Holy Franchise

By Marty, Martin E. | The Christian Century, February 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Holy Franchise


Marty, Martin E., The Christian Century


THE DICTIONARIES of saints leap alphabetically from St. Frances of Rome to St. Fremund, with stops along the way to a half dozen St. Francises. The saint I was looking for, however, was unlisted: "St. Franchise." I learned about him from Omega Services and Consultants. OSCON was trying to sell me a trip to Kerala, specifically to Cochin, with the promise that we would visit "Vasco Da Gama Church (St. Franchise Church).

St. Franchise, where are you now that we need you? We live in America where we confess the creed: "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Marketable Church." Such a church appears wherever Christianity is free and not established, which means not needing to be marketed. It cannot appear where the church is unfree and thus uncompetitive and unadvertisable.

Fifty years ago in a classic essay Sidney E. Mead listed "competition" as a main feature of the denomination, that modern, mainly American invention. Like it or not, the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Mormon bodies find sociologists calling them denominations, however their members think of themselves. Now denominational competition is diminishing, a fact that leads some to say that therefore the denomination itself is disappearing.

Before there can be substitutes, the old terminological carcass has to be dragged away, or at least reduced, as some suggested prefixes illustrate. My Web search turns up 365,000 citations of "nondenominational," 5,790 of "postdenominational," 943 of "undenominational," all of them coming to mean "antidenominational."

What should we call the new social form? Some have proposed "megachurches," "the emergent church," "etc." (which could mean "the etceterachurch").

Only recently have I become aware that sociologists are now writing about another new form, derived from what business leaders call "the franchise model of organization. …

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