Students study marketing God to the masses by examining mega-churches

Findings from the new course, which combines theology and marketing, being made Monday, May 1 | May 1, 2006

It’s Sunday and Crossroads Community Church is having a preaching competition between its two pastors, Brian Tome and Brian Wells. The two exchange barbs over preaching styles that include videos and a rock band halftime show. In the words of the Xavier students attending the service, it was “over the top.”

The students were not regular members of the congregation. Their visit to Crossroads was homework to prepare their final presentation for a new course titled Marketing/Evangelizing Churches, which explores the phenomenal growth of mega-churches. The students presented their research on May 1, in Room 3 of Hailstones Hall.

At last count, there were more than 1,000 such churches in the United States, with some topping 20,000 members, and at least three in the Cincinnati area: Crossroads Community Church in Oakley; the Vineyard in Mason; and the Solid Rock Church on I-75 north of Cincinnati. Students are visiting these churches to better understand how they "market" to the un-churched or those dissatisfied with their church experience

The course, taught by Ted Bergh, who has a master's degree in theology from Xavier and an M.B.A. from Cornell University, also examines the growth of large Catholic churches. Student teams are also visiting Good Shepherd in Montgomery and St. John the Evangelist in West Chester.

“The teams compare evangelization, worship, marketing and member involvement in church activities,” says Bergh. “The primary question the students try to answer is: What draws ‘seekers’...those searching for faith…and the un-churched to become believers and faithful members of a congregation?”

The Xavier class found that mega-churches have sophisticated and carefully designed business plans to encourage seekers to become church members. Catholic mega-parishes are mostly unfamiliar with the concept of target audiences. They have also identified how the mega-church business model includes strategies that not only attract the un-churched but also encourage these seekers to become active members.

For more information, please contact Ted Bergh at 513 236-3948.