Friday, December 12, 2008

Top religion news stories of 2008

... listed here as voted by religion reporters. A couple of the top stories have received attention on our blog: number 6 is the new sect forming within the Anglican community; and number 9 concerns the reduction in expenses in faith-based organization. A couple other stories involve government interventions into religious markets. See the list for more details.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Church of Starbucks

Check out this YouTube video that finds humor in the marketing strategies used by churches. Many churches use marketing strategies similar to those used by secular businesses, such as offering certain goods and services to first-time visitors or advertising through newspapers and the internet. This video hypothesizes an opposite direction of influence, i.e., that a secular business could look to a church for marketing ideas. Part of the humor in the video is that it takes this direction of influence to an extreme level. I suspect many of the jokes will make more sense viewers who have attended certain types of churches, but any viewer can use his/her imagination and still get a good laugh.

Though it might not be the intent of the video's creators, the video is ultimately saying something about secularization. As discussed in class, we have observed secularization at the (meso-) level of religious organizations. In fact, the marketing strategies can sometimes be so similar between churches and secular businesses that the churches do seem like a type of business. Or businesses can seem like a type of church.

In one sense, this should not be surprising because both churches and secular businesses, at least in the U.S., are supplying goods and services in competitive market environments. Yet, the key difference lies in the types of goods and services being offered. Religious groups specialize in the production of clubs goods, which means religious groups must confront challenges in production not faced by some other firms. Religious goods also have a certain type of "habit-forming" property because of the role of religious capital. One of the important aspects of a church's strategy in gaining new adherents is getting people "addicted" to the religious goods and services, either because they develop a "taste" for it or because the social component of consumption has increased. One funny thing about the Starbucks example in the video is that both of these components are at work with coffee. Coffee is addictive, and drinking coffee can be a very social activity.

Bundling religion and pets

That's exactly what some religious groups are doing these days, according to this Examiner article. As discussed in class, churches can compete in the marketplace by bundling various products. Instead of going one place for religious services, another place for social support, another place for friendships, and so on, a person can go to church to obtain many different goods and services and at a lower opportunity cost. In fact, it seems religious groups have always bundled other-worldly and this-worldly goods. By bundling various goods and services together, a religious group not only competes with other religious groups, it competes with secular alternatives. As churches increase the scope of what they bundle, they can potentially improve their positions in the market.

The churches in this article are expanding the scope of their bundles by holding religious services meant specifically for pet owners who want to spend time with their pets. By combining the more standard religious services with something that seems very secular--taking your dog to the dog park--the religious group can potentially reach out to niche in the marketplace. If some people previously had to choose between going to church or going to the dog park, now they can do both.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on the new sect

This Christian Science Monitor article discusses the latest developments in the new break-off Episcopal church. Also see this earlier post.

Updated 7:50pm: There's a CNN article, too.

A recession-proof religious business?

"There are very few recession-proof businesses left in the world, but the Cavanagh family of Rhode Island thinks they may have one - they make Communion wafers for millions of churchgoers each week.

"... [S]ales of the company's altar breads are up as much as 5 percent this year, a possible indicator of the national mood. Sales spiked 10 percent after the Sept. 11 attacks."
So begins this Boston Globe article. This is simple supply and demand at work. If the demand for church attendance increases during a recession, then the demand for certain supplies used during religious group meetings may also go up. Thus, their business is not just recession-proof; it is probably countercyclical: sales are highest during a recession and lowest during economic expansion.

But other factors not associated with a recession can also affect demand:
"The company noticed a dip in Catholic Church attendance reflected in lower sales in the early part of this decade after the church sex abuse scandal broke."
Again, this is basic supply and demand at work. The scandal decreased demand for church attendance, thus lessening the demand for wafers.

One of the more surprising things is that the Cavanagh Co. has an 80% market share in the U.S. I do not have a good explanation for why they maintain such a dominant market position. Any ideas?