Sunday, May 15, 2005

Evangelicals Adopt Big Business Tactics and then go after Big Business

Business Week has a cover story about the marketing juggernaut of Evangelical religion and the success of their growing movement. What's interesting is how they've adopted big business tactics combined with the biblical teaching of tithing to amass a powerhouse of money and influence over both corporations and government. Most of this shouldn't be new, however the ambition and scale of their new mega churches and satellite branch churches is truly incredible in their reach.

To reach these untapped masses, savvy leaders are creating Sunday Schools that look like Disney World and church caf├ęs with the appeal of Starbucks. Although most hold strict religious views, they scrap staid hymns in favor of multimedia worship and tailor a panoply of services to meet all kinds of consumer needs, from divorce counseling to help for parents of autistic kids. Like Osteen, many offer an upbeat message intertwined with a religious one. To make newcomers feel at home, some do away with standard religious symbolism -- even basics like crosses and pews -- and design churches to look more like modern entertainment halls than traditional places of worship.

So successful are some evangelicals that they're opening up branches like so many new Home Depots or Subways. This year, the 16.4 million-member Southern Baptist Convention plans to "plant" 1,800 new churches using by-the-book niche-marketing tactics. "We have cowboy churches for people working on ranches, country music churches, even several motorcycle churches aimed at bikers," says Martin King, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists' North American Mission Board.

In a companion piece BW highlights the coming culture wars aimed at American businesses like Microsoft for supporting gay rights legislation.


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