While evangelicals have not fully got their way at the ballot box we may now get it at the cash register. We’re discovering American business is more responsive to our desires than American government. Business leaders who scoff at the almighty God do not scorn the almighty dollar. I was reading yesterday in the Euro-centered The Economist magazine how Christians have become a market force. If American business wants to make money they better notice us. We evangelicals are big spenders, but better yet, we’re a loyal bunch of customers. We’ll go out of our way to patronize a company we like. Evangelicals are not Amish—we like stuff and buy it—billions of dollars of stuff. There are 50 million of us in America—now THAT’S a big market! Consider these facts:
However, sometimes we get conflicted when we consider the source of our spiritual products. Companies sometimes are held by other companies, and these companies sometimes do not behave themselves in a Christian way. Consider these conflicts:
But there are not too many down sides to all this new economic power, are there? Evangelicals increasingly accept “shirt-tail relationships with evil” now that we’re in command of Protestant American Christianity. There was once a time when we boycotted Disney for their pro-gay values or we boycotted companies that sold soap on naughty sitcoms. Now we’ve come to realize that we can make more difference rewarding companies than boycotting them. Our government and American politicians are unreliable. American business is absolutely dependable in seeking out the biggest profit, and they’ll give us what we want if we will make them rich in doing so. If we can make them the biggest profit, they will come knocking at our doors. And (thanks to Mel Gibson and Rick Warren) they now know we can make them big bucks. When this much money is at stake there is money to be made—even by pastors. There are “considerations” that business is willing to give to influencers—it is just how they do business. There are 330,000 protestant churches in America who together made The Passion of the Christ a whopping success. Wouldn’t it be good business sense for a future movie producer to make sure his or her movie gets promoted in local churches? How could they do this? Answer: through the gate-keeper pastor. If we pastors can make or break a religious movie don’t you think a reasonable businessperson sponsoring a film (or any other product) would want to get us on board? What would they be willing to do? How much?Would they be willing to send us a free preview copy of sections of the film? How about inviting key evangelical pastor/influencers on an expenses-paid trip to California for a special screening where they treat us like royalty in the finest hotels providing a several day add-on vacation while we were there? Or, how about if they find a dozen of the greatest evangelical influencers—those who influence other influencers, and put them on the payroll as “consultants” for a film? Would they be willing to do that if it meant the $300 million dollar success of their film? How much do you think they would pay such a consultant? How much would you expect? Do you think they might be willing to “gift us” privately for our support—not as a quid pro quo but simply as an “appreciation gift?” How much would that be worth to them? To us? Or, try this: How about thanking the writers who publish positive reviews of movies or other products—wouldn’t that be a good expense for these producers and owners? If I am going to write a positive review anyway, what’s wrong with accepting a “gift of appreciation” from one of these companies? Nothing too big—say, just a hundred dollars so I could “have a nice dinner away in Chicago with my spouse.” Will any of these things come to pass? What do you think? Will pastors and leaders be tempted by a legal kick-back system in the future? Are we ready for the ethical challenge here? We may have ignored ministerial ethics when it was just a ten dollar watch from the photocopier salesman—but what about when the appreciation gift is worth thousands? But even if pastors resist kickbacks or “appreciation gifting” there’s still money to be made. As big business realizes Evangelicals are big spenders, they’ll come to us. Once big business realizes they can get a bigger bang for their buck sponsoring religious events than they can athletic ones they’ll be in the narthex with bags of money. Will you let them in? Are you planning a giant pastors’ conference next year? Why not ask Ford Motors to sponsor it—all you’d need to do is put their name on all the advertising, display a couple of Fords in the lobby and get $25,000 for it? Would you do that? Or, let’s say your denomination has a major youth conference with thousands attending next Christmas break—why not ask Coca-Cola to kick in a $25,000 to sponsor it for just running an ad during the startup time before each gathering? Hey, how about this idea: You are already killing yourself with that Christmas pageant with 24 showings over 15 days and more than 20,000 people attending—why not get the Bank of America to sponsor the event? They’d love to share your customer base. How much would your church take to print a sponsor’s name in the advertising, include a banner on the wall plus mention them after the song, Silent Night? $1000? $5,000? $25,000? What’s your church’s price? OK, one more. Would you be willing to name your new church building on the Interstate Verizon Wireless Nazarene Church for the next ten years if they’d give a million dollars to your building fund? I’m not blowing smoke nor smoking dope. These things are already happening. I changed some names and amounts above, but, generally speaking, stories like this are already emerging. Sponsorship is next to come. In fact, it is already here. Take Bishop T. D. Jakes, for instance. Last summer Bishop Jakes persuaded Coca-Cola, Bank of America and Ford Motors to pony up cash to sponsor his Megafest Conference in Atlanta. Is your church next? You want some of this money? Big business is waking up and smelling our money. They are willing to spend big to get high-value loyal customers like us. And whenever business is buying customers and there are billions of dollars at stake, somebody is gonna’ make lots of money. Will it be you? Your church? Why not? Why? Can we stay honorable in all this? What are the dangers or delights?
© Keith Drury, 2006www.drurywriting.com/keith
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.