Supply-side Christianity

To be a Christian sometimes feels like Mark Twain hearing of his death. You feel compelled to state that the report is greatly exaggerated.

So perhaps fellow pewsitters will not be surprised by the fact that The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Christianity has refused to die in Sweden. What is surprising is that the report made it to page one of capitalism’s version of The Briefing.

Down the road from a huge and empty Church of Sweden edifice, Hedvig Eleonara Church, the WSJ happens across “Passion Church, an eight-month-old evangelical outfit. Nearly 100 young Swedes rocked to a high-decibel band: ‘It’s like adrenaline running through my blood,’ they sang in English. ‘We’re talking about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.’”

The local state church has three full-time priests, paid for by a state levy. The church plant’s pastor has to raise his own funds and rent a hall from a local theatre.

The WSJ reports the testimony of a tattooed former gangster at Passion Church. “An ocean of anger has calmed,” he says. Meanwhile the head of governing board of the Eleonara church doesn’t believe in God, and is relieved she doesn’t have to go to the church herself.

Rodney Stark , a sociology professor at Baylor University, believes that Europe’s church plants are shaking up and in some places reviving “the market for religion”.

He believes one explanation is his supply-side theory. He invented it to explain why America is such a religious country. Stark says that at independence only 17 per cent of Americans went to church. Independence ended the religious monopolies that existed in the American colonies (only Quakers in one place, Anglicans in another) and this led to a tidal wave of religious competition. By the 1950s, churchgoing reached 50 per cent. But in Europe, many religious monopolies persisted. The Church of Sweden was the state church until 2000. Evangelicals were banished in the 1800s.

Evangelical numbers in Sweden are still low at 31,000. But they are growing.

Stark posits that the vigour of “religious suppliers” will determine the numbers who end up in church. “Whenever churches are a little more energetic and competitive, you’ve got more people going to church,” he says.

So in addition to prayer, the peace and reliable transport system of the Roman Empire, and the printing press at the time of the Reformation as factors in the spread of the gospel, maybe we need to add competition between churches.

Go on, plant some more and give them different names.

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