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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Christian churches have evolved from communities to corporations, according to a book written by a UF English and advertising professor.

James Twitchell's book, "Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from In Your Heart to In Your Face," is scheduled for publication Sept. 18. Not only does it scrutinize changing churches, but it also examines what these changes mean to American churchgoers.

Over the past four years, Twitchell estimates he has attended more than 100 Protestant-based Christian churches across the United States, including services in Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations.

"These churches are fun, not boring, and they are highly entertaining," he said in an interview.

Twitchell said the most prominent of these sects is the nondenominational church.

Nondenominational churches do not identify with any specific Christian church. While denomination-affiliated churches pay dues to their headquarters, nondenominational churches pocket the spare change.

Extra cash flow allows for daily services and two to three services on weekends.

All services have high-quality sound, state-of-the-art music and a screen comparable to that of a Super Bowl JumboTron showcasing the words to "Amazing Grace."

Twitchell said he believes the reason for what he calls the "megachurch" phenomenon is the power of language, which he compared to brands of water.

"You know Evian is the most expensive, Dasani is the cheap one and tap water is free," he said. "But if you put a blindfold on, you can't tell the difference."

In the press release, Twitchell said this is a contributing factor to how churches are becoming a part of the mainstream they tried to avoid.

With churches these days, it's about selling a brand, he said in the interview.

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"Fifty years ago, if your father was Presbyterian, you were a Presbyterian," he said. "Now almost 50 percent of people change their church."

What's different today is the goal of some churches, he said.

Many churches he studied focus their efforts on growth, unlike churches in the old days that focused on stability.

If attendance drops, so will the life expectancy of the megachurch.

"If they ever stop growing, they will start to collapse very quickly," he said.

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