Franchised religion a marriage of TV evangelism with the national marketing techniques of the Dunkin' Donut and the Big Mac -- may be the newest thing on the horizon for the churches, a leading authority on TV preachers said here this week.
Jeffrey K. Hadden, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia and coauthor of "Prime Time Preachers," told a Baptist conference here that both the economics and operational style of some of the leading TV preachers make "the franchising business" the logical next step.
With 90 syndicated TV evangelists now "competing for money from a total audience that has not increased appreciably in a half-dozen years," Hadden said the TV preachers face financial collapse unless they take some kind of action.
"If only a small proportion of persons who give to a television ministry could be converted into members of a local church organized by televangelists, a much more stable financial base could be built," Hadden told 150 national Baptist leaders attending a biennial conference on religious liberty here.
"Organizing TV audiences into congregations would substantially reduce the high turnover rate of contributors," Hadden said. "And, since the local churches would effectively be branch offices of the national organization, their central mission activity would be to support the television ministry and its ancillary projects."
In the keynote session of the conference, a Baptist and a Jewish leader focused on the relationships between evangelism and religious liberty: Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, interreligious affairs director for the American Jewish Committee, and Dr. Jimmy Allen, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and now head of the SBC Radio and Television Commission.
Allen drew a distinction between evangelism and proselytizing. True evangelism, he said, involves "leading people to understand God . . . and then allowing God to draw persons to Himself." Proselytizing, he said, was "winning sombody to your point of view."
"Evangelism is a very sensitive issue to many of us in the Jewish community," Tanenbaum said. While upholding the right of Christians to evangelize openly, he condemned the use of coercion and deception in evangelizing as "a scandal in the eyes of God."
Tanenbaum assailed the practices of Messianic Jews -- Jews who have converted to fundamentalist Christianity -- on some college campuses where he said they have established "storefront synagogues," complete with Hebrew prayers and Jewish worship materials, to entice Jewish students into religious services that attempt to convert them.
"The Hebrew prayers are used as a deception to entrap people," Tanenbaum said, adding that such practices are "not worthy of the high religion that is Christianity."
Jews and Christians alike have the obligation to care for the needy and suffering, Tanenbaum said. Recounting his experiences on an interfaith visit to refugee camps of Southeast Asian boat people two years ago, he said, "I have never felt more Jewish . . . when I literally helped pull people out of the water, side by side with Christians, witnessing to God's covenant."
The "great commission" for both Christians and Jews, he said, is to bring reconciliation and healing "to human life everywhere and leave it to God to determine who has been His most faithful witness."
In the question period after the two men's presentation, Allen agreed that the "deception level" of some efforts to evangelize Jews "needs to be rejected." At the same time he asserted the right, both theological and moral, of Christians to attempt to evangelize Jews.
In his presentation on franchise churches, Hadden suggested that evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson already maintain organizations well suited to such a move.
"For all intents and purposes, Falwell already has the organizational structure in place," he said, referring to Liberty Baptist College and Seminary. Graduates of the latter "have already started 200 new independent Baptist churches," he said. Given Falwell's "great personal charisma" and the "intensely loyal" seminary alumni, "it would take little effort to transform independent Baptists into Falwellian Baptists," the sociologist said.
Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network maintains prayer and counseling centers in 83 cities in America, some of which operate 24 hours a day, Hadden said. "Many of the 10,000 volunteer counselors could be transformed into cadres of local congregations," he said. Hadden said CBN claims they receive 25,000 calls a year from persons seeking counseling -- a figure, he said, "which could go a long way toward building a local church."