Evangelism, or Niche Marketing?

            In The( Magic)
Kingdom of God
Michael Budde describes the transformation of capitalism in
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Facing
diminishing returns from mass-market production, capitalism shifted to new
strategies to sustain the cycle of production and consumption.  The primary strategy was the development of
the niche market.

H.J. Heinz Company is an example of
this development. After building its reputation in the mustard market with its
signature square-faceted jar and familiar label and logo, Heinz began to
develop new kinds of mustard, most notably, Grey Poupon, which fed a market of
young professionals (Yuppies) seeking a more gourmet experience not offered by
the plain yellow mustard they ate while growing up. As one “yuppie” put it— “All
I want is a place where I can buy twelve kinds of mustard.”

         Mass communications media, telecommunications and marketing
firms excel at developing products especially shaped for each niche in order to
maximize the potential for sales and profits. In that environment, the market
will take anything and everything that it can in order to package it and offer
it as a new product to the consumptive public, including religious forms of

            With the establishment
of the products (religious symbols and practices) and the cultivation of the
consumers (individuals in niche markets), the late-Capitalist market economy provides
congregations with a nearly irresistible temptation to accept their place in
modernity, relegated to the realm of the private, left to seek relevance and
legitimacy through consumer popularity. If the Church find itself in this story, what should the response be?

            Budde suggests that pastors
and lay leadership be self-critical, acknowledging the constant temptation to
serve the market through a focus on the individual.  Theological reflection on ecclesiology and
practices must consider these realities. 
Unless such reflection makes the church a “called, gathered community of
disciples their primary point of reference and identity, the gospel will remain
marginalized by the effects of the culture industries.”  







About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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