This weekend I attended a worship, tech, and creative conference put on by The Church Collective. I attended workshops on video production, branding, and creative arts. These workshops were extremely helpful especially the branding one. I attended because I currently assist a Catholic Charismatic ministry in communications and outreach marketing. It seems like so many Catholic parishes and organizations don’t understand branding.
The real reason has to do with the difference between a parish and a church. According to the Catholic encyclopedia, a parish is created when a priest is given authority over a certain body of faithful, which is determined by geographical location. Hence, if a parish assumes to have authority over you by virtue of where you live then there is no incentive to market itself to the community. In light of travel and the consumer mindset of modern society, I don’t think the local parish can continue to assume that local Catholics will flock to local parishes. Now a common objection is that if people are traveling to other parishes because the ‘experience” is better, then they just don’t understand the point of Mass, which is not to be entertained but to receive Jesus in the sacraments. While I want to address this concern later, I will say that it is not an either, or choice. We can desire to want to have a definite identity that makes us feel like we belong and still acknowledges that the church is bigger than our one parish In other words, I think most Catholics leave, not because protestant services are more entertaining or because they don’t understand the Eucharist, but because it’s easier to feel like you belong.
On the other hand, Protestant churches do not receive authority based on geographic location. Anyone can start a protestant church simply because they feel called by God. We’ve seen streets with churches lined up back to back. This lack of authority over a group of people means that they must work to win your loyalty. Because they are working to win your loyalty, they pride themselves on offering an excellent experience. Not only that, but they must define who they are and what separates them from other organizations. The speaker on branding, Ethel Delacruz said something insightful; if we are not a good fit, we want to plug you into a church that is. This way of thinking is completely different than Catholic parish level, which typically tries to reach everyone.
As a Catholic convert, I hate how some Catholics will dismiss effective protestant practices under the guise that it is all done for the sake of entertainment. We don’t need to market ourselves or make people feel like they belong because the truth of the Catholic Church should be enough. I maintain that these people have never spent a large amount of time in a well-run protestant church. The difference between the Catholic parish experience is night and day. It is nice to be part of a well-oiled machine that knows what its job is then to be part of a church with 1,000 different non-connected ministries. When I was Protestant, I never had to lead anything; I was encouraged to and it was easy to do so. Attend a class and you can lead a small group. Need something designed; no problem submit it to the creative arts team that way you can focus on the relational aspect of your small group ministry. I feel bad for Catholic parish secretaries, who must design the bulletin announcements, maintain the website, maintain calendar, social media (if such exists), and answer the phone. Some parishes try to get around this by funneling everything into the parish council. However, if you’re trying to start something new, then you must not only get permission from the ministry head but then they’re responsible for everything. For example, my parish had 75 different ministries, and each ministry had a ministry head. The ministry head was responsible for all digital communications in addition to the duties of that ministries. This means that if I wanted something done for the Young adults, instead of doing it myself after it got approved, I would have to wait and hope that the youth minister would remember to do it.
A brand and mission statement can help because it helps to trim the fat so to speak. If our mission is to equip people to evangelize than we might put more emphasis on formation opportunities and less on knitting blankets (yes, my parish has a knitting ministry). Fr. James Mallon has a great example of how he tried to eliminate bridge playing ministry in order to make room for Alpha/discovering Christ courses. It helps all the ministries work together. If the parish’s mission is to equip others to evangelize, then all ministries work towards that mission. A brand embodies the story the particular church wants to tell.
Coincidentally, a person I follow twitted this:
Something I have never understood: why parishes have "mission statements," and if they do, how they could ever justify having a different mission statement than any other parish in the world
— Fr. Alek Schrenk (@schrenk) June 10, 2018
It is a fair point. If Catholic Church is universal then parishes should not have distinctive identities, but rather be uniformly Catholic. So what is the overarching mission of the Catholic Church and why in my opinion is it no longer adequate for parish activity.
Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christianfaithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.
In order to understand why this is not sufficient, we must understand what a mission statement is. A mission statement describes the relevant and time bound goals of a parish. A parish, whose mission statement is something like: “A place where the Word of God is proclaimed, social justice is promoted, the youth are formed, and the gospel is sent out might be true; but it doesn’t tell me the practical goals that particular parish has. All parishes have to proclaim truth, but how does your parish do it. Maybe it’s through bible study, maybe it’s through studying the themes of the homily, maybe it’s through offering a particular program. Similarly social justice is a huge issue (one, where a lot of parishes break down in doing so much), and needs to be focused into issues for your location. Maybe there’s a high crime rate and prison ministry is better; however, maybe your parish is by an abortion clinic so pro-life is more important. The point is pretty clear, location effects the methods used to fulfill the mission of the church and we must tailor to the needs of the community while not forsaking the overall mission of all Catholic parishes.