A recent Pew Research poll shows that not only is Pope Francis popular among American Catholics, but perhaps more importantly, among the “nones” (those people not identifying with any religion). This is an opportunity for the local Church. While this interpretation is not addressed in this research, I would suggest that Pope Francis has changed the dialogue for Catholicism today. While doctrine hasn’t changed, the approach has.
To begin with, the Holy Father encourages dialogue, rather than the monologue that his two immediate predecessors seemed to engender. This is the first opportunity for parishes throughout the country. We can really only take advantage of this opening at the local level. Parish communities should be building on the Pope’s approach to invite a broader community into conversation. This conversation with the unchurched will lead to conversions from among their ranks.
More important than the openness the Pope is advancing is his focus. Despite not changing doctrine, from the taking of his name he has shone a bright light of the Church’s preferential option for the poor. He has been in one way or the other saying that regardless of how important the various inflammatory “morality” questions are, there is no more primary question than how do we treat the least of our brothers and sisters. And this, paired with an openness to conversation, is a very powerful evangelization opportunity.
A while back I highlighted the book Rebuilt. One of the foundational points that those authors make is that it is not the responsibility of a parish to serve the customers that are parishioners; rather the mission is to strengthen parishioners for discipleship and evangelization. The Sunday mass should be the beginning of the week, not an isolated hour within it. From the communion with the Risen Lord, we should be renewed for our efforts as disciples in the world. If our parishes commit to our charge and go out as Catholic Christians, serving the poor, we will be preaching as both the Holy Father and his namesake would have us.
Combining service and dialogue would be a very powerful force to grow and enliven our church.
Seattle has rightfully made some news lately with a dramatic increase to the city’s minimum wage. I applaud the city for doing something bold. I’m not convinced that this raise will “lift all boats”. I have always been of the opinion (an opinion based on logic more than data), that some people at the low end of the wage scale are hurt by a minimum wage as some are helped. The most recent America magazine article articulates a healthy skepticism over this point. I have also been of the opinion that the effect of a minimum wage increase on the very wealthy is negligible, but Seattle billionaire Nick Hanauer is changing my mind on this score with the “middle out economics” he has been espousing. In my last post I commented on Mr. Hanauer’s article and how it got me considering
Hanauer’s economics also supports my long held belief that increasing minimum wage has the most notable impact (positively) on the “middle class”. As he explains it, increasing spending power of the middle class, increases spending. There is a limited amount of product and service a microscopically small minority will buy. Regardless of how wealthy the individuals are they can only wear so many pieces of art and hire so many people to prepare their taxes… and it would be self defeating if they were the only ones with the cash to buy the products their companies produce. The wealthy need a large and reasonably confident middle class to be the marketplace for their companies, if they are to grow, or even maintain their economic position.
I think that the move towards minimum wages has more positives than negatives for the poor, but at best, it is only one component of a solution. Middle out is better than trickle down, but it still isn’t bottom up. The Catholic calling is to show preference for the poor. If Jesus was clear about one thing, it was that salvation starts with the poor.
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.
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.