The Close Relationship of Grey Poupon and the Modern Church

Malcolm Gladwell has a great TED Talk out right now that talks about mustard. For a very long time, mustard lovers didn’t have a lot of variety to choose from. The basic choice was either French’s or Gulden’s, basic yellow mustards. Mustard seeds, turmeric, and a little paprika was all you needed to make mustard.  Until the early 1980’s. Then came Grey Poupon. Darker mustard seeds, white wine. Different than the other two. But the marketing campaign is what set it apart.

They packaged the mustard in a tiny glass jar and charged $4.00 more than any other mustard at the time. And those commercials! We’ve all seen the commercial (or perhaps the Wayne’s World parody) where the Rolls Royce pulls up alongside the other Rolls Royce and one extraordinarily wealthy man asks another if he has any Grey Poupon. And then sales of Grey Poupon skyrocketed. Completely through the roof.

So if we’re a little dense, we might say that the take-home lesson for a church or business is that people want to pay more than they do for some condiments because they taste better and are different than the others. And somehow that might inspire them to be different as well.

I don’t think that’s necessarily right. I think it’s about identity.

Those Grey Poupon commercials, and really everything about that marketing campaign, forced consumers to ask the question, “What kind of mustard consumer am I?” Am I one who is content and satisfied with the ordinary French’s? Or do I want to be sophisticated like these men in their Rolls Royce’s? Because the economy was good and people were still reaching for that American Dream, they bought Grey Poupon in order to reinforce that they were the kind of sophisticated people who would buy Grey Poupon.

Believe it or not, this relates directly to the church.

The key question that is currently at the center of the “seeker” church is “What kind of Christian am I?” and then trying to find an appropriate representation of that in the community. Am I the kind of Christian that wants a message of social justice? Am I the kind of Christian that wants a coffeehouse in my church? Am I the kind of person that wants a strong musical presence in worship? The list goes on and on. Because choosing a church community is fundamentally a question of identity.

What kind of church are you choosing? What ministry are you helping create? Whether or not it has any affiliation with a church is rather inconsequential. What environment are you creating by the way you assemble your identity? These are interesting and important questions that will say a lot as we move forward into a time of increasingly blurred lines of our own identity.



  1. I couldn’t disagree with “choosing a church community is fundamentally a question of identity.” However, faith isn’t someTHING you shop around for like you would with mustard. Your line: “they bought Grey Poupon in order to reinforce that they were the kind of sophisticated people who would buy Grey Poupon” is condoning the false illusion that we have an ability to mold our list of ethics to satisfy our likes and distastes. Faith is a large part of many a person’s identity, but it is not to be equated with characteristics such as hair styles, educational choices, and career paths (if those can be seen as interchangeable qualities of our identity.) Invariable characteristics of our identity like race, gender, and sexual orientation are like faith; we don’t have the ability to pick and choose.

    I don’t want that argument to sound like faith is inherently chosen for everyone when they come into this world, but equating churches to mustard in order to fit our morals and personal beliefs is a twisted view on our ability to reason.

    • Perhaps I didn’t communicate this in the best way… but I believe the fact that consumer instincts have taken over faith is a bad thing. A better way of stating the part you first quoted me would be “choosing a church community HAS BECOME fundamentally a question of identity.” I was hoping to point out the problem, rather than make an assertion of what church should or should not be.

      But I would have to disagree that faith is an invariable characteristic of our identity. I think faith is largely predicated on our own reason and experience, both of which are wildly variable (reason perhaps less so, but still has a degree of variability).

      My main thesis was that church has become like Grey Poupon, not that church should be like Grey Poupon. And there’s a world of difference in between those two.

      Does that make sense?

      • Oh, my mistake for misreading that first part then. I read that the wrong way!
        I also think faith is largely predicated on our reason and experience and therefore should not be constantly fluctuating with each new experience we encounter. I would state that our reasoning and experiences should shape our faith but not alter it completely to the point where we would become like Grey Poupon.:D
        My apologies for misreading!
        Hope to see what other good points you’ll make as I follow!

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