Whose Church Is It Anyway?

While numbers shrink, Christians


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If you believe the likes of the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed, the ranks of right-minded Christians swell by the day. Two problems with that, though. For starters, numerous surveys show that Christianity's numbers continue to decline. Add to that the not insignificant fact that while the might of the Christian Right is not to be trifled with, there's an equally determined counter movement of Christians who do not want to be counted in the Right's ranks. Still other Christians -- particularly church-shy boomers -- disagree with the traditional mission and image of most churches. But their efforts to modernize church marketing are sometimes thwarted by church traditionalists.

But when church marketers punch up image to gain attendance, look out. As Religion Watch (May 1995) notes, a Christian Scientist campaign targeting New Agers got grief from members fearful that their faith would be overlooked by mind/body believers. And when Catholics tried to snare young recruits through alfresco keggers at Minneapolis' Basilica of St. Mary, church elders tried to cut off their beer budget.

RELIGION WATCH reports that most of the new marketing efforts aimed at baby boomers and busters -- now underway among Lutherans, Catholics, Mormons, and Baptists -- stress non-controversial family and personal values rather than a rooting for Brand X. A new church in Austin, Texas is taking that message to the max. Viewers enticed to their Web site by ads crying 'Cyberchurch!'(note: Link to this item is no longer active) quickly learn that self-actualization, not denomination, is what matters: 'Christ accentuates who you are -- inspiring you to become the best 'you' you can be.' The site's links can take viewers to irreverent, if not technically blasphemous links like Snake Oil: Your Guide to Kooky Kontemporary Kristian Kulture, a zine that smears money-grubbing ministers and touts two Texans with a telephone offensive against Christian talk shows.

While much of the new church soft sell doesn't involve an estrangement from the Christian Right's notions of Christianity, that's the explicit agenda of 'the real Christian coalition' profiled by Jim Wallis in Sojourners (July/Aug. 1995). A well-received May meeting with Democratic and Republican leadership and the press aimed to 'correct the media-created public impression of a monolithic right-wing evangelical juggernaut.' This coalition of conservative Evangelicals and Pentecostals, black church leaders, Catholic bishops, female religious leaders, and the heads of most of the Protestant Church is one of several similar anti-Right efforts among various Christian denominations.