The average Protestant is about as loyal to his church denomination as he is to his toothpaste-this according to Ellison Research, as reported in The Christian Post. I don't know if that's good, bad, or irrelevant, but it's a fascinating comparison. "Church denominations certainly are not the same as hotels or soft drinks," Ellison President Ron Sellers notes, "but some of the same rules apply-the brands that develop stronger loyalty tend to do a better job of differentiating themselves from other brands and demonstrating key elements of the brand very clearly."
The whole notion of marketing Christianity is distasteful, for the simple reason that we associate branding with corporate whores and their phalanx of Madison Avenue flacks, all of them trying to figure out the magical combination of phrases, logos, and spokesmodels to seduce us into buying their trinkets. We suspect that aside from cleverly depicting the content of our faith to a skeptical world, a branding mindset will distort dogma to put butts in seats. "Marketing unavoidably changes the message," argues Brand Jesus author Tyler Wigg-Stevenson in this month's Christianity Today, the cover of which does a clever job of converting the picture we associate with a Starbucks cup into a Christian logo.
I suspect we should be suspicious of efforts to market Christianity, but that doesn't negate the question embedded in Sellers's statement: How does my denomination stand apart, and more important, why does it stand apart? That's an important question, because I don't think Christ intended a Baskin-Robbins approach to God. He established not churches, but a Church (Matthew 16:18). He prayed that all those who believe in Him will be one (John 17:20), which I suspect means more than that we have a vague sense of goodwill toward one another (though a great many of us don't have, toward a great many others of us, even that).
Given that we've seen fit to fracture the Church into thousands of splinters based on a variety of doctrinal and governance disputes, the very least we could do is make clear to our congregants exactly what it is that makes Denomination A different from Denominations B through Z. And if there isn't much difference, then perhaps we ought to start the conversation on merging back into a single, united Church. When church members see more difference between Colgate and Crest than between Methodists and Baptists, either the teaching is poor or the reason for division is weak.
But maybe where denominational loyalty is weak, individual church loyalty is stronger. I know that's certainly my case; I can't find much good to say about John Calvin, but I love the people in my church. With that said, we all recognize that our particular churches are only-we hope, we pray-a small piece of the Church. I'm suggesting it ought to bother us, more than it does, that we have so freely fragmented the governance and communion of that Church with the proliferation of denominations. And maybe it ought to bother us even more in light of the fact that the average Protestant doesn't see much difference between his own denomination and at least some of the others.
On the positive side, perhaps that's an indication that instead of division in the future of Protestantism, we'll begin to see communion. True, some folks would have to relinquish authority in order for that to happen. But we Christians are good at humbling ourselves, right?