Some question if ChristianMingle will ‘find God’s match for you’

By Paul Farhi, The Washington Post
Posted Jan. 11, 2013, at 7:57 p.m.

It might be the most audacious, and perhaps the most presumptuous, ad slogan ever devised.

“Find God’s match for you,” sayeth ChristianMingle.com, an online dating service that suggests in its advertising that its computer-generated matches are, well, made in heaven.

The slogan appears just about everywhere — on the Web, on TV, in your email box — suggesting that ChristianMingle may even have the Man Upstairs in its corner.

Which raises a few questions about ChristianMingle. Such as: How does it know who God wants to hook you up with? And is it kosher to invoke God’s name to sell a dating service?

ChristianMingle says the slogan has been a blessing.

“We think it encompasses who we are and how we define our community,” said Ashley Reccord, a spokeswoman for the site. “People have told us again and again that they wouldn’t have found each other without us and that they believe God used ChristianMingle to bring them together.”

“Kosher” might be the operative word for ChristianMingle. The site is owned by the same company, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Spark Networks, that owns JDate, the wildly successful Jewish dating service. Indeed, JDate has been the engine behind ChristianMingle’s “God” campaign this year. Spark has plowed revenue generated by the older, more established JDate into promoting the Christian site.

ChristianMingle is now the biggest of Spark’s 28 dating sites, each for a specific subset of singles. There’s Adventist Singles Connection, BlackSingles, DeafSingles Connection and CatholicMingle, as well as sites for Mormons, older people, plus-size women (and the men who like them), single parents and military personnel.

None of Spark’s other religiously based sites claim God is pulling strings for those looking for a date or a mate. But evoking God has surely been good for ChristianMingle.

The company says ChristianMingle is the nation’s leading Christian-based dating site, with more than 8 million registered members. What it doesn’t say, except in the fine print of its financial filings, is that almost all of those members are registered for the free trial, which enables users to post profiles and photos but doesn’t permit them to communicate with paying subscribers. The latter pay $29.99 for one month of unrestricted access or $18.99 per month for a three-month subscription.

According to its quarterly earnings statement, Spark had 154,747 paid subscribers for all of its Christian-oriented dating sites as of September, of which ChristianMingle is by far the largest (by comparison, it had 84,650 subscribers for its Jewish sites, primarily JDate).

Nevertheless, ChristianMingle has grown quickly, fueled by heavy spending on its “God” campaign. Spark says its Christian dating division had revenue of $22.9 million during the first nine months of 2012, an increase of 111 percent over the same period the year before. (Its Jewish division had revenue of $19.4 million, down 5 percent).

But Spark spent more to market its Christian sites than it took in in subscription fees. During the first nine months of this year, the company said it had poured almost $30 million into marketing and advertising for the division, more than double the year before. Overall, Spark lost $4.45 million over the first three quarters of 2012 after a loss of $503,000 during the same period of 2011.

That commandment about not taking the Lord’s name in vain aside, ChristianMingle’s competitors take some issue with invoking the Almighty in an ad slogan. “We don’t claim to have a pipeline direct to God,” said Sam Moorcroft, president of the ChristianCafe.com dating site (slogan: “All Christian. All Single.”). “Is it brazen? I’ve certainly heard some feedback from people who’ve raised that objection… . Our approach has been much softer.”

ChristianCafe, which says it is the only Christian-owned dating site among the major players, has a marketing tie-in with Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian group founded by author and radio preacher James Dobson. Focus on the Family once had ties with eHarmony.com and its founder, Neil Clark Warren, but eHarmony, a popular and widely advertised dating service, has moved away from a Christian-centric approach in a bid for a broader market.

ChristianMingle’s Reccord acknowledges that her company’s slogan is “controversial.” But that might be because it’s misunderstood, she said.

“We don’t mean the ChristianMingle is the only place to find God’s match for you. But we’ve seen through our many success stories that God can bring people together through our site.”

On the other hand, what if it doesn’t work out? Can the lovelorn sue ChristianMingle for false advertising?

As a legal matter, the slogan raises “some troubling questions,” said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. The most important one, he said, is, “Where does puffery end and misrepresentation begin? It would be a rather interesting case to litigate if the company argues that it’s seeking divine guidance in their selections.”

Turley thinks ChristianMingle, which trademarked the slogan last year, would probably prevail in court if challenged. The word “find” in the slogan suggests a process rather than a promise, and could be interpreted more as an expression of faith than of demonstrable fact, he said.

But he added that that doesn’t make the statement any less troubling. “This is a target audience that is likely to take this pitch quite seriously,” he said. “There’s a strong suggestion here that this company is a vehicle for God.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/11/living/some-question-if-christianmingle-will-find-gods-match-for-you/ printed on December 19, 2014