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Marcus Moberg: Church, Market, and Media

Marcus Moberg, Church, Market, and Media: A Discursive Approach to Institutional Religious Change (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 216 pages, ISBN 9781474280570.

Perhaps the strongest attributes of Church, Market and Media is the manner in which it is structured. Many books pertaining to social media, even ones academically produced, are structured around the use of social media in modernity. They focus on the various means by which a church can create a flashy website or the impact of an effective social media outreach. In many ways, this approach makes sense as social media has only really existed in its current form for a little over a decade. However, by framing the conversation in this manner, authors ignore the wider context in which social media exists. They ignore the very context that created social media in the first place.

Moberg provides this contextualization in four ways. In the introduction (section one), Moberg notes that his study will focus on seven denominations: Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), United Methodist Church (UMC), The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Church of England, the Church of Denmark, the Church of Sweden, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Moberg points out that these denominations share two common traits. First, they are generally considered mainline and this means Pentecostals and more mainstream Evangelical or independent churches are excluded from his study. Secondly, all the denominations he examines are in numeric decline. Moberg sees these two facts as a feature because the uniformity between the seven denominations will allow him to better examine their media use while holding other variables constant.

In the second section, he demonstrates how a linguistic analysis of social media and/or institutionally produced documents can provide valuable information concerning the originating institution. Here Moberg provides a brief analysis as an example. He notes that the mainline denominations examined are all entering into a “technologization of discourse.” He believes this is because they are under demographical stress and are attempting to replicate the “managerial culture” contained within society at large as a means to alleviate that stress.

In the third section, Moberg directly links the rise of social media to neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, for Moberg, is predominantly concerned with the free exchange of commodities and ideas. Social media is premised on this ideology as it provides a platform for the free exchange of ideas. Thus, neoliberalism and capitalism provide the context which gave rise to social media. Moberg links this observation back to the fact that mainline denominations are actively participating in a “technologization of discourse” and concludes that these churches are also necessarily adopting a neoliberal approach to ideas and their expression.

The fourth theme that Moberg uses to provide context is the study of institutions. He specifically addresses this in section two, but this idea is a predominant theme in all of the sections. Moberg’s main concern is not with how different websites generate varying levels of engagement via clicks, but rather how the institutions examined are reacting to the increasingly competitive marketplace of ideas. This section also provides a review of the idea of hegemony and the manner in which hegemonies are formed and subverted.

Sections four and five examine the seven denominations as case studies. Each denomination is given a detailed analysis. Because of the previous background provided, Moberg is able to analyze these denominations in a detailed manner. The proximity of these case studies in the text makes it easy for the reader to note similarities between the denominations, but also differences. Moberg is especially interested in the ways some churches have adopted a technological discourse and social media use in a more aggressive manner than other denominations. For instance, he notes that the ELCA has retained a, “Markedly more formal” discourse, “Compared to that of both the PCUSA and the UMC.” He also notes the various methods the denominations are utilizing to engage in social media. For instance, some denominations are merely encouraging their local churches to engage in social media. Whereas in other denominations the ecclesial leadership is more actively engaging and leading the transformation.

Although Moberg does focus on seven denominations, this text could be of use to individuals from denominations not listed. By providing the context of social media, Moberg equips his reader to better recognize the larger social and cultural forces at work within social media. The case studies he provides also allow readers to reflect on their own local church or denominational efforts to utilize social media.

Reviewed by Kyle Smith


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Category: Ministry, Spring 2018

About the Author: Kyle Smith has an M.A. in Christian History & Theology from George Fox University and is a currently working on a Ph.D. in the Religious department of Rice University. His master’s thesis focused on the relationship between Pentecostal epistemology and institutional stability. He has presented on social media, ecclesiology, epistemology, and religious economics.

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