I’ve found that the best place to learn what’s going on in our neighborhood is in the front seat of my car — but only when the back seat is occupied by my sons and their friends.

For the first few minutes of any trip, there’s not much discussion. But after a couple of stop lights, I’ve apparently developed a cloak of invisibility, making me privy to all kinds of information important to the 6th and 8th graders of our neighborhood.

So it was with some amusement, and some concern, the other day that I overheard one of my sons describing a recent experience at our church.

Our denominational church offers traditional and contemporary worship services. Usually, we attend the contemporary service, which features singers, guitars, drums, keyboards and contemporary Christian music. But that most recent Sunday, we attended the traditional service, which naturally features a more sterotypical church experience with hymnals, a robed church choir and the like.

“We attended the old-people’s service Sunday,” my son told his friend.

“Pretty boring, huh?” the friend asked.

“Yeah, I hope we don’t do that again,” my son responded.

And then the conversation turned to vacations, video games and cell phones.

It was interesting, I thought, that my son and his friend dismissively rated one church service against another, based solely on a brief experience, much the same way they might evaluate buying one video game versus another.

But their thought process tracks one of the themes in this month’s cover story, which talks about the importance of religion and religious institutions in our neighborhood and throughout Dallas. In fact, according to a researcher quoted in the story, Dallas is home to a vast “religious marketplace, just like there is for cars and shoes. Churches and faiths that don’t meet consumer demand are left behind, but those with an entrepreneurial spirit are best positioned to gain members … residents seem to shop for churches the same way they shop for schools and restaurants, often choosing a church for its programs instead of its particular faith.”

The idea of shopping for a church in the same way we shop for gasoline (convenience and price) or a purse (style and designer) or a meal (sit-down or fast-food) seems at the same time both sacrilegious and savvy.

But we have become a shop-a-holic, disposable nation, and some of the experts in our story would have us believe that to a certain extent, our churches are players in this drama, too.

I hope you’ll find some time to read our story this month. I’ll be interested to hear what you think about neighborhood religion, neighborhood churches, and the impact of church “marketing” on your decisions.

Just drop me a line via e-mail or regular mail. Or you can always hop in my back seat and just start talking — you won’t even know I’m there.


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