‘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.
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 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.
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.
An excellent point made on CatholicTechTalk. The author, Brad West, boiled it down on LinkedIn for me…. The question is what’s the point of attracting lots of visitors to your media?
Lots of likes may be an ego boost, but does it serve another purpose? Well the answer should be yes and that purpose should be a higher one. Likes, or traffic, are not an end in and of themselves (at least they shouldn’t be). They should be a means to engagement.
Earlier I wrote a bit of a rebuttal to the thought that technology was a negative in the church. I acknowledge that the speed that communications works nowadays doesn’t lend itself to long periods of reflection and deep thinking and I would advocate for people of faith to “go deep” more than occasionally. But it does leave open the question how do we use technology to support our mission?
It does depend a little on how we view our mission, but let’s assume for a moment that you agree with my view which is that we should be preparing and supporting disciples and evangelizing. That being the case, likes are a beginning, not an end. Our traffic should bring us to engagement.
Disciples should get value from their engagement…. And I would suggest that in this case value means depth. Depth, I think, is “long-form”. It could be a discussion with meaning or a link to long form documents. It could be “links” to resources that may be online or offline. Events are something that could be pointed to in the physical world, or developed in the online version.
All of the above could be done one-way, pushed to the consumer. Engagement denotes two-way communication. So the trick is presenting long form in a manner that creates response and feedback.
Evangelizing is the communication through which we endeavor to engage the unchurched, or de-churched. This audience needs answers; answers to questions they ask and answers to unasked questions. They need to be drawn into conversation. There doesn’t need to be as much depth to these conversations. The media should focus on making the church accessible.
Nothing above limits the more common volume generating activities, but this does raise the game substantially. And for the Church, it is no small feat, because it really hasn’t been a leader in using social media. The good news is that it be a leader in the next level of social media, without having been a leader in the volume approach.