‘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.
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.