Retailing Religion: Business Promotionalism in American Christian Churches in the Twentieth Century
Hardin, John Curran
Sicilia, David B.
MetadataShow full item record
Evangelist Billy Graham once remarked, "We are selling the greatest product on earth - belief in God - why shouldn't we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?" His comparison is misleading in its simplicity, since it strikes at the heart of the complex relationship between religion and the modern American marketplace. Retailing Religion examines how American Christian churches in the twentieth century promoted their institutions and messages by adopting modern public relations, advertising, personal sales, and marketing techniques from the secular business community. Retailing Religion develops four principal themes. First, Christian churches in the twentieth century followed the promotional trends of corporate firms with only a slight lag time. Second, this borrowing nurtured the growth of rationalism and individualism in American Christianity, which contributed significantly to the religion's modernization. This transformation was especially pronounced in churches' growing dependence on rational methods and numerical metrics, and in their transition from a producer orientation to a consumer orientation. Third, church promotional efforts increased not the secularization but the pluralization of American Christianity by erecting a platform for cooperation among churches, denominations, and religions. Fourth, church promotionalism fostered an ongoing tension between their sacred mission and their secular methods. Wrestling with this tension, both advocates and critics of church promotion labored throughout the century to develop historical, theological, and pragmatic arguments to defend or denounce the practices. The tension was so complex and often contradictory that some of the strongest advocates for religious retailing were also its biggest critics. The key historical actors in this study are the leading pioneers and practitioners of church promotion: organizations such as the Religious Public Relations Council; experts such as Gaines Dobbins, Philip Kotler, Peter Drucker, and George Barna; pastors such as Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren; and critics such as David Wells and Os Guinness. In tracing their adoption, development, implementation, and dissemination of the latest business promotional methods, Retailing Religion provides a broad portrait of American religion's struggle to remain both faithful to the divine and relevant to the world.