Sunday, January 13, 2008

Shopping for God

I've been reading Shopping for God by James B. Twitchell over the past few weeks. It's sort of a bedside book I've been enjoying. As many people know, the Southern Baptists, the Church of God in Christ, and the Mormons have been enjoying some growth over the past years, while the United Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopals have been losing members.

A few points stick in my mind. One, the most powerful way to get people to make an initial visit to a church is to use a word-of-mouth invitation. Second, much of the long-term trend in growth among evangelicals and decline among mainline Protestants comes from the different birth rates. The mainline Protestants have been having fewer children. I wonder if this also would partly explain the 30-year trend toward conservative ideology in the United States. Providing members opportunities to bond together is another key attribute that determines whether people come and stay, or drift away.

The tone of the book is not too flippant. It's not especially respectful either, but I wasn't offended, and I think most liberally-minded religous folks who are interested in social science or marketing would enjoy the book.

As a Baha'i, I found the book had some interesting ideas about marketing a religion that seem to be partly understood by the elected leadership in the Baha'i Faith. The current emphasis on Baha'is getting out and being friendly and caring with people around them is certain a good step, both in terms of ethics and in term of marketing. We need to work more on giving people a good experience when they start to participate in the Baha'i community. I think we probably drive people away sometimes with the quality of our community life. But, there are bright spots, and in the long run, I think Baha'u'llah gave humanity some suggestions that will lead to very satisfying communities of Faith, whether those communities call themselves "Baha'i" or are merely influenced by the Word Baha'u'llah revealed.

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