How does anything become popular? What makes a consumer choose one product over another? Even in this economic climate, it isn’t always price. For something to become popular, it must be perceived, remembered and shared. Without exposure to a product or an idea, there is no opportunity to process it. If a consumer can’t remember a product that they have been exposed to, than chances are, they won’t purchase it over another item. Finally, for something to stay popular, it must be spread, through either explicit diffusion, such as word of mouth, or implicit diffusion, like passive propagation.
With this model in mind, the popularity of megachurches can be analyzed. At the New Spring Community Church, our guide, a young college student at Clemson University, kept saying that the popularity of the church in such a small town was “because of Jesus.” As we have seen on this trip, faith in a higher being can certainly propel people to work harder to achieve their goals. However, there are other explanations for the amount of people that New Spring draws every Sunday.
First, perception: Christianity is the most popular religion in the world, with over 2.1 billion practicing followers. Anyone anywhere can tell you what Christianity is- we have been exposed to the religion for over two thousand years. Thus, any church is going to get some attention. However, we have a limited attention span that is capable of being divided. What is New Spring doing that has captured the attention of over ten thousand followers? The resources the church offers is one possible explanation. Besides the local YMCA, New Spring is the only community center in Anderson that offers amenities such as a daycare, free computer access, and a gym. Novelty gets our attention, and a gym in a church for high schoolers is a pretty novel idea. Since there is no community center that can really rival what New Spring offers its followers, its a no-brainer for many families to join a church that can provide such facilities for their children.
Second, remembrance: Perception increases reception, and the more of a product we see, the more likely we are to remember it. How, why and when we remember something is based on our memory. When advertising a product, marketers aim to create links in consumer memory. These internal and external retrieval cues will bring their product to the forefront of people’s minds. Obviously, every time someone thinks of Christianity, they will recall their church. However, at New Spring, its facilities will strengthen its recall. For example, every time a high schooler thinks “Where do I want to sit to do my homework?” he or she may recall the great study areas that New Spring offers them. The more internal (personal thoughts) and external (cues in the environment) retrieval cues there are, the more likely New Spring’s popularity will rise. Nothing sticks without memory.
Third, sharing: An idea or a product can be great, but it won’t become popular unless it is sticky enough to spread. Marketers can spend millions of dollars advertising on billboards and in commercials, but this isn’t always the most efficient way to spread a product. Instead, word of mouth (WOM) has been found to be the most effective way to popularize a product. When we asked our guide how he came to choose New Spring as his church, he told us that he came here on a whim one Sunday after a close friend told him how “awesome” the church was. We tend to trust our friends’ opinions more so than ads in magazines and on television, and with good reason. We often share the same interests as our friends, and we trust that they know what we, as a consumer, want. When it comes to as big of a decision as picking a church, we are more likely to join a religious community that our friends and family speak highly of. Indeed, at New Spring, they call each of their followers “deacons,” with the aim of spreading the message of New Spring in an attempt to draw in new visitors. Of course, New Spring also relies on other forms of advertising. Their billboards and t-shirts have catchy slogans printed on them such as “Iwantanewmarriage.com” and “No Perfect People Allowed.” Not only are these unusual slogans more likely to capture’s people attention, the distribution of these slogans will spread the word of New Spring.
As we have seen, New Spring’s popularity is not just because of Jesus. Despite its small size, Anderson has proven to be the perfect ground on which to build a megachurch. By appealing to a diverse group of people, and by offering the community facilities that are found no where else, New Spring has grown from a 15 person Bible study to a 10,000+ church. It certainly has become the most popular kid in school.