Marketing & consumer tastes

Economics columnist Steven Pearlstein goes off on how super-thick clam chowder has replaced the thinner, more authentic version that is much tastier.  In doing so, he makes some point about how markets actually work:  not so much by fulfilling a consumer preference but by getting consumers to change their preferences.  As when research showed that Americans like weak coffee, whereupon Starbucks–going in the opposite direction–taught Americans to like strong coffee.

My search for a decent bowl of clam chowder got me thinking about consumer preferences — how they are established, how they are reinforced by market competition and how they change over time.

One of my first calls was to Greg Carpenter, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Carpenter explained that the way most of us think and talk about market competition is based on something of a mythical model in which consumers know what they want in a product and companies engage in a continuous battle to satisfy those preferences with better and better offerings.

In fact, Carpenter says, most of our preferences are learned and largely formed by social norms and expectations that producers have a strong hand in shaping. Moreover, such preferences are anything but fixed, susceptible to changes in technology, culture, fads and the business strategies of companies competing in the marketplace.

Our notion of what a “family car” ought to be used to be a station wagon. Then it was the family van. Now it is an SUV.Or take coffee. For a long time, the market and all the consumer research suggested that Americans preferred weak coffee, and there were basically a handful of coffee companies, led by Folgers and Maxwell House, that offered products within a narrow range to provide it. Of course, that was until Starbucks came along and demonstrated that maybe our preference for weak coffee wasn’t as fixed as everyone thought.

Our wine preferences have also developed along lines that have caught the industry by surprise. According to Alexander Chernev, another Kellogg marketing professor, the conventional wisdom was that wine was an “aspirational” product that allowed people to see themselves as worldly and sophisticated. In that context, people tended to prefer wines produced in good years from small vineyards in France or the Napa Valley, where everyone knew the best wines were made.

At some point, however, Yellowtail and a few other Australian wines entered the market not only with new products but with a new social context for thinking about wine. Their idea was to relieve consumers of what for many was really the burden of having to know more about vintages and vineyards and grapes than they really did, or really wanted to, and then going through the hassle of wrestling the cork out of the bottle. Instead, they offered a standard chardonnay or pinot in screw-top bottles. What was once a wine negative — commonness, ubiquity — suddenly became a positive.

via Consumer conformity: Why we like thick clam chowder (and other inferior products) – The Washington Post.

What lesson could the church growth movement–which uses marketing research and marketing techniques to try to appeal to more religious consumers and to get them to come to a particular church–learn from this principle?

9.5 Theses on the Emergent Church

In the tradition of someone else, Wheaton professor David Milliner has posted 9.5 Theses against the Emergent Church (that variety of the church growth movement that tries to be postmodernist).   Here are some of them:

1. I’ll say it again: He who marries the spirit of the age will soon become a widower. Do those who married postmodernity realize their spouse is in a nursing home?

1.5 Christians who cater their theology to accommodate deconstruction are comparable to sub-rate CCM bands who copy Green Day five years after they’ve ceased being cool. They’ll sell, but to a subset of evangelicalism who want to be “relevant” – which is the only group they’ll ever be relevant to.

2. Yes Paul said he sees through a glass darkly – but he still saw. Don’t forget to keep reading.

2.5 Paul did not end his speech at the Areopagus by saying “the Unknown God” is a great idea, sorry I bothered you. Nice statue. Can I have a copy? . . . .

NEW! 4.75 POP QUIZ! What is wrong with the following Biblical quotation? “Seek and you shall seek.”

Revised! 5. Protestantism’s only hope is to cling to its birthright, a passionate focus on the written Word of God, the unique, authoritative avenue to the Word of God in Christ. Protestants are an order of the written Word (in very sad condition) within God’s woefully divided church. Our guide in stewarding this threatened charism is not the “spirit of protest” but the Holy Spirit. There’s a difference. . . .

6.5 Speaking of big words, consider this one: “And.” It’s especially helpful when confronted with polarizing rhetoric shortsighted enough to suggest one must choose propositional/factual truth or narrative/aesthetic truth.7. It does not “puncture the hegemony of logic” to deny the central tenets of the Christian faith. The central tenets of the Christian faith do a fine job of that already. It is not humility to deny what God has done by impenetrable obscurity masquerading as “nuance.” It is pride.

7.5 To correct abuses of rationality (which are legion) by neutering epistemology is like correcting poor carpentry by outlawing tools.

NEW! 7.75 The most radical postmodern epistemology appears numbingly Newtonian next to the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 8: You can’t know this kind of knowledge (verse 3), this Knowledge knows you.

8. Heresy is boring, not exciting because it eviscerates mystery. If you’re attracted to heresy because it makes you feel naughty then that’s kinda creepy. If you’re attracted to it because you don’t want to “limit God,” then the religion that serves a God who became a particular first-century Palestinian Jew might not be for you.

via millinerd.com: 9.5 Theses.

HT:David Mills

An evangelical critique of contemporary worship

D. H. Williams, a theology professor at Baylor, offers a searching critique of contemporary worship as practiced in the typical megachurch, published in Christianity Today, no less.  You need to read it all, but here is the opening description of the service:

On a recent Sunday, I found myself visiting a Protestant megachurch. Entering the “worship center” was eerily similar to being ushered down the aisle of a movie theater: floor lighting, padded chairs, visual effects shown on two large screens, and music over the speaker system.

A band appeared on stage to begin the service with live music. It was dark, and I thought I heard the audience singing along, but it was impossible to tell. And although I was seated in the front row, I sensed that the congregation was almost superfluous to the activity on stage. As in most forms of entertainment, the audience functioned as passive onlookers, participating only in an unseen, intensely personal way.

While the band played, song lyrics flashed across the two big screens, with words like great, God, and high figuring prominently. The musical performance was outstanding, even if the vocabulary was extremely limited. If the songs aimed at an emotional response, they were probably successful, but like so much contemporary worship music, they lacked any element of substantive teaching.

Immediately after the singing, without any announcement, much less Paul’s words of institution (1 Cor. 11:23-26), the elements of the Lord’s Supper were hurriedly handed around. Again, I was amazed at the blandly efficient nature of this activity. We could have been passing pretzels and soda pop. No one offered any guidance whatsoever on the sharing of this critical ordinance or sacrament. It seemed a strictly vertical encounter between each individual and God.

Next came the sermon, offered by a capable person who worked very hard to relate while teaching some biblical content. A simple outline appeared on the screen so that we could follow the train of thought. So did the relevant Bible passages, lest anyone could not find them in an actual Bible. I noticed that the illustrations came almost solely from popular movies and television. Then the service ended as abruptly as it began, with a few announcements over the speakers and a cordial “thank you” to the congregation. No benediction or closing prayer—not even a person to give it. The house lights came on, and it was time to leave.

via Contemporary Music: The Cultural Medium and the Christian Message | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Closing a campus ministry because it works?

University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis is the LCMS campus ministry to the University of Minnesota.  It has ministered effectively to generations of college students, quite a few of whom have gone on to seminary and the pastoral ministry due to its influence.  My oldest daughter went to the University of Minnesota, and though exposed to some of the worst excesses of left wing postmodernist academia, she graduated battle tested and more firmly grounded in her Christian faith than ever, thanks to her involvement with University Lutheran Chapel.  It is theologically conservative, confessional, liturgical, and connects to young people.  But maybe that’s the problem.

The Minnesota South District wants to sell the property–which is a church that looks like a church in a prime location just off campus–so that it can take the money and start a different kind of campus ministry, one that follows church growth principles.  But do those ever really work with sophisticated college students?  It sounds like the approach that actually does work is being thrown out in favor of an approach that may or may not, but which accords more with the theoretical convictions of the mission executives in the district.

This sounds like what happened with the then-synodical radio program Issues, Etc., which was shut down by advocates of reaching out in evangelism even though the program reached out in evangelism to more people and did so more effectively than virtually any other synodical venture (save the daily Divine Service in ordinary congregations across the country).

The real reason for shutting down Issues, Etc. (now going strong on the web, as you can click in from our sidebar here) and now ULC seems to be the hostility of church-growth advocates who insist that contemporary worship and pop music and feel-good sermons are the ONLY way to do “mission” and that confessional, liturgical efforts must not be permitted no matter how effective they are.

Steadfast Lutherans » The U of M LCMS Chapel is a Church Growth Dream Come True, by Pr. Rossow.

 

A dying church

A pejorative term directed against some congregations is that they are “a dying church.”  Either because most of their members are elderly or because they don’t get a lot of new members or because they don’t seem exciting enough.  I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be.  Then our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached this sermon on Palm Sunday:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. And we also prayed: Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience.

What does this mean? Do you know what this is saying? With these words we are really saying: Lord, help us to die. Help us be dying Christians. Help us be a dying church.

Ah, no. That doesn’t sound right! We don’t want to be a dying church! We don’t want to be dying Christians, do we? That sounds like failure. We want to be successful, we want to be admired, we want to be big, we want to be glorious. A dying church sounds . . . like . . . a story gone horribly wrong.

But this is exactly what it means to have the mind of Christ. We are to be a dying church, because we have a dying Saviour. For only by dying can we live. . . .

But what has Jesus done? What is this story we are hearing again today and will remember all this week? This story is not a story gone horribly wrong, but of our Saviour using suffering and death for life, for good. That what looks like defeat is really victory.And so we are a dying church because we have a dying Saviour. This is not our doing – our Saviour pulls us into His dying; for to die with Jesus is to live.

And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.

We hear the preaching of Christ crucified and are pulled into the story of the cross.

We die in repentance and are raised in absolution.

The dying and rising body and blood of Jesus are put into your mouth, to pull you into that same dying and rising.

You see, that is what set the Apostles free to face death when they went out into all the world – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

That is what set the early martyrs and the Reformers free to face death – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

And this is what sets you free to face whatever this world and its evil prince may throw at you – you have already died with Christ! You have nothing to fear.

And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live. For dying with Christ, we live a life that suffering cannot take away, that the sins of others cannot take away, that the struggles of this world cannot take away, that disasters and tragedies cannot take away, that laying down our lives for others cannot take away, that not even death can take away.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church.

The fastest-growing denomination

That would be the Seventh-Day Adventists:

Rest on the Sabbath. Heed Old Testament dietary codes. And be ready for Jesus to return at any moment.

If these practices sound quaint or antiquated, think again. They’re hallmarks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the fastest-growing Christian denomination in North America.

Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups are declining. Adventists are even growing 75% faster than Mormons (1.4 percent), who prioritize numeric growth.

For observers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the growth rate in North America is perplexing.

“You’ve got a denomination that is basically going back to basics … saying, ‘What did God mean by all these rules and regulations and how can we fit in to be what God wants us to be?’,” said Daniel Shaw, an expert on Christian missionary outreach at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. “That’s just totally contrary to anything that’s happening in American culture. So I’m saying, ‘Whoa! That’s very interesting.’ And I can’t answer it.”

via Adventists’ back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church – USATODAY.com.

Apparently the secret of church growth is NOT to conform to the culture.  But what people appreciate is law, law, law, as opposed to gospel.  Why do you think that is?

HT:Joe Carter


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