"Where Two or Three Are Gathered": Prophetic Disruption of the New Religious Marketplace Open Access

Battle, Jeremy (Spring 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9s1617330?locale=en


In the advent of disenchantment and secularization, religious life has seen significant declines and many churches have closed their doors. On the other hand, some churches have survived and are thriving in this new climate through innovations in marketing and branding, evangelism and outreach, and church growth strategies. The marrying of these features of disenchantment and growth have created a New Religious Marketplace. Churches, ministers, and ministries are now ranked, reviewed, followed, liked/dis-liked, and a treated like a marketplace of beliefs, alternatives, and services. Bigger and wealthier churches wield disproportional influence in the market, while small, under-resourced churches have struggled. Concrete social realities and disparities are disguised and distorted in the New Religious Marketplace and what is meant by “good” church options. These lines of disparity tend to follow what W.E.B. DuBois called “the color line”—and what may seem to be solely a matter of money and “good” church is actually a troubling combination of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic factors – what ethicists call “intersectionality.” This project will outline the disparities at play when you look at (a) full-time versus bi-vocational pastors, (b) hired vs. volunteer staff members, (c) inequitable distributions of discretionary time of volunteers, (d) and access to financial capital from lending institutions for buildings and space.  What are small churches (who make up more than 85% of churches) to do? They should do as Jesus did when he prophetically disrupted the marketplace culture of the Jewish Religious Order and Draconian state during his ministry. Small churches should also follow the prophetic model of the Black Church, which has operated outside of the mainstream in the U.S. and has survived and succeeded through Antebellum, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement, until today. I will end by celebrating the benefits of small church using my own case experiences as an African- American pastor and PK, and from over twenty years of experience serving in churches of every size across the U.S. with varying economic, racial, and denominational makeups.

These experiences form my deep appreciation for the church, and the specific challenges that are often unique to small churches.

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