CNBC examines the growing business of evangelical Christianity
In Corporate America, the religion’s growing status is seen in all kinds of businesses. From health clubs to Hollywood movies, and from publishing companies to pizza parlors, firms around the United States are now saying they have Christian values at their core.
“Jesus is big business in America,” explains Laura Nash, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at Harvard Business School.
In fact, Jesus has always been big business in America says Nash. And while the message of the Bible has been constant over the years, today’s Christian messengers are very different from those of days gone by.
From Houston’s smiling pastor Joel Osteen to the fiery sermons of Dallas’ Bishop T.D. Jakes, today’s superstar preachers are spreading the word of God to mega-congregations of tens of thousands of people — an economic force in their own right.
And these new Christian leaders are acting like CEOs of mini-conglomerates that turn out best-selling books, CDs, DVDs and even major motion pictures.
“I think that Jesus is the product,” says author and televangelist T.D. Jakes, who is currently bishop at The Potters House, a primarily African-American Pentecostal church in Dallas. “When the product is excellent, it doesn’t require a big sales pitch.”
Not content with preaching to the choir, Christian authors and broadcasters are going after the secular market too. Bill Hearn, for example, the CEO of EMI Christian Music Group, says his company’s vision is to impact popular culture from a biblical world view.
Joel Osteen, a best-selling author and televangelist who is currently pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, one of North America’s largest churches, says his message is not only heard by the converted.
“People say, ‘I’ve never been to church, but you know I’m watching your broadcast, I’m reading your book,’” Osteen said. “So I think faith is definitely growing all across America.”
But while Christian-based business has morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry, and an economic success story, what about the non-believers? Does the increasing closeness of Christianity and commerce have the potential to make some consumers uncomfortable?
Harvard’s Laura Nash says that Americans have always viewed freedom of religion as the freedom to express religious beliefs up to a point. That is, as long as it doesn’t impinge on another American’s freedom to express their own religious freedom.
And there’s another consideration: Is the Christian movement just what a scandal-scarred corporate America needs? Os Hillman of consultancy Marketplace Leaders, who is a nationally known leader on faith in the workplace, is optimistic.
“God does not frown on people with money,” Hillman said. “The issue here is the love of money versus money itself.”
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