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,, 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.


The Hard Choice, The Only Choice

Though not really about “the business” of faith per se, the Michael Novak piece in Crisis Magazine articulates well the challenges of the business.  The piece describes the challenges and distractions to be faced by young people as they consider their faith (and remaining Catholic) in their lives to come.  I reblogged a piece by Julia Smucker that puts a finer point on the reality of faith in the context of the state throughout all ages.

Both of these articles remind us that faith is not supposed to be easy to live out.  The reason that’s true is better left to theological minds better than mine.  I want to focus on what we as humble disciples do about that truth; that Catholic (or catholic) is countercultural.

By definition, we answer to a different authority than the rest of our fellow Americans.  I have recently written in rather glowing terms about Pope Francis and his approach to church management and leadership.  The genius of Pope Francis as Pope in the modern world is his ability to maintain the position of the Church, but shift the focus.

We can do the same.  We can take and share the view that the truth is hard, or (my recommendation) we can take and share the view that it is liberating.  In my talks on Faith and Finance I regularly make the point that we are, if we are faithful, unencumbered by “peer pressure”.  We have no need to keep up with the Joneses.  Jesus came to bring Good News to the marginalized.  We are called to be with the marginalized in body and spirit.  Think about how much easier it is to be marginalized than popular.


Nationalism is not catholic.


This post by Julia Smucker on Vox Nova is controversial to say the least, but how many Christians were slain in Rome for not subverting their God to their country? I think that from the perspective of the “business” of faith, we must remember that we are sharing a thoroughly countercultural message.

Originally posted on Vox Nova:

Yes, the lower case in this title is intended to make a point: while the same should follow in the “big-C” sense of “Catholic”, I want to make it clear that I am referring to a thing called catholicity – without which calling ourselves “Catholic” wouldn’t mean much.  It is a reminder for those of us in the United States who may have heard nods to Independence Day at Mass this weekend, almost as if it were part of the liturgy, that CATHOLIC (capitalized or not) means universal.  This is an ecclesiological truth much older than America, and one that leaves no room for exceptionalism of any kind, from anywhere, in the universal Church’s universal feast.

That ought to be clear enough from the liturgy itself, even if strains of the conventional “Pax Americana” hadn’t made for a particularly ironic juxtaposition with the first reading for this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, from the…

View original 550 more words

Media, Control, and Pope Francis

Are we faced with “A media exploiting every information gap to construct an image of the pontificate which goes far beyond anything that Francis has said or done”? I would say probably, but I am not sure. More importantly, is this a problem? I would say probably not.

These questions were raised in a post on Vatican Monday.  I am curious to know how the Pope is perceived in other countries, because I think all the evidence is that in the United States he has overwhelming “favorables”. This article’s author seems to be much more concerned that the Church not be perceived to be changing than I would be. She adamantly states that despite the expectations placed on this Pontificate for change that “In fact, the Church has not changed. The truths of the faith have remained the same. Perhaps, the only thing that has changed is the approach. And it is mostly a matter of style”. This seems to suggest that style doesn’t matter. I would disagree. Style does matter. But also, I think that there is more than “style” that has changed at the Vatican since Francis’ arrival.

Ms. Gagliarducci points out that “Pope Francis is practicing an informal Papacy”. She cites his frequent phone calls and unscheduled interviews and claims they should be “considered as the pastoral visits of a Pope who cannot leave the Vatican as often as he would like to”. I think that this pastoral focus (or approach) is a very significant change and far more than a matter of style.

In the author’s own words: “This pastoral approach is the model that Pope Francis wants to give to the Church. An inclusive approach, going to the encounter of everyone. Even lifting up the role of laymen and – why not – women in the ranks of the Church”. This emphasis, in my opinion, has been how he has so quickly turned the media to his favor. It is a change; not in the totality of the message; and certainly not in the core beliefs of the Church, but a significant change.

The author believes “making public the content of phone calls and meetings without proper oversight of the message in advance, or a heads-up to the Vatican communications offices, has its perils”, and that “the greatest risk is having Pope Francis’ words manipulated”. I disagree with both of these assertions. Tightly controlled messages don’t work in this era of media, and the greatest risk to not have the Church engaged in conversation with the world.

The media doesn’t believe tightly controlled messages and digs for dissenting truths. These many and varied conversations made public force the media into a position of interpreting and analyzing, rather than discrediting. The media must react to developing stories rather than act to create a story. The media becomes part of a conversation, where broad ideas and nuance both have a place. I would argue that it is exactly the opposite of having the media set the agenda.

One of the two central issues in the posting is that of divorce and remarriage highlighted by Pope Francis’ reported exchanges with a woman in Argentina who married a divorced man. What a great thing to make public! In the United States anyway, divorce is a HUGE problem. How should people relate to the Church in the face of it? Ms. Gagliarducci says that “Pope Francis wants to underline that the divorced and remarried, even if they cannot take Communion, must not be marginalized from life of the Church. To the contrary, they must be included”. If that isn’t a change, it is news to many inside and outside the Church- and that news ought to get out. In a tightly controlled messaging, it probably wouldn’t.

The Church isn’t alone in concerns about the ubiquity of information and not having control, but the reality is that there is no longer an ability to control information. What organizations need to do is influence the interpretation of information. Today we call this “engagement”.

I have seen this propensity to try to control information, hurt parish operation on a local level. Years ago, as part of a parish council, I received a financial report that blatantly ommitted lines in the P&L statement, so that it was obvious that the numbers didn’t add. Today, I can’t remember what the line items were hidden, I only recall that they didn’t trust us with the full story. Others will still wonder what they were hiding or what they did wrong that they didn’t want to let others know about. I am quite confident that nothing was inappropriate in the way the money was used, but because they didn’t trust the parishioners (or even the relatively small number of council members) they gave a tightly controlled message and we reacted negatively, fixated on the omissions, not their message.

I believe that all the faithful can take a lesson from the Holy Father, actually two, in dealing with information. 1.) Don’t be afraid. Let the information out. Let the discussion happen. Let the people come to the truth, guide them in the discernment. 2.) Focus on the Love as Law, not the law in its minutiae.

Is Pope Francis Leading, Or just Taking A Walk?

There is an old adage that says “If one thinks he’s leading, but has no followers, he’s just taking a walk”.

Pope Francis certainly appears to be leading, but the closing line in a recent tv news piece on the Holy Father, asks perhaps the most important question…

Is anyone following?  The pastor of the parish which is the centerpiece of this article says he has noticed an increase in attendance, despite the seeming positive attitudes of American Catholics.

The pontiff is without question setting the example.  What does it mean though if there is no discernible impact to the so called “Francis Effect”?  I don’t mean to diminish the Pope’s actions.  They speak loudly to the world and have changed the feeling of news coverage for the Church and the conversation about it.  This is no small feat.  I can’t imagine how he might do a better job.  However,….

I have not noticed a change in behavior among the faithful.  I have not noticed a change in attendance at mass.

It seems to me that Pope Francis is consistently saying and doing the right things and he’s getting noticed for it.  What needs to happen next is that the laity must take up the cross and follow.  Be bold!  Bring the Pope up in conversation, particularly with those who have fallen away from the church or those who have not known it before (it doesn’t spread the Gospel to discuss with those you see in the pews).  Follow his lead in humility.  Speak up for the marginalized.  Invite people into the community of Christ.  Ask them to join you at mass or at other activities in your parish.

If we follow, Francis will be leading.

Universal, Not Uniform

The Catholic Church is the Universal Church, but this doesn’t mean that everyone has, or should have, the same experience with the Church.  Quite the opposite.  In order to be a universal faith, it MUST be individual as well as communal.  If it is both those things, one consequence will be a significant degree of geographical and cultural variation.

This variation isn’t universally positive, far from it, because the humans involved are not perfect.  The Sensible Bond recently wrote on the question of what is wrong with Catholic education and made me think a little about this idea of regionalization.  It was obvious that the observations he made were anecdotal and very different from my experience.  Importantly, I don’t think her observations were more anecdotal or less valid than mine it is just most of them don’t apply to the world I live in.

I was a part of a conversation a few days back on LinkedIn which had to do with whether people should kneel while receiving communion.  I thought the guy was crazy.  I explained him that in 25 years of mass attendance I’d only seen two individuals receive communion on their knees.  He explained in his parish virtually 100% do.  I attended a mass a few years back that made use of “liturgical dance”…. I hope I don’t again in the future.  I’ve never been to a mass said in Latin, but I’d like to and that shouldn’t be that hard, because they seem to be growing in number.  I did attend a mass where gospel style music was sung by the choir and while I like gospel music, it felt too much like a performance and less like a mass to me.  But I have usually found a more folk style music very comfortable and it invites me into a prayerful state.   Just last week, I learned that there is an Italian (Italian American?) tradition of giving a palm from Palm Sunday to someone with whom you have been feuding as a means of putting the feud behind you.  I can’t see myself doing that.

I’ve never been a huge advocate for “multiculturalism”, so I don’t tend to “celebrate diversity”. .  I celebrate my traditions and respect those of others.    I do feel that we can and should learn from other cultures and traditions.  If traditions strengthen the faith of the people, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss.  As evangelists, the Church, from its earliest days recognized that the world was diverse and that the quickest way to conversion was to subsume pagan traditions, so we celebrate Christ’s birthday right around the winter solstice for instance.  This practice is not something that should be done willy nilly; I am sure that numerous examples exist where people went down the wrong track (the Church decided that Father Matteo Ricci went down the wrong road in to closely comparing the Chinese veneration of deceased family members and the veneration of saints in the early 18th century, for example).  Nonetheless we should recognize that the idea of tradition in the Church is not one uniform progression.  I think this demonstrates the efforts of the Church (meaning the people) searching out God and our best connection with Him.

The other side of this multicultural Church is the current regional character.  The opportunities and challenges for the Church are not uniform around the globe.  In general, there is a declining population of priests in the United States, but I understand the priesthood is growing rapidly in a number of developing countries.  The number of laity attending mass is shrinking in some areas and growing rapidly in others.  Catholic schools are strong in some places and weak in others.  My parish is doing somethings very well and somethings not so well.  No doubt yours is in the same boat.    We as a community should do a good job of communicating these differences, so that we can learn from both the good and the bad.

He is reporting from the UK and assuming she is accurately describing the state of Catholic education over there, it is truly disappointing and while I do think Sensible Bond’s conclusions are skewed by his direct experience, the observations should be instructive to me. The situation in the U.K. sounds dire.  A benefit from improve communication capability should be to enable us be warned by their experience and some of their current challenges altogether.