Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tough Customers

James B. Twitchell looks at why some churches thrive and others shrink and notes it reflects some classic customer psychology. An excerpt from a review of Twitchell's book:

Another key to product success, Mr. Twitchell argues, is "innovations in supply." Thus megachurches offer playgrounds, coffee shops and a mall's worth of services. But megachurches have also, crucially, found ways of attracting men. Just as department stores put men's products near the entrance because they know that men are the hardest customers to draw into a retail space, so megachurches, Mr. Twitchell says, have catered to men's interests.

Citing Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, Mr. Twitchell explains: "Men are the crucial adopters in religion. If they go over the tipping point, women follow, children in tow." So now megachurches sponsor sports ministries and groups whose members ride motorcycles together. The language of prayers and sermons has moved away from a condescending lecture tone and taken up sports metaphors instead, asking congregants, for instance, to step up to the plate and help the team. In such a way are men induced to buy the megachurch product.


pawnking said...

What an unimpressive analysis of why some churches grow and others flounder. Sports metaphors? Or motorcycle rides? That's the secret?

I have not conducted any study of all of the megachurches in the country. However I migrated from a traditional church setting (in my case, Methodist) to a non-denominational large church. Why?

I could simply say that God was in the church I came to in a way that He was not at the church I left. As a friend of mine once said "At this church, when you worship, God shows up."

But if you're an atheist, I suppose that you could say that the appeal to traditional values, a focus on teaching the bible rather than topical sermons, and a general call for men to be accountable to something higher than ourselves is some of what I find appealing.

To sum it all up, I would contend that evangelical churches are experiencing great growth because they are generally modeled on the churches in the New Testiment, specifically as represented in the book of Acts and the letters. For 2,000 years, whenever this approach has been tried, it worked.

Maybe Twichell addresses this in other sections of his book. Somehow, I doubt it.

Michael Wade said...


My own take on why so many "mainstream" churches are losing members is:

1. They often resemble social service agencies with a steeple and tend to make downplay the importance of worship;
2. They push passivity to the point of seeming wimpish;
3. Many members of the clergy inject Left-wing politics into what should be politics-free settings.

pawnking said...

Michael, I can't disagree. One of the last Methodist churches I attended went as follows:

Sunday School: Discussed an upcoming social potluck supper. Lamented popular attendee was not present that day. Times the bible was read, the name Jesus was mentioned, or a prayer was said, 0.

Church: Opened with a new "cutting edge" topical prayer which dealt with polution (this was before global warming became the big thing) and prayed that, among other things, "We do better for our children and grandchildren than ours did for us." Speaking as one whose grandparents fought in WW2 to free the world from two dictatorships and then (between them and my parents' generation) spent the next 40 years fighing to free the world from another, I was more than a little offended. In fact, I was totally outraged.

That's when I started looking for what else might be out there. And I found it.