Monday, April 7, 2014

Religion offers social benefits and a way to advance in business insmall towns

Natchitoches, Louisiana is a town where belonging to a church is important for both social and business success[/caption]

While many Americans may not always attend church, the right answer for social and business success is to at least espouse a religion in most places in the United States.  In the South it can make a difference in whether or not an individual has a support system as well, as often the church is the very center of recreation and a place to meet those who can help ensure one has the right contacts to advance in business.

That center of social action, the church, takes precedence over almost any type of contact and interaction in small towns.  Whereas many of the people of Portland, Oregon profess no religious affiliation, in La Grande, Oregon, a small town in the Eastern part of the State, membership in the Mormon Church can help facilitate making friends and finding job opportunities.  In La Grande, many people are Mormon, with twice the percentage of membership at 21% of those who profess to be Christian compared with approximately 9% in the State.

Many people in La Grande, who are Mormon, are descendants of the early settlers to the area of Eastern Oregon.  For children growing up in the town, the church affiliation offers a social experience that often fuses many of the activities in other organizations.  Often the same child is a member of the local girl scouts as well as the Mormon Church, where the focus is on learning skills and values that add to the community experience.  The Mormon Church's precepts of hard work and the importance of the family fit well with the Western traditions of rugged independence.  That popular saying, recited by mothers and grandmothers about idle hands being part of the Devil's workshop reinforces the values of work as a way to stay out of mischief.

In Natchitoches, Louisiana the dominant church is Southern Baptist.  The African American community has a number of Baptist churches, and the white community does as well.  For the most part the races do not mix on Sunday, even as they are buried in separate graveyards.  The most famous cemetery, one of the oldest in the United States, has few African Americans who are, for the most part, formerly servants of some of the more prominent white families, many of whose descendants continue to live in the town.  The Mayor, Senator of the District and President of the University all are often members of the largest church in town, First Baptist Church, a place where social activity thrives and new residents almost always given a friendly greeting and a welcome to attend.

The uniqueness of small towns in the United States is the impact of religion on social behavior that is not the same as in the cities.  In the small communities a special church in a town has a unique status and often is recognized as the one to attend, or at least hold membership, because it can make a difference in having the right friends and business contacts.  In cities, however, it is not a particular church that is important but rather, at minimum, a declaration that one is Christian, with being Jewish a secondary choice in Eastern cities.

How one worships also offers insight into the education and status of an individual.  Although Americans consider themselves open to different religions, most people are cautious about admitting any belief other than Christian.  There are, however, crossover memberships in New Age organizations so that people embrace an eclectic belief system, while continuing to identify themselves with a particular denomination or religious group.  In the South, however, most people continue to advocate a more fundamental Christian belief without much of the enticement of other belief systems fused with it, as occurs in the towns of Oregon.  By a wide margin, according to the Pew Forum most people in the South are Evangelical Christians.

Men are more apt to express no religious affiliation and African Americans more likely to identify themselves as Christian.  Two-thirds of these African Americans consider themselves Baptists.  Hindus and Jews have the highest income levels.  The West has fewer people who express themselves as having a religious affiliation or who say they belong to a particular denomination.  The opinions and religious views differ by region, with Southerners more apt to be conservative, born-again Evangelicals, the Midwest more of a mix of both conservative and mainstream, and the West with more people who identify themselves with no particular group and more apt to have more liberal social attitudes and religious beliefs.  But in many of the groups in the West Coast, the absence of religion can have a certain status as well, especially among the younger age groups.

Despite the changing climate of faith in America, with the tendency to be eclectic about religion as the more dominant theme for most folks, the value of belonging to the right social group, which turns out to be the church in small towns, continues to be important if one wants to get ahead and meet the right people.  So if you are that new kid on the block in a small town like La Grande, Oregon or Natchitoches, Lousiana and you are opening a candy store on the corner where everyone might come, the best place to begin that marketing effort might be around the tea and coffee in the church courtyard, or snack in the Mormon social hall after Sunday services, if you want to be successful in a small town.

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