consumer evangelism

My roommate’s girlfriend walked into our apartment tonight carrying a bright yellow shopping bag from the store Forever 21. She stood in the living room while we were watching a basketball game and held it proudly until we asked her what was up with the bag? “It’s for Andy,” she said. I was confused. I’ve never been in the store Forever 21 before and every time I’ve walked past it at the mall I’ve assumed it’s just another place where teenage girls shop for clothes that their parents wouldn’t approve of them wearing. Why would she bring the bag for me? Well, it turns out that all Forever 21 bags have “John 3:16” printed in small letters on the bottom, so she thought I might be interested. She was right.

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Seeing that shopping bag got me thinking about how other “Christian companies” (or companies run by Christians) use their influence on consumers to share and spread their faith. Since earlier tonight I’ve spent quite a bit of time “researching” Forever 21’s bags and other stores/businesses that practice similar acts of subtle consumer evangelism. I’ve also been hungry since seeing that bag. You see, Forever 21 isn’t the first business I’ve known about that prints Bible verses on the packaging of their products. The mecca of fast food burgers and fries, In-N-Out Burger (California and surround states), has been printing Bible verses on the bottom of their drink cups and food wrappers since the 1980s. In-N-Out Burger is my absolute favorite fast food restaurant — I once walked from LAX to the closest In-N-Out (probably about a mile away) so I could taste it one more time before returning to Minnesota — and it turns out the former president of In-N-Out was a Christian who wanted to share his faith with customers in a discrete way, and the company has decided to continue the practice today. It seems the president of Forever 21 has decided to do something similar by sneaking a little Gospel message into each customer’s purchase by, as one blog called it, “Bible bagging” their goods.

innoutgospel1.jpgDuring my research on all this I found several sites that were neither helpful nor informative (mostly online forums where teenage girls discussed what they bought at Forever 21 during their last trip to the mall and how “like cool” or “totally dumb” they think it is that the store has a Bible verse on the bag), but I did manage to find a few articles that offered credible insight into what appears to be a growing phenomenon in the industries of retail clothing and fast food. For instance, in August of 2006 The New York Sun ran an article titled “Evangelism in Fashion discussing the Forever 21 bags. Included in the article were responses from Forever 21 customers who were asked if they were aware of the religious message on the bottom of the bags. The two responses shared in the article are priceless for their own unique reasons. The first was from a 22-year old guy who, when told there was a Bible verse on the bottom of the bag he was carrying didn’t seem bothered at all, but he did offer the insightful comment that “Jesus wore clothes.” I’m going to give the dude two benefits of the doubt by assuming that 1) he was shopping at Forever 21 for his girlfriend and 2) he’s not a seminary student. The other customer response was from a young woman who was shopping for a “black sparkly halter-top to go with a pair of red high-heeled shoes.” She was not as understanding as the young man we met a few sentences earlier; when she found out there was a religious message on the bottom of her shopping bag, she responded by saying “That’s so freaky. It kind of annoys me that I’m carrying this around without even knowing it.”

I learned about a few other businesses that make similar faith statements on their products and/or through the practices of their stores in a USA Today article from 2005. The most notable, in my opinion, being that Chick-fil-A (a fast food restaurant mostly in the southern US) is closed on Sundays so that employees can “focus on faith and family.” I thought that was a pretty cool move for a company to make, but I can’t help but wonder how much money they give up making by only being open 6 days a week.

If you know about other examples like these, please share them.

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6 thoughts on “consumer evangelism

  1. Another company maybe you’ve heard of, Ezekiel. Hugely popular. Totally mainstream and sported by surfer/skater/posers (like me) alike. They maintain a huge storefront display on Main Street and PCH in Huntington Beach, CA. Other than the overtly Biblical name of the prophet, which is perhaps a bit peripheral a character to many, the company is not really known as being Christian. I’m not sure of the history, but I do know the name was chosen for a reason and the clothing designs are inspirational. I’m almost positive the owner is Christian.

    I question the young woman who brought being annoyed or freaked out, “not knowing she was carrying it (Scripture passage) around”. If Scripture is printed on a bag or a cup, how many throw it away without even noticing it? My other question is how quick are we Christians to celebrate amongst our own Christian community the covert mission of businesses sharing the gospel? I feel like we pat them on the head and maybe ourselves while we’re at it for patronizing said businesses. We definitely don’t need anymore t-shirts that proclaim in the coca-cola logo, “Jesus Christ, He’s the real thing”, but what about finding the Spiritual in the world? Opening up the dialog for finding God everywhere in everything. I think I’ve exceeded the limit of a comment, but maybe this could be another blog topic???

  2. Another company I can think of is Hobby Lobby, it’s a decorating/knick knack store. We have one in my hometown and they are closed every Sunday; along with this they also play Christian music in their store while people shop. They seem pretty popular in town, so here’s to hoping we have more people excepting of this practice and less of the girls who find it “so freaky”

  3. I have bought roseacre farms eggs for years. On the inside of the egg carton is printed, “This is the Day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24). Their website is http://www.roseacre.com. Having seen how far the eggs have to travel to get to my grocer from the farm, I don’t mind paying a little more for them.

  4. I saw one this morning at Jimmy John’s. It’s a sub/soup place in Rochester (I think there just local), but it said Us, You, God. There was little words underneath that I couldn’t read from my car but I thought of this blog. Maybe I’ll go check it out closer before I head to the Cites to see what it is all about.

  5. I think it’s awesome & reassuring to see scripture on packaging. There’s plenty of horrible stuff printed & posted & shoved in our (AND OUR CHILDREN’S) faces every day. If people have a problem w/ it, they needn’t patronize.

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