Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Denominations, Toothpaste, and Toilet Paper: Just the Facts, Maâ??am

Part 1 of series: Denominations, Toothpaste, and Toilet Paper
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A recent USA Today headline caught my eye: â??U.S. Protestants more loyal to toothpaste brand than church?â? Ouch! This isnâ??t something that a clergyman from a Protestant denomination wants to read in the morning paper. But, like it or not, I did read the USA Today story. And, like it or not, I did discover that American Protestants are more loyal to their toothpaste brand than to their denomination. Also to their toilet paper. Double ouch!
If youâ??ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I weigh in occasionally on the nature and condition of Christian denominations. For example:


Whatâ??s Good About Denominations?
Why Not Just Leave the PC(USA)?
The End of the PC(USA) Revisited

So, given my interest in denominational tidings, I thought chip in my two cents on the issue of denominations and toothpaste.
First, the facts. The USA Today story was based on a study done by Ellison Research of Phoenix, Arizona. From their website, it appears that Ellison Research is primarily a marketing research firm for business clients, with several non-profit clients as well. Ellison Research specializes in studies for Christian organizations, and claims familiarity with the Christian community.
The research on Christian denominations and toothpaste was published on January 12, 2009. It was based on a survey of 1007 American adults, including 471 regular churchgoers. A summary of findings can be found in a press release (PDF format).
Overall, Ellison Research found that 30% American churchgoers would consider only one denomination. This figure includes Roman Catholics, who are much more loyal than Protestants. 60% of Catholics would consider attending only a Catholic church. Meanwhile, only 16% of Protestants exhibit this kind of denominational loyalty, though 67% of Protestants have some sort of denominational preference.
What is perhaps even more surprising to me is that Protestants who attend non-denominational churches are much more committed to being non-denominational than Protestants who are allied with a denomination. Hereâ??s what Ellison Research found:


People who worship at a non-denominational congregation were asked the same question about their loyalty to attending a non-denominational church.  People who attend a non- denominational church are actually more loyal to remaining non-denominational than churchgoers in Protestant denominations are to staying within their own denomination.

In fact, 29% of non-denominational churchgoers would only consider a non-denominational church.
Ellison Research then asked churchgoers about their loyalty to other â??brandsâ? beside churches. As it turns out, Protestants are more loyal to their denomination than to their favored brands of fast food restaurants (3%), bottled water (7%), computers (9%), and soft drinks (14%). Yet denominational loyalty ranks below Protestant loyalty to brands of toothpaste (22%) and toilet paper (19%). (Photo: Yes, you can even get toilet paper that comes in a toothpaste-type tube. I wonder if that raises the level of brand loyalty.)
So, there you have, in the iconic words of Joe Friday, â??just the facts, maâ??am.â? Denominational loyalty is lower than toothpaste and toilet paper loyalty. So what does this mean? What should we think of this? Is it bad? Good? Neutral? Tomorrow Iâ??ll offer some thoughts on the implications of â??just the facts.â?

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  • Evan

    The question posed was what a person would do if the church they currently attended closed: would they consider attending one denomination and be open to nothing else? (This is what I infer from the way the news is reported.) That is apparently how they are measuring “loyalty” to a denomination.
    The short answer is that I want to attend a church that Jesus likes to attend. He might not go to any of the other local churches in my own denomination!
    This reminds me of the old joke used to poke fun at whatever denomination the teller wants to josh. A fellow comes to the Pearly Gates and is asked by Saint Peter which denomination he prefers. The fellow is surprised and asks why Saint Peter would ask this, and Peter says that each denomination has its own place in Heaven in which its fondest wish has been granted. You then fill in 2 to 3 fairly innocuous examples of denominations, ie, “Here are the Catholics. They get to hang out with all of the great saints like St. Francis and St. Jude,” “Here are the Baptists. They get a big lake to dunk everyone in,” etc. The fellow then notes a group walking around wearing blinders. “Who are THOSE folks?” he asks, and Saint Peter responds, “Oh, those are the They get to believe they are the only folks here.”

  • Evan

    Well, I forget that the moderation software eats brackets.
    The punchline of the above joke SHOULD have read:
    Saint Peter responds, “Oh, those are the (insert name of denomination.) They get to believe they are the only folks here.”
    I also put a G in brackets after the crack about my own denomination, but I guess I should have used :)
    To quote that Noted Philosopher, Foghorn Leghorn:
    “It’s a joke, son! Ah say, Ah say it’s joke!”

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  • Mark Roberts

    Evan: Great joke! Thanks.
    Do you mean that when I get to heaven there will be more than Presbyterians there? :)

  • e. barrett

    Very interesting post. Although I’m not surprised. I definitely know I have more loyalty to toothpaste (Crest baby!) than denominations. I grew up going to a Presbyterian church but now I attend an non-denominational church.
    To me the decision was simple to stick with the same denomination or do something else – all the Presbyterian churches I went to felt cold and dead (sorry Mark!), but the non-denominational church was filled with passion, life, and a deep love of Jesus. Something I had never experienced in a Presybterian chruch (again sorry! :) )
    I doubt that has anything to do with the denomination itself. But I know I’m more itnerested in being around people who love God, than those who are kinda lukewarm about it all.

  • Bob

    As a former market researcher, this is not unexpected. Toothpaste and toilet paper brands tend to be consistent. Congregations within denominations vary widely in beliefs and practices, and denominations seem to change more rapidly every year. I am still active in a PC(USA) congregation, but many decisions by so called higher courts make me ill as GAs and leaders in Louisville turn their backs on God and walk away from the roots of our faith.

  • Kozak

    Bob’s right. Consistency breeds loyalty. Maybe the non-denoms are more consistent, or maybe they’re just convinced that denomination=divisive. Of course, some of us have multiple denominations in the same tradition to pick from. In my case that’s ELCA/LCMS/WELS/LCMC. I can remain Lutheran but switch brands. Any 2-ply tissue will do :).

  • RevK

    They all get under my skin!

  • Mark Roberts

    Great comments, as usual. Thanks!

  • Ray

    I’ve used the same brand of toothpaste since my parents got me started on it when I first grew teeth. I just never saw a reason to switch. My parents also raised me in a particular protestant denomination. But, when I became an adult and developed my own religious conscience, I switched denominations. It was not an easy decision, and I devoted many hours of reading, research and study to the matter. And then I felt God calling me to break with my family tradition and switch denominations. That makes me “disloyal” with regard to denominations, but “loyal” with regard to toothpaste. Whatever. To me, it just means that I THINK about my decision to align with a denomination. Toothpaste isn’t that important, so I just go with my habit.
    I get the point about consumerism and church shopping, but the comparison with toothpaste is apples and oranges. Totally meaningless.

  • Weekend Fisher

    How often does pastor preach brand loyalty from the pulpit? Are sermons meant to be infomercials for the denomination? And the digs at the competitors are commonplace. …
    Which is to say, my loyalty is to Christ, and if I hear too many more infomercials for the denomination, that’s when I’m going to walk and find someplace where Christ is preached.
    Take care & God bless

  • Why Are Protestants More Loyal to Their Toothpaste Than to Their Denomination? |

  • Mariam

    Amen about those “digs at the competition.” In my church, it is always a dig at the more “evangelical” and orthodox. The elders and pastors do it so often, I suspect it is unconscious.

  • Mark Roberts

    Weekend Fisher: I’d say “Amen!” to that except I’m not a Baptist. Seriously, though, I agree with you. When I was pastor at Irvine, I often prayed in worship for churches of other denominations, in part to make sure my congregation understood our oneness in Christ with other Christians.

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