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
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.
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.