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Demographic Possibilities and Limitations

A quick look at the demographics of these two Unity populations shows that the movement appeals disproportionately to women, professionals and managers, the highly educated and divorced people. These demographics suggest that Unity's message of inclusiveness and openness to all people is not borne out in who actually attends. This does not mean that the church is consciously unwelcoming of lower-class groups. Rather, it is more likely that the message of abundance, prosperity, health and success is more appealing to people who already have these things. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the church does not appeal equally everyone. This seems more true for Unity than for other mainline denominations, which more closely mirror the demographics of the United States as a whole.

At first glance, this narrower appeal seems to be limiting: there is less opportunity for cross-class contact and a smaller base from which to draw members. But if the new sociological paradigm for the study of religion outlined by Warner (1993) is considered, we also must analyze Unity's demographics from the perspective of a free-market religious economy. Within this paradigm, it can be argued that it is necessary for Unity to appeal to a specific group of people, since religion is a "vital expression of groups (p. 1047)." Warner elaborates: "Religion in the United States has typically expressed not the culture of society as a whole but the subcultures of its many constituents" (p. 1047). In fact, it could very well be Unity's ability to strongly attract a certain group or a number of groups that makes it grow. Since it is not likely that Unity would attract a normal population curve without significantly changing its message or its methods, Unity's growth will be limited by the size of the interest group it attracts. Therefore, it is not probable that Unity, in its present form, has the capability to become as large as the mainline denominations. It is clear, however, that the movement meets the specific needs of several subcultures and therefore is able to thrive in the religious marketplace.

While this chapter provides a demographic picture of Unity participants, the following chapter on American religion delves further into the characteristics of the subcultures from which Unity draws its participants.

© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.