God and religion have become the marketplace for a new breed of church where the line between worhsipper and customer is blurred.
By Gerrit van Rooyen
The captivated crowd throws their hands in the air as their voices soar above the stirring sounds. Coloured lights flash, smoke envelopes the air and state of the art audio and video equipment abounds.
It looks like a rock show,but it is not. Instead it is your ordinary run of the mill charismatic praise and worship service. It is a far cry from the less exciting traditional church services, which are generally accompanied by organ music and singing from a seated position.
The younger generation of Christians seem to favour the more lively charismatic churches. This begs the question: If traditional church services had been your ticket to heaven for the past few centuries, why the sudden need to change the genre of church music?
The answer seems to be that rock music offers more entertainment,but if it is entertainment you are after why not just attend a regular rock show? Is bible teaching, as opposed to worship music, not supposed to be the central piece of the service?
There is a clear psychological reason why some people are drawn to charismatic churches. These people desire an emotional connection with God. The moving music of charismatic churches fulfils this need in way that traditional churches cant.
When we allow our emotions to get the better of us our emotional brains switch off and we become susceptible to exploitation. The fact that charismatic churches are more entertaining is not wrong per se. The problem is that they provide their flock with emotional highs that cloud their judgement.
Many churches are raking in the profits. According to the IBIS World’s Religious Organizations market research report the total revenue of the religion industry in the USA added up $98 billion in 2012.
The churches that put on the best show grow from strength to strength. Hillsong Church, for example, grew from a small congregation in Sydney to the massive multinational church it is today thanks to the worldwide popularity that its band gained in the 1990s.
The spectacular profits that these churches are making and the lavish lifestyles of the preachers at the helm does not arouse any suspicion from their captivated flock. They liberally keep donating money to these churches. Profits that go straight into the pockets of the preachers. According to the Daily Mail, Benny Hinn, the popular faith healer and televangelist, owns no less than 13 mansions across the USA and travels in a $50 million Lear jet.
It is disturbing how commercial religion has become, blatantly so, and that so many believers are oblivious to obvious marketing ploys. The charismatic churches prey on the poor and emotionally damaged who out of desperation turn to God for answers about their unhappiness. The church provides them with a purpose and sense of belonging and acceptance.
This is Marketing Psychology 101: Creating a service that appeals to a customer’s need and emotions. Charismatic churches unashamedly market their services with huge billboards, newspaper advertisements and websites. These preachers earn millions from TV programmes, guest appearances and DVDs. The ways to profit from Christianity does not end here. There are countless types of Christian merchandise you can buy. Anything from t-shirts, bangles and statues.
It points to the commercial nature of charismatic Christianity. But these arguments could easily be extended to other Christian denominations and religions as well. The church has become a marketplace. This is very ironic since the only time Jesus ever expressed any anger in the Bible was when he visited the Temple in Jerusalem. He found that it was overrun by merchants,when it should have been a place of worship. These days, the merchants have become the temple.