, but isn't the message of Jesus Christ the best "marketing" tool that Christianity can get? It seems to me that adopting the methods of "athiests" to spread the Word is a little counter intuitive, if not at odds to the Word itself. Admittedly, as a Buddhist, I don't believe in the necessity of marketing a spiritual message. I believe universal truths inevitably make themselves apparent. Be that as it may, I had an interesting experience recently that I believe holds the real answer for spreading the word. On a recent Saturday, my family and I had gone to Lowe's for garden things. When we returned home, we found that church group had been going about the neighborhood offering to do free yardwork for people. While my family did not personally accept their offer, many people were happy to. While I'm sure many people took it for the free labor that it was, I'm also certain that a few people may have changed their minds about Christianity itself. I guess the bottom line is that trying to allow something other than the message do the work is showing very faith in the message indeed.

David (Marketing Integrity) said...

Thanks for this post Drew. I think marketing is an important component for churches. First and foremost though, the leadership needs to have a compelling vision/mission of what their church's "assignment" is in their given community.

Marketing then can communicate that vision in a way that an engaged and passionate congregation can build on as the people connect with those in their sphere of influence. Bar none, the best church marketing is relational where through word-of-mouth excited church people invited their friends to meet Jesus and represent Him through the ministry of that local church.

Anonymous said...

Hey, My names Mark! This post is very interesting. I too have views on this topic, and the views in the comments section are also very interesting, especially relating to door-to-door and online promotional methods.

I am currently completing a small research project for my undergraduate dissertation and have been sending out a survey via e-mail relating to this topic. It is relating to the ethical and moral implications of the use of marketing and promotional communication methods by religious organisations. It also attempts to determine which methods people think are the most effective and appropriate to use. It is primarily focused at young adults
(18-29 yrs) but feel free to fill out a response because I am interested in everyones views! The link is below:

When I have finished the research I will post a link in the comments section if you want, then you will be able to see how many other people feel about the subject!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, feel free to e-mail me @:

that is if you have any problems linking to the questionnaire, answering any of the questions (although I think it should be relatively straightforward), or if you want to give me any feedback on the questions I've asked, or even better, if you want to suggest other aspects that I have not considered in this survey!

Thanks to anyone who fills one out!