A growing number of Americans self-describe as “spiritual, not religious” or have given up on God and religion altogether. In fact, several empirical studies show that America is becoming less religious.
For example, Pew Research shows that the Christian population decreased by nearly 8 percent between 2007 and 2014. A larger portion of the nation’s population now describes themselves as religiously unaffiliated, jumping up 7 percent from 2007 to 2014. Catholicism has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than any other religion in the U.S.
Why do I share this sociological and religious data in a blog on growing professional services? To illustrate a powerful example of how firms might think about their own growth, marketing, and brand strategies from the data they’re looking at.
Rethinking What Market Data Is NOT Telling You
Let’s take a little closer at the Catholic data in particular.
- There are roughly 51 million Catholic adults in the U.S., accounting for about one-fifth of the total U.S. adult population, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. That study found that the share of Americans who are Catholic declined from 24% in 2007 to 21% in 2014.
- Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious “nones,” as Protestants, or with another religion. By contrast, 2% of U.S. adults are converts to Catholicism – people who now identify as Catholic after having been raised in another religion (or no religion).
- There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the faith. No other religious group has experienced anything close to this ratio of losses to gains via religious switching.
- In 2009, a study found 60% of Catholics were over the age of 40. There are now more Catholics attending Mass over the age of 65 than there are under 65.
The Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reported that:
- The U.S. Catholic population actually peaked in 2010.
- In 2018 some 76.3 million people in the U.S. claimed to be Catholic but almost 80 percent of them don’t even attend Mass (a requirement to be a good Catholic).
- Only 32.1% of Catholics say their religious affiliation is “strong”
If the market your firm currently serves were like the Catholic market just described, would you be proposing to go all in to serve it? I suspect that your leadership team would say, “No way in hell.” (pun intended) because every demographic measure is in severe decline.
But, markets are seldom monolithic regardless if we are talking religion, accounting, IT, strategy or law. If a traditional pro services firm were attacking this “religion” market, it would most likely begin and end by analyzing key demographic data points like denomination (Catholic, Jewish, Muslim), age, geography or gender—in order to identify the largest markets. They do the same thing with their business markets by industry and company size. That is exactly how firms miss the opportunity to differentiate themselves and exploit markets. They miss the forest for the trees.
Back to the Catholics.
Identifying Market Opportunity Within the Market
The fact of the matter is that while the general population is becoming more secular and the Catholic population is declining, there are a growing number of “Traditional Catholics” who are becoming “more” religious. The statistical decline I outlined above, the ongoing clergy abuse scandal, the collapse of the family, and the fallout from 50 years of Vatican II reforms are driving a fervent desire among Catholics for a return to orthodoxy. In other words, the religiously lukewarm are getting colder, but the hot are getting hotter—a lot hotter.
Traditional Catholics currently represent about 10% of the total Catholic population and are marked by clear behavioral attributes and religious views. Here are just a few differences between these Hot and Lukewarm Catholics:
- One hundred percent of Hot Catholics attend churches that celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass, not the more common Novus Ordo mass attended by the Lukewarm.
- 99% of Hot Catholics attend mass at least once a week compared to 22% of Lukewarm Catholics.
- Hot Catholics donate 6% of income vs. 1.2% for Lukewarm.
- Hot Catholics have a fertility rate of 6 children to 2.3 children for Lukewarm.
- 98% Hot Catholics disapprove of the use of contraception compared to 11% Lukewarm.
- 99% Hot Catholics disapprove of abortion to 49% Lukewarm
Let’s look at how one company recognized an opportunity to serve this small but rapidly growing “hot” market.
A Market Opportunity Inspired by a String of Beads
The founder of California-based Cordband serendipitously met a marine who had a rosary tied to his backpack. The marine’s “Mission Rosary,” as he called it, was pretty much an ugly and unusable mess of beads. The rosary had literally been through combat hell. Each time the delicate rosary broke the marine tied it back together with a thin string of molded plastic beads. The founder was inspired by the soldier’s service and faithful devotion to his rosary and had an idea of how he could help make his rosary combat-ready.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, a rosary is a string of beads that more devout Catholics use for meditative prayer. Reciting the rosary dates back to the 2nd century AD and began as a practice by the laity to imitate desert monks who daily prayed 150 Psalms of the Divine Office. Monks often used knotted cords to keep count of the prayers. Forty-five percent of Hot Catholics are likely to carry a Rosary with them and 23 percent reported praying the
Rosary weekly, while 82% of Lukewarm Catholics rarely or never pray the Rosary.
LEARN MORE: https://www.catholic.com/tract/the-rosary
Cordbands created a line of masculine rosaries called Rugged Rosaries targeted at Catholic service personnel and men. Rugged Rosaries replaced the traditional rosary marked by delicate jewelry-inspired, chainlink craftsmanship with a rosary made of paracord, nylon parachute cord. Each Rugged Rosary is made from a single piece of paracord to eliminate weak points. The cord is pliable, mildew and water-resistant, and the beads are over-sized to make it easier for big fingers and bulky gloves to handle. The rosaries are rugged enough to weather any storm–literal or spiritual–and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Cordbands started creating Rugged Rosaries in 2012, two years after the Catholic population peaked in the US. Today the company has developed a cult following. Sam Guzman of The Catholic Gentleman called Rugged Rosaries “the humvee of rosaries.” The National Catholic Register called Rugged Rosaries the “Strongest Rosaries on the Planet.”
The company maintains a 5-Star Google Customer Rating with more than 1000 reviews and an additional 5300 uncensored reviews on Cordbands own website. Each and every rosary Cordband produces is handcrafted in their Northern California studio. Affectionately dubbed “The Rosarium,” the studio employs a team of devout artisans that handcraft each rosary.
Here is a sampling of the Rugged Rosaries’ product line which sells for double or triple the price of a normal “delicate” rosary:
- Olive Drab Soldier’s Paracord Rosary
- Rattlesnake Camo Rosary
- WWI St. Benedict Combat Rosary
- Triple Threat Rosary™
- Men in Black Paracord Rosary
- Ashes to Ashes Rosary
- Faith Over Fear Rosary
- Catholic Gentleman Rosary
Religion and rosaries may not be your thing. But, the example provides an excellent case study for understanding what is happening beneath the data.
Pick any market made up of human beings and you will find a desire to be part of a community of like thinkers. As Seth Godin says, “People like us, do things like this.” The market that shares your firm’s culture, aligns with your worldview, and values what you offer, like Rugged Rosaries, is out there. Your job is to identify it and speak into it.
READ: Tell Me a Story
Don’t take data at face value or fall victim to your own confirmation bias as you analyze it. You might be happy that the U.S. is becoming less religious. You might be disappointed. Either way, your job is to sort through the real meaning and opportunity in the data–from your firm’s set of market data.
Pray you get it right.