Should Churches be Marketed Like Toothpaste?

Are you more loyal to your brand of toothpaste or bathroom tissue than your church denomination? If so, you are … Continued

Are you more loyal to your brand of toothpaste or bathroom tissue than your church denomination? If so, you are a typical American Protestant.

According to a new Ellison Research study that’s generating a lot of discussion on the web, “16 percent of Protestants say they would consider only one denomination, while 22 percent of them would use only one brand of toothpaste and 19 percent would use just one brand of bathroom tissue.”

No word on the percent who wonder why anyone would spend money to conduct such a survey.

Internet debates on the survey seem evenly split on whether this is good news or bad news for Christianity — a triumph of ecumenism and Christian unity or a failure of evangelism and essential Christian doctrine. Certainly it’s good news for people who market toothpaste to Protestants.

On the no-big-deal side is Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, told United Methodist Reporter: “When you actually think about it for more than 10 seconds, none of this is all that surprising and I don’t think it’s actually bad. Those distinctions, which seemed so important as the various Protestant churches were identifying and evolving … are really not that important to the average churchgoer in the United States.”

On the very-big-deal side is Anthony Sacramone, who blogs as Strange Herring, says the survey confirms “the victory of indifference. We can’t all be right about baptism, about the Real Presence, about the extent of the atonement, about church polity. But that doesn’t mean these things are of no consequence. It means we have to continue to dig deeper into Scripture, into church history, into the creeds, and see where we may have erred — and where we must stand firm.”

In either case, the survey results are not surprising. There are (according to Wikipedia) only about two dozen brands of toothpaste while there are more than 20,000 Christian denominations. Fewer choices, more brand loyalty. Besides, most Christian historians and theologians have been writing for years about post-denominationalism.

As Dr. Bill Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest, told blogger Dem Bones: “Fewer religious Americans think of their primary religious identity in terms of a denominational identity. Loyalty to local congregations as the primary source of religious identity seems to be increasingly normative. Many folks can switch denominations as readily as toothpaste, I suspect.”

To me, whether this survey represents good news or bad news is less interesting and relevant than two other questions:

First, do denominations matter? Is the choice between a Methodist and Baptist church, or a Presbyterian and Episcopal church really any different than the choice between Crest and Colgate?

Second, are the various Christian denominations (and their member churches) merely branded products to be marketed like toothpaste?

Denominational leaders seem to think so. In recent years, they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on national advertising campaigns such as “We are Southern Baptists,” “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors: The People of the United Methodist Church,” “Come and Grow With Us: The Episcopal Church,” and “Joining Hearts & Hands: The Presbyterian Church (USA).”

According to the ads, there really isn’t that much difference between various brands of Christians. That’s got to be good news.

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  • ramvt84

    I see three major types of Protestant churches…very different. 1) Mainstream/liberal…deny sufficiency of Scripture…teach a ‘social gospel’(70%); 2) Evangelical/Bible-Believing/Arminian soteriology(25%); and 3) Reformed/Confessional/Calvinistic soteriology…believers in Sovereign Grace and absolute sovereignty of God…Pauline Augustinianism (5%). I’ll take #3.

  • paulc2

    The reason that there are so many denomincations in Protestantism, is that one of its core beliefs is personal interpretation of scripture. That lends itself to an infinite set of Protestant religions as each man makes one that fits his own beliefs.In reality, there can be only one truth. and one true church that teaches it.

  • CCNL

    There are many flaws and errors in the history and theology of Christianity. That is why there are so many “brands” of Christianity and that is why Christianity is slowly disintegrating i.e. the “pew sitters” are no longer believing all the mumbo jumbo of “pretty, wingie, thingies” and bodies rising from the dead.

  • Livy111

    The research is not surprising. Churches are social institutions and for most their attendance is largely a social convention. The ‘correctness’ of their teachings is secondary to meeting, singing and worshiping together. The ‘brand’ of church you belong to is largely dictated to what church you were brought up in, as opposed to a search for the ‘true’ church. I suspect that the majority of those responding to the surveys do not believe their particular church brand is ‘true’, only that it is familiar or local. I would also go on to say that some of the attendees, more than most would admit, attend church even though they do not have a strong belief that god actually exists.

  • spidermean2

    I think toothpastes are more dependable brands compared to most religions including liberal Protestantism and atheism.

  • michael_from_sydney

    CCNL – it is no new thing that many “are no longer believing all the mumbo jumbo of ‘pretty, wingie, thingies’ and bodies rising from the dead.” This sort of incredulity was also common in the days of the early Roman Empire, when the mainstream view was that belief in any particular set of gods or demons was one’s own private affair – neither to be asserted as universal truth, nor derided as ridiculous. The most fashionable view among those in power was one of cool, cynical “worldliness” about such things. However, it is precisely this cool cynicism that the Christian Church directly challenged with its belief and practice. What gave this belief a threatening potency sufficient to warrant Rome’s eventual persection of their sect was the very willingness of its adherents to die for their faith. This demonstrated that, correct or not, they definitely did sincerely believe that there would be a resurrected life after death for those who share their faith. Thus, martyrdom became the most powerful advertisement for the sincerity of their profession of faith, and thus lent significantly greater credibility to it.I would respectfully suggest that your scornful derision towards belief in “pretty wingie thingies” is quite representative of that cool, cynical Roman dismissal of Christian belief, and thus hardly the product of any new or modern science or philosophy. It is, in fact, a mindset that is more antiquated than the Christian faith which has challenged it for some 2000 years.

  • michael_from_sydney

    PAULC2 – I’m with you. As an infant, I was baptised by by Anglican mother and Methodist father as an Anglican, at school I went to an Anglican church where served as an altar boy and attended Sunday School, as a yung adult at university abandoned by faith to indulge in cool, worldly cynicism of a left-wing political variety, and now as a husband and father have been led by the grace of God into the Church that our Lord Jesus Christ actually instituted here on Earth, and which has been faithfully built up by the Apostles and their successors.This Church is the only one which has faithfully held to the teachings of our Lord which he handed to the Apostles. Its teachings are the ones which truly harmonise with ALL of Sacred Scripture. This is no coincidence, because it was this Church which decided, around 1600 years ago, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which documents, out of the many which were then circulating in the Christian world, were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore worthy of inclusion in the canon of Sacred Scripture. It was because of all this that I converted to the Christian faith as professed by the Catholic Church which Christ instituted – I came to realise it was a submission to my pride and ego to cling to my stubborn rebellion against the true calling of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. My rebellion was first against the teaching authority of the rightful successor to St Peter, and then against the very truth of God’s existence itself. For me, I am convinced the former led me inevitably to the latter.For this reason, I assert that relativism, or “indifferentism” as Pope Benedict calls it, paves the way towards rejection of God’s existence itself. After all, how can one sincerely believe in the existence of God when one rejects the teaching authority of those He appointed to safeguard His truth?

  • michael_from_sydney

    SPIDERMEAN2 – a little harsh, but I can’t disgree with you on this one.

  • CCNL

    Suicide bombers die for their highly flawed and error filled Islam every day. Are they martyrs establishing some validity for said religion? Of course not, they like the early Christian martyrs were brainwashed by the passages in two of the worst books ever written, the koran and the bible. It is time to edit out the superstitious mumbo-jumbo of both books!!!

  • michael_from_sydney

    CCNL – Copying and pasting the same stuff from a discredited website more and more times doens’t make what you say right more and more right. Besides, acceptance of the truth that Jesus Christ is the only Son of the one and only living God is an act of faith – just like believeinh in the perfectibility of human society here on Earth was an act of faith for the Marxists and Communists, or the belief in the “invisible hand” guiding the free market towards everyone’s material good was an act of faith for Adam Smith and his disciples. The essence of the belief is that one has made a conscious decision to accept the truth of a principle without insisting upon proof according to estasblished principles of Western philosophy, whether rationalist or empiricist. Archeology can do nothing to disprove the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, since the believe is founded upon a conscious decision to affirm a truth which is placed in your heart from outside of yourself. Christians believe this truth has been placed in their heart by their God and Creator Himself – why should we discard that in favour of contestable scholarship put forward by fallible, possibly self-interested fellow humans on websites not even subject to peer review, let alone verification by God? The ground on which you stand is shifting sand indeed in our eyes.

  • CCNL

    The RCC is the “one truth” religion? Give us a break!!The error-filled history and theology of the RCC:Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, On Faith panelists) via the NT and related documents have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus’ sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects. The 30% of the NT that is “authentic Jesus” like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus’ case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics. Current crises:B16- the pope from the Dark Ages, pedophiliac priests, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

  • michael_from_sydney

    CCNL – your analogy between early Christian martyrs and Islamic suicide bombers is false. The latter are opposed to life in any form, since they aim to murder as many of their fellow men as the can while they obliterate their own life. The former allowed their own lives to be taken wrongfully, without lifting a finger to harm those who were killing them, and even going so far as to pray for the forgiveness of those who were killing them. The moral contrast could not be greater.