In a recent Religion News Service column, Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, considered how marketing firms might advise various religious groups. He addressed the loss of “market share” among mainline Protestants.

He noted that one focus group had called mainline Protestants “the General Motors of Christianity” — a brand that “once dominated American religious life” but in more recent times has suffered from the results of “choice and decentralization.”

“Many Americans, facing a myriad of religious alternatives, want comforting churches with a progressive theology,” Rabbi Rudin writes. “However, our research shows you often come across as cold, self-righteous and a little too zealous in the quest to be ‘prophetic’ and ‘cutting edge.'”

I’m still trying to process how this outside perspective speaks to those Baptist congregations — especially older, historic churches — with whom I have some contact. Perhaps one of the current needs is to give more energy to making our congregations “comforting” rather than “comfortable.”

It is fairly easy to find places that are comfortable — cozy coffee shops or the sofa at home can do that. However, the church can have a unique role in providing an environment that “comforts” those dealing with the pain and struggles of life.

Just maybe we have have been giving too much attention to providing the wrong kind of comfort.

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