Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Religion is big business

Skye Jethani penned an interesting post on the celebrity culture in the church, a topic that as he notes is drawing attention from all over the spectrum, left to right. His post, The Evangelical Industrial Complex and the Rise of Celebrity Pastors, is pretty insightful but one paragraph near the end really caught my attention...

Consider the scale of the evangelical industrial complex that survives by perpetuating this system. The Christian Booksellers Association, representing 1,700 Christian stores, sells $4.63 billion worth of merchandise a year. And that doesn’t count retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Some estimate the total evangelical market to be over $7 billion a year. Evangelicalism is a very, very large business…that’s why I call it an industrial complex.
That is a pretty huge number, a number I contribute to on a regular basis. Is that healthy, especially when you think about all that goes into the Christian book publication and its symbiotic relationship with the Christian conference system? Without knowing this for certain, I would suspect that a relatively small number of authors make up an enormous percentage of that seven billion dollar figure. While it is easy for me to point at authors like Max Lucado who seem to churn out a new book weekly, there are favorite authors of mine who likewise are pumping out new books almost as fast.

I am not concerned with books per se but I am very concerned with the hold that money has on the church. Huge sums of money pass through various channels in the church: local churches, clergy, books, conferences, music, bureaucracies, charities, etc. It is unthinkable that having billions upon billions in circulation doesn't have a serious and often detrimental impact on the way we relate to one another and how we think about finances and possessions. I really think that money needs to be less of a factor in the church but that is going to require a really radical change in some of our most deeply held beliefs.


Drewe said...

Amen. It has always worried me how much flows around our 'churches' sometimes, and yet, those out in the mission fields struggle to meet basic needs, and yearly some missionaries come home because they can no longer support their families.

But my real 'bug bear' is when good 'product' is made inaccessible because of cost and profit - not necessarily the author, but also the publisher. Someone is 'milking' the Christians. I don't have budget for books anymore - so there are things I would really like access to (especially commentaries and the like), but I simply can't buy. I know a lot of effort went into the writing, but still there is more cost than effort happening here...

And don't get me started on the cost of some Bibles! At least there are some out there that sell Bibles as cheap as they can, and let it be used for free in all free software (such as the ESV).....

Ok, rant over, apologies. But you have a big point.

Aussie John said...


I read everything you write in this blog, and simply wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your thinking, on this, and most other subjects you discuss.

I'm thankful to see younger men biting the bullet on these matters, and generally find myself in thorough agreement with you.

Arthur Sido said...


I used to think that a $100 lambskin bible made perfect sense but now when I see them advertised it kind of makes me sick. I am glad that there are a lot of free resouces out there like e-sword and I also like the free ESV resources that are available all over the place. Perhaps the lambskin bibles subsidize the free stuff? Still, money changes everything and tha is true in the church at least as much as anywhere else.

Bean said...

Money, money, money! My friend and I recently had a conversation about an upcoming Quinquennial (sp) conference for the Secular Franciscan Order. It occurs every five years, this year in Chicago, this is a FRANCISCAN event, as Franciscans we follow in Francis' footsteps, live a simple life of faith following Christ. Well to attend this shindig in Chicago it costs around a $1000/person, by the time you figure in a hotel room, food, and pay to attend. We thought it rather steep and wondered why the venue could not have been at a university, with dorm rooms for lodging, rather than downtown Chicago at a top line hotel? Where are the Franciscan principles when planning these events. We all understand there will be some expense, but why so much needless expense? Keep it simple!
And, don't get me started on Christian bookstores, most everything is priced for the maximum profit margin, surely if the goal is to share the message of Christ it could be done at cost? What about the whole Christian music industry? Sure there are some great songs, but the industry is not much different to the secular music industry, it is about self promotion and making money, and then sharing Christ.
Why do Christian conferences cost so much to attend? Again, if the goal is truly to spread the gospel surely it can be done simply. My goodness just imagine the loaves and fishes story set today, it never would happen. By the time the permits for the gathering, the payments for venue, tickets sold, each middleman getting their cut, then food service only provided by union workers, the boy with the loaves and fish would have been kicked out for bringing in unauthorized food, even if he did manage to conceal it the disciples would have been in trouble with the health department for distributing food without a permit. Wow we have come such a long way in 2000 years, we are regulated beyond belief and the word Christian is slapped on many things just to make money.

I guess you can tell you hit a button with me today :)


Arthur Sido said...

Bean, I would say we have come a long way in 2000 years but not in a good way. The selling of the gifts God has given us to other followers is a tragedy.