Material History of American Religion Project

Bowling for souls

A Brunswick bowling advertisement

Observers of the American religious scene have argued that the idea of the "full-service" church, featuring recreation and entertainment as well as worship and education, is a recent phenomenon. This advertisement from the February 1931 issue of Church Management suggests that the idea is far older.

The advertisement advocates the construction of Brunswick-Balke-Collender bowling alleys in churches. A Lutheran pastor from San Antonio reports on his church's experience with bowling, arguing that the alleys serve an important evangelical purpose, attracting people--especially young people--to the church, which can furnish "better influences" than a commercial bowling alley or pool hall. Pastor Neumeister hastens to point out that the alleys are closed on Sunday.

In an open religious economy, where people people have a broad variety of options for spending their time and resources, churches have used a variety of means to distinguish themselves from competitors and to attract possible members. As the title of the offered brochure suggests, such means have often focused on "Interesting Young People in the Church, and the Way to Do It." Since the days of Jonathan Edwards, pastors and churches have tried to catch the attention of the thrill-seeking adolescent, even to the point of adopting ideas from secular commercial society. Contemporary "megachurches," with their rock and roll worship and Gen-X appeals, are not blazing a new path.

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