Having a Moment:

Why We Shouldn’t Expect More from the G20….

Mohammed El-Erian posted on Bloomberg View and then on LinkedIn that the G-20 needs and missed a “Sputnik Moment.”  I responded on LinkedIn essentially as follows:

I think that it is unreasonable to expect a “Sputnik Moment” from the G-20, or frankly from almost any challenge we face today.  Sputnik was the moment it was, because it represented an immediate and existential threat in the minds of most Americans.  It was a singular event that actually occurred, rather than a potential result that might come about.  The USSR had the bomb and they had the ability to be overhead whenever they chose.

A full quarter century after the end of the cold war, we tend to forget how that tension between the Communists and the Capitalists gripped the public policy decision making, but it was a military/security policy.  Physical security is tangible to most humans.  We are hardwired to be concerned with it.  Economics is different.  It is disconnected from our physical concerns.

The motivator today is the existential threat that is perceived (I say wrongly perceived) in immigration and terrorism.  Despite Sputnik and the race to the moon, stagnation still overwhelmed the U.S. economy in the 70’s.  And then, we recovered.  Only to fail again, recover, fail, and recover once more.  Sputnik presented a one way trip to annihilation.  Economics tends to present temporary challenges to be endured.

Economics involves far too many elements, is too imprecise, and involves too many competing perspectives to be a galvanizing force until an event takes place.  Even then, economic events tend to be regional.  Unlike nuclear bombs dropping, they do not affect every interest in the same way.  Sputnik was a moment for the United States and their rival the Soviet Union.  The response required a motivated nation, not a negotiated, coordinated, multinational effort.  It was about one group competing against a second group.  Economics is not alone.  These are the challenges that face environmentalists worried about climate change and public health advocates concerned about potential epidemics and officials trying to reign in North Korea or find peace in the Middle East.  The human tendency is to react to their current condition and the immediate prospects for changing that condition for good or ill.

Mr. El-Erian may very well be right that the lack of coordinated action will lead to multi-generational challenges and political instability, but lack of action is a condition, not an event.  Unfortunately, like the proverbial frog in the water being heated to a boil, there is unlikely to be a convincing, galvanizing argument to be made until it is too late and a global contagion has begun.

For us individual actors, the questions are similar: What things might happen?  What might we do about them when they do?  How do we prepare today to take those potential actions in the future?  Are there actions we can take that can shape what actually does happen?

‘They always belong to the church’: Pope Francis speaks on remarried Catholics, makes controversial statements – Living Faith – Home & Family – News – Catholic Online

‘They always belong to the church’: Pope Francis speaks on remarried Catholics, makes controversial statements – Living Faith – Home & Family – News – Catholic Online.

The recent statement by Pope Francis on divorced then remarried Catholics is another example of his genius as Church marketer (in other words evangelist) and as an organizational strategist.  Like so many other pronouncements he has made in his election it ties to and promotes a central strategy of his papacy, mercy.  Like his other teachings, he has not changed Church teaching, but he has focused the conversation on what the Gospel has revealed about how we the Church should behave.  I am not directly personally affected by the issue of divorce, but the Pope’s explication does influence me and all of us.

We are the Church, collectively.  And the Holy Father has just told us to treat all people in a welcoming way.  Putting aside the theological and even pastoral considerations, from a marketing, or evangelical, perspective this wise.  It broadens the “market”.

Far too many people want validation of the behavior.  This direction from Francis does not do that.  In fact, it does the opposite.  It leaves Church teaching unchanged for those who have chosen to remarry after divorce, but like his “who am I to judge” question, he has reminded the rest of us, particularly clergy, to change our behavior toward those we might otherwise have judged.


Easily recalling those who dropped their stones and walked away after Jesus dared them to cast them, the pope’s words remind us of what the Gospel reveals and puts us believers in the frame of mind to be evangelizers.

The Middle Out Economic Theory

I was thinking about Nick Hanauer’s economic idea of “middle out” recently and I opened the calculator app on my phone to help me get a sense of scope.  I thought my calculator was broken.  If you work for 40 hours at the Federal minimum wage, you earn….. $290.  If Bill Gates’s net worth rounds to $80 Billion dollars (what’s a hundred million between friends) and there are 3.3 Million people who work for the Federal minimum, Mr. Gates could pay the salaries 3.3 million salaries and still have enough to spend the median U.S. income ($51,000) every year for 610,000 years (this ignores inflation and any earnings on the money, but I would assume that that would only wind up in Bill’s favor).

I do not begrudge Bill Gates his billions.  And I am not advocating that he pays all those salaries; I am just pointing out that he COULD.  But when I think about the nearly incomprehensible chasm separating the wealthiest and the poorest, I can’t help but think…. we could do better.

Money, Value, and Evangelization

I have researched the relationship between faith and finance for many years (you can see a recent presentation on the topic here).  One of the points I make frequently when I discuss the subject of money is that it is a tool and that the tool is not the problem, it is how we use the tool, that can be problematic.

Jeffrey Arrowood, a few months back, posted an article on his site, newcatholicevangelization.com, that I think is worth reading.  Briefly his argument is that the Church should charge for adult education programming.  And as a marketer I will tell you his reasoning is sound.  People perceive more value for things that have a higher price tag.  If it costs a lot, it must be good.  If it is free, well you get what you pay for.

There are many reasons that parishes (and dioceses) may not charge for their adult ed programming.  Some of the reasons are better than others, but the reason that I sympathize with the most is tying the Church to money (and money making).  I think Mr. Arrowood’s response to this is accurate, but limited.  To this end, the fundamental point is that we must create and demonstrate value. This idea itself can be offensive to the faithful.  Value!?  We’re talking about eternal life!  What could be more valuable than that?!  You can’t put a price tag on that!

Think for a moment about the truly brilliant marketing campaign conducted by VISA… the “Priceless” campaign.  Their value proposition was that VISA allows you to buy the things necessary to do the things that create priceless memories.  The Church doesn’t offer eternal life, but access to it.  How a parish (or Diocese) provides access to the eternal is its value proposition.  Classic questions to determine a value proposition are:

  • What makes your product or service valuable?
  • What makes it better than your competitors’?
  • Why would a customer purchase it?
  • How does it benefit people?
  • What problem(s) does it solve?
  • What about your organization enhances your product or service?

If we are going to be serious about evangelizing, which is marketing the Church, we need to understand the value proposition in a way that we can articulate clearly.  Certainly one of the ways to communicate value is pricing, but there is more to it than that.

Evangelization = Marketing

Men Matter

It is ironic that today we have to make this reminder, but men matter.  A Pew Research study recently showed that men are significantly less likely to acknowledge a religious affiliation.  This and other findings in the report confirm what most of know intuitively just looking around the mass and it highlights that men matter to the future of the church.

Men don’t practice their faith, but they still have tremendous influence at home, right?  When I was a kid, I had an aunt who went to mass every weekend.  She brought the kids; my uncle stayed home.  When his son got to be about 12 years old, he “got to” stay home with Dad rather than go to church with Mom (and his older sister).  This doesn’t automatically translate to attendance and strong faith as an adult, but it can’t help.

We must do a much better job of understanding our audience.  A few months back, I mentioned the book Rebuilt, one of the major changes that parish leadership did is define a particular type of man as their principle “market niche” (they didn’t use that term, but that is what they meant in my language).  They recognized if they got Dad to church, they’d get families to church.  The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has recently launched an effort called Catholic Disciplemen.

Our church here in CT, St. Mary’s, has launched a significant effort to revitalize the faith of men in the parish.  This effort includes everything from prayer groups to mid-week, early morning basketball.  What does basketball have to do with faith.  Well, that depends.  If the basketball is being played on church property, led by active parishioners with an effort toward building personal relationships between members of the parish and beyond… a lot.