Saturday, January 12, 2013

There's money to be made from catering to the Christian market in the U.S.A.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Matthew 21:12-13

And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
John 2:13-16

Another backlog item, dated but still relevant, as reported by Barrie McKenna in the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail, September 25, 2006:

It's Sunday and you have a little fender-bender in the church parking lot. No problem if you have FaithGuard - an insurance policy targeted at the nearly 150 million Americans who regularly go to church. There's no deductible as long as you're driving to your place of worship.

FaithGuard is the inspiration of GuideOne Mutual Insurance Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, one of the countless new ways Corporate America is targeting the swelling population of Evangelical Christians.

"There are risks in this, from an insurance point of view," acknowledged GuideOne president and chief executive officer Jim Wallace. "But if you can appeal to someone's way of life, you can make a real bond that will help the business stick."

It seems to be working. Guide-One has sold 60,000 FaithGuard policies since it launched the free add-on to its regular auto insurance coverage last year, many of them sold directly to parishioners at church.

Forget the image of the dusty old Christian book store. The business of selling to Christians has reached a whole new plane. And nothing, and everything, is sacred. Corporate America is finding religion - in music, movies, radio stations, banks, biblical theme parks, anti-abortion mutual funds, health clubs, and even faith-based towns.

"If you can target zip codes, you can target Christians," remarked Alan Wolfe, a political science professor at Boston College and director of the Boisi Center on Religion and American Public Life.

Christian subdivisions are sprouting up across the country, and at least one entire Catholic town is rising out of a farm field near the Florida Everglades. Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza Inc. and a devout Catholic, has pumped a chunk of his fortune into Ave Maria Town in Immokalee, Fla. The community will have 11,000 homes, its own schools (including a 5,000-student university) and, if Mr. Monaghan gets his way, porn-free television and drugstores that refuse to sell contraceptives.

For investors, there are now dozens of faith-based mutual funds to choose from, including ones that shun companies linked to abortion and pornography or that offer employee benefits to unwed partners.

Last week, Hollywood got into the act. Following in the footsteps of major publishers and recording labels, News Corp. unveiled FoxFaith, a division devoted to producing as many as a dozen Christian films a year.

"We're in the business of entertainment, not proselytizing," explained Jeff Yordy, FoxFaith's vice-president of marketing. "We simply recognized that there was a hugely underserved audience and seized the opportunity."

News Corp. and the others are chasing a surprisingly large market.

According to a sweeping new study by Baylor University - American Piety in the 21st Century - one-third of Americans, or 100 million people, now identify themselves as Evangelical Protestants. Half of all Americans go to church at least once a month, and 85 to 90 per cent say they believe in God.

The market for Christian products - including books, movies and music - is worth $7.5-billion (U.S.) a year and is growing much faster than overall retail sales, according to Packaged Facts. The market for services may be even larger. And the most fervent consumers are Evangelicals, 54 per cent of whom spend at least $50 a month on Christian products.

But it isn't just the scale of the market that has Madison Ave. saying Hail Mary. Prof. Wolfe said Evangelicals themselves are embracing the notion that they are a powerful subculture...

..."After 9/11, people are beginning to realize that life isn't just fun and games," agreed Dan Hayden, executive director of the Holy Land Experience, a 15-acre, $16-million theme park in Orlando, Fla. "They're looking for meaning that knowledge of God brings."

At Holy Land, the quest for knowledge comes in the form of daily live re-enactments of the crucifixion, plus scale models of Jerusalem, Herod's Temple and Christ's tomb. The park was opened in 2001 to capitalize on the tens of millions of tourists who flock to nearby Disney World every year. Mr. Hayden said it's now becoming a destination in its own right for faith-based tour groups, drawing more than 200,000 visitors a year.

"We thought that if we put flesh and blood on biblical stories, it would be a way to capture the interest of people," he explained.

Prof. Wolfe of Boston College warned that selling exclusively to Christians runs counter to the principles of mass marketing.

"You can live in a Christian community, send your kids to Christian schools, watch Christian movies and vacation at Christian resorts - even get your hair cut in a Christian barber shop," Mr. Wolfe said.

"You never leave that world. If I worry about it, it's because it's exclusionary, and a good society should bring people together."

Mr. Wallace of GuideOne Insurance insisted that's not the case with FaithGuard. Three-quarters of its customers may be regular churchgoers, but the policy is open to all.

And the faithful have been good business - just 115 claims so far.

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