Consumption Values along a Faith Continuum: Exploring Loyalty Amidst Dissatisfaction

Article excerpt

Abstract

In an effort to explain the puzzling results of a recent study among mega-churches that showed a decreasing level of satisfaction with the church experience over time among more devout church attendees Sheth, Newman, and Gross' (1991) consumption values theory was applied conceptually. By contrasting the consumption behavior of "Seeker" and "Devout" attendees in light of extant church marketing literature, we observe that the disparity in the degree of satisfaction is likely a function of the saliency of the functional, conditional, social, emotional, and epistemic values for members in each category. Limitations and future research ideas are also presented.

I. INTRODUCTION

Intuitively companies anticipate loyal if not advocate-like behavior from their most devout employees, consumers and clients. Indeed "brand champions" in Oliva (2005), "product ambassadors" in Fram and McCarthy (2003), and even "client advocates" in Oliver (1981) have not only entered the marketplace vernacular, but they have revolutionized the competitive landscape in terms of increased organizational accountability and consumer input. In contrast to the anticipated relationship between loyalty and satisfaction, findings of a recent study among churches entitled, "REVEAL: Where Are You?" [http://revealnow.com] from Willow Creek Church (which is commonly recognized as the epitome of successful mega churches in the U.S.) presented an unexpected pattern of spiritual growth among avid attendees. The study results showed that the structure and offerings of many churches have yielded four main categories of attendees ranging from seekers to devout believers with decreasing levels of "satisfaction" with their church experience over time, respectively, and a relatively low correlation between "spiritual growth" and participation in church activities across all groups. This conceptual review offers insight into some of the puzzling results of this recent study in light of key marketing concepts such as loyalty and satisfaction and by applying Sheth, Newman, and Gross' (1991a) Consumption Values Theory.

From a programmatic point of view we long to better understand what persuades the loyal, but dissatisfied consumer to remain with a given company, brand, or product category. Indeed tomes such as Oliver (1981), Rust and Zahorik (1993), Anderson, Fornell, and Lehmann (1994), Fournier and Mick (1999), Smith, Bolton, and Wagner (1999), and Szymanski and Henard (2001) have been written and even meta-analyzed in Brown and Lam (2008) about satisfaction and its impact on the continued success of an organization. Given the proliferation of choices and, in some cases, relative ease of switching, there seem to be other factors at play within the religious arena that could offer fresh perspective, for example, to mainstream brands whose consumer following tend to mimic religious devotees as noted in Kozinets and Handelman (2004) and Muniz and Schau (2005). Furthermore, the disparity in the level of satisfaction with the church experience between those who are newer attendees and those seasoned in faith is likely not only a function of time, but also the degree of saliency of the social or epistemic values as presented in the consumer choice theory in Sheth, et al. (1991b).

This manuscript has two main goals beyond the introduction: (1) to elucidate the general framework of the Sheth, et al. (1991a) Consumption Values Theory by offering traditional marketplace expressions as well as a religious/house of worship application for each value in light of relevant literature and (2) to further explicate the theory and facilitate transferability to traditional retail/service encounters by comparing and contrasting "Seeker" and "Devout" categories of attendees. Two summary tables are offered to capture the main conclusions. The final section is devoted to providing a succinct discussion, acknowledging limitations with the current investigation, and identifying opportunities for future exploration. …