As it looks to turbocharge its outreach to the broader Christian community, Thrivent Financial is dabbling for the first time in national sponsorships, starting with a NASCAR race team and some Christian music festivals.
The Minneapolis-based Fortune 500 company announced Wednesday that it will sponsor Leavine Family Racing and its driver Michael McDowell for five races on the circuit this year, including the much-anticipated Bristol Motor Speedway event next month.
The move comes as the financial services company looks to expand its awareness within the larger Christian community since it opened its membership ranks last year to all Christians — not just Lutherans.
“We are definitely on a growth trajectory,” said Craig Stacey, Thrivent’s director of content marketing. “The common bond vote in opening up our membership to the broader Christian community was the first step. Now we’re doing things to tell our story more broadly.”
NASCAR seemed like a good fit because about 76 percent of its fans — or 57 million people — identify as Christians, he said. And half of them have a financial investment and half of them have incomes of more than $50,000, he added, citing figures from NASCAR.
It helped, too, that McDowell, the 29-year-old driver, often speaks about his Christian faith, sometimes tweeting verses from the Bible to his more than 60,000 Twitter followers.
Thrivent’s new heart logo, which was unveiled earlier this year and is prominently emblazoned on its downtown Minneapolis headquarters, will be plastered on McDowell’s car at the Bristol race in eastern Tennessee. In addition, McDowell and the pit crew will be decked out in Thrivent-logo’d gear. The company is also an associate sponsor for four races where its logo will not get as much prime real estate on the car.
As part of the agreement, Thrivent will also get some mentions on K-Love, a Christian radio network, which also sponsors Leavine Family Racing. The racing team, which fields the No. 95 Ford Fusion in the Sprint Cup Series, has its race shop in Concord, N.C.
Jeremy Lange, a vice president for Leavine Family Racing, said he reached out to Thrivent as the team was looking for sponsors. He didn’t know at the time that Thrivent was also interested in broadcasting its message.
“It was a perfect storm,” he said. “We were reaching out to companies that we feel fit our mold. We felt we could provide them a lot of exposure.”
Thrivent’s NASCAR sponsorship drew a mixed response on its Facebook page. Some thought it was a great idea, but others wondered whether Thrivent’s money could be better spent in other ways.
“This is distressing,” wrote Mary Shaima. “We were told earlier this summer that Thrivent does not have as much money to distribute to congregations for mission — specifically, “God’s Work Our Hands” — because more congregations are asking for support.”
But Stacey said no other programs were cut to pay for this sponsorship. He added that Thrivent’s employees were “overwhelmingly positive” when the news was announced to them earlier this week.
Thrivent did not disclose how much it was spending on the NASCAR partnership.
A tax-exempt fraternal benefits society, Thrivent sells insurance, annuities and other financial services to its nearly 2.4 million members. The firm wrestled for years about whether to open its membership to those beyond just the Lutheran faith as the number of practicing Lutherans has shrunk amid declining loyalty to church denominations. But a majority of members who voted last year finally agreed to open up its ranks.
So earlier this year, the company introduced a new logo that dropped the “for Lutherans” reference from its name.
Stacey said that since the firm began welcoming all Christians last year, about half of its new members have come from the broader Christian community.