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Demographics of a religion

November 12, 2008

I love posts like this Times and Seasons post on the shift in missionary work in the church and in other churches. It brings me back to things I like about the church…it seems very professional and business-like. It’s run with a purpose…clearly, people, even regular members, are thinking about the proper strategy to market the church more effectively. As a business major, I can appreciate that. Maybe it’s because this actually does not require any spirituality at all…I can look at this analysis and note that every organization has these kinds of issues. Every organization (well…the good ones) will pay very close attention to meeting these issues.

I guess the fascinating thing *is* to look at a spiritual organization from a temporal view. It’s something people rarely do. People talk as if a religion’s success or failure is, in part, a function of its truthfulness or falsity. So, the church proclaims (and many churches similarly proclaim): “We are expanding ever so rapidly! This is because we are the true church!” (Of course, people have found problems with this…and there have been analyses that might suggest that the Church’s official numbers don’t fully represent the whole story…Furthermore, there are other churches that may be growing faster or retaining better…so does that mean these churches are even MORE true?)

But here’s the novel idea…if we recognize churches are just organizations…then we can recognize that truth or falsity of the message actually isn’t as relevant as how the organization markets itself. Then, we recognize that if the church isn’t retaining, then this isn’t necessarily because it’s a fraud. It’s because of an outdated or ineffective business model.

One such thing I’d never quite realized…but that I realize naturally for other organizations…is that churches have target audiences. They might determine, in the end, that everyone is a target audience, but in their branding, advertising, marketing, and whatever else they do, they must be able to fit their marketing efforts to their different market segments.

We take for granted that the Church targets every soul on this planet. But, we wouldn’t buy Walmart saying they “target everyone” (or, forgiving the pun, we wouldn’t buy that Target “targets everyone.”) No, we recognize that Walmart has specific strengths and weaknesses with particular market segments, Target has other strengths and weaknesses, and these companies’ goals are to try to maximize strengths and meet opportunities. They have to work at reaching other audiences or retaining their given audiences.

The author of this blog entry, Julie Smith, remarks:

The people that today’s missionaries do meet and teach are more often than not the kind who have difficulty integrating into a ward. The people with the same socio-economic profile as your average ward member would not let the missionaries in their home. If they were home. Which they are not.

I think it’s very subtle, but she does concede that some people, even in a church that claims to be universal and for everyone, would “have difficulty integrating into a ward.” From a substantive aspect, we can obviously see there are people with some integration difficulties. You are not going to integrate well if you insist upon extramarital affairs or blaspheming the spirit in sacrament.

But these substantive no-gos don’t really suggest demographic no-gos. One would hope that anyone of any race, gender, socio-economic class, etc., would be welcome in the church. And yet, even members sympathetic to the church recognize there are some demographic norms.

I think it is a strength and a weakness. For me, going to my first business etiquette meetings was a breeze because I had already learned etiquette in a mutual/combined Young Men/Young Women’s activity. Proper professional dress was no problem because it was the norm. Of course, this backlashes with people who don’t fit the white shirt and tie norm — they may not be met with open arms all the time. However, it seems to me that the church still must address these people…it can’t just say, “Oops, too bad! You don’t fit the way we dress.” It should be trying to pull these very people up to the church’s normal demographic.

Interestingly enough…I basically ignored the meat and potatoes of what Julie was discussing…missionary tracting…door-to-door stuff…is known to be the least effective method for converting others. Hmm.

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