‘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.
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.
I remember back a decade or so ago when the book The DaVinci Code was at the top of the bestseller list and a large number of my (Catholic) friends were decrying the book as at best bad theology and chastising me for reading the book. I don’t remember the Vatican’s stance on the movie, but I think it was opposed to the book.
I told my friends at the time, that by reading it I was not only entertained (it really was a good read), but also equipped to educate. If you haven’t read it, I suppose a spoiler alert is unnecessary… the book portrays the historical Jesus and Mary Magdalene were actually married and that there descendants still live. There are a variety of major deviations that these descendants take from traditional Christian practice and the compellingly written coverup by church leaders is the definition of fiction. In the midst of the controversy I had two different types of opportunities. First, I was encouraged, recognizing several errors immediately, to review some church history on some of the more obscure references. It turns out that truth is as compelling as fiction. Second, the subject was brought up by dozens of dechurched or unchurched folks and I had the opportunity to educate them.
Now, I can’t claim to have converted any of those I attempted to educate, but my interaction with the book did have a lasting impact on me. The aforementioned historical research and conversations strengthened my faith. And I believe that my willingness to engage those unbelieving folks as a rational, educated believer left several of them with a comfort in discussing real issues of faith with me in the years since. I remind myself of that as the release of the new mega-movie Noah has hit the big screen.
I’ve heard again many people complaining about the sacrilegious film (I assume in most cases without viewing it). I haven’t seen the movie myself, but I hope to (I think Russell Crowe and Emma Thompson are pretty good actors), and I am looking forward to rereading Genesis and engaging in conversation about God’s saving Grace this Lenten season.
Pope Francis was approached by Crowe to screen the film with the production team and declined. My understanding is that he didn’t want the spectacle, and it seems completely within his character to not want to participate in or encourage the western capitalism that Hollywood is a part of. That said, whether you see the film or not, I hope that the faithful will look upon this movie’s release as an opportunity to discuss the faith in a loving way; without derision or condescension or condemnation. It is an opportunity to market.
Evangelism = Marketing