Malls, churches and marketing psychology.

Couple Carrying Shopping Bags in Mall

The older I get, the more suspicious I become of shopping malls. Do you know they’ve studied human psychology and designed the whole mall to increase your buying behavior? They know exactly what flooring to use, what height to raise the ceiling, what colour schemes work best, what music to play, how to dress shop windows and how to position shops to maximize your spending. All I know is that when I go to a bright, new, shiny mall, I experience a mix of two emotions; one which suddenly makes me realize how desperately I needed new clothes, shoes, trinkets and knick-knacks to make me happy; and one which can smell manipulation a mile away and screams at me to leave as quickly as possible, and protect my heart and my wallet. My usual strategy is to stick to my local shops, and avoid stepping into these malls in the first place.

I worry that many churches are reading from the same marketing manual as shopping mall designers. I am concerned they are using similar techniques to influence consumer behaviour. I visited a different church recently and saw all the familiar marketing tricks; a beautifully presented, inoffensive and neutral building; friendly, welcoming people placed at strategic locations, smiling and establishing eye-contact with me; an intense time of group singing which directly altered my emotional state and made me feel like a small part of something bigger; a dynamic speaker who started the sermon off with humor and stories to establish his credibility, then weaved in an emotional hook to complete the sale.

The whole experience made me feel like a target, like a “potential customer”. It felt smooth and slick, coached and orchestrated. Even though I’m a regular church attender and know how sincere people’s motives were, my natural skepticism kicked into gear and warned me to hold back from the obvious emotional manipulation. It left me feeling a bit unsettled.

I love what this church was trying to do – and so very many churches like it. I know that God’s people are earnestly trying to present a comfortable, emotionally engaging, high-quality presentation of God’s message to the world. Many of these churches don’t understand why the world is staying away from their “seeker-sensitive” services. The people around us are natives in a marketing world. They know what we’re trying to do – shift their belief systems, convert them to a different way of thinking. And many of them will take steps to guard themselves and their emotions by avoiding stepping into our buildings in the first place.

7 thoughts on “Malls, churches and marketing psychology.

  1. As a family we have been visiting a few churches lately which is very unusual since we have been on staff or senior leaders for 28 years. So, it’s been a very strange season indeed. Everything you spoke to in this piece is so true. I would call it “cookie cutter” as it seems that every church we have visited has had a squeaky clean presentation including everything you mentioned and more. Yet, each of these churches has had a sterile and impersonal ethos or atmosphere. When I’m there I’m thinking, “Wow, they are so talented, organized and excellent.” But as I’m driving away I begin to feel like it was plastic, contrived and manufactured.

    I, like you, love the local church and know that the motive behind their presentation is, in most cases, pure and well intended. For the first time, we have a chance to rethink, reJesus and reChurch, so that’s exactly what we’re doing. Thanks for the post. Insightful and I concur.

  2. A large part of the problem is trying to get non-believers into our churches in the first place. There are better ways to do the mission of Jesus.

    • Amen! I think many churches need to grapple with what the mission of Jesus is, before they can creatively address how to approach it better.

      • Unfortunately, it seems that the first priority of many churches is staying afloat and the minister keeping in a job. Worthy aims, but only the means to a greater end.

  3. Today’s institutional church system is a business, period. Clergy/laity, stage/audience, business/consumer, pagan/religious system, not found in New Testament.
    What do we find in the New Testament… God’s Ekklesia (Church) is a family, period. Everyone is clergy. Interactive, face to face, gathering in homes as family with a full meal. Man has such a knack for straying off the path of God’s way.

  4. Very interesting article! It is so true and yet a shame that the Church has to do this type of marketing to win the lost. I agree with Chris we need to get back to that old time religion. We need to allow the Holy Ghost to lead us to those that are in need and are ready to surrender their lives to God. When someone is truly hungry they most likely will not be too picky.

    • Sorry Daemion, sounds like you might be misunderstanding me. I must take exception to “I agree with Chris we need to get back to that old time religion.” I do not advocate getting back to any type of religion. We are free from religion if we are in Christ/in The Spirit, and following His ways. Going to church is a religion. Peace!

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