First off, $5 to the person that emails me who this is a photo of.
I’ve read a bunch of marketing books lately largely of my own interest. But I find more and more how these principals have very practical applications in church. I’m re-reading We are All Weird by Seth Godin. I don’t want to give it all away as you should read it. The premise is that mass marketing as we all know it, is dead. Smart marketers, businesses, and churches will market to weird people. What the…?
Let’s take sports for example. Let’s assume in a room of 100 people all have an interest in sports. But in 2012 not all people like the same sport. In our room 90 like football but in 2012 only 30 like NFL , 25 like college, 10 like junior college, 50 like high school, 5 like indoor , 85 like outdoor, 8 like female teams, 8 like PAC 10, 13 like BIG 12. What this means is there is a big umbrella titled sports. Under that umbrella there are hundreds of choices one being football. Under football are hundreds more choices. A smart marketer is going to develop plans to give each segment of people more what they enjoy. And not just any people, football fans that like male college football teams that play in outdoor stadiums on AstroTurf from the BIG 12 and are alumni.
Apply this exact analogy to the Catholic Church. Let’s assume in a room of 100 people all have an interest in Catholicism. Fifty attend mass weekly, 30 occasionally, 20 not at all. Under practicing Catholic 20 support anti abortion, 10 support anti euthanasia, 5 immigration reform, the balance don’t care. Twenty are interested in spiritual exercises, 8 like charismatic prayer, 6 are into apologetics, and the balance (also the largest group) stopped formation at confirmation. I could go on and on with this fake dissection. But under the umbrella of Catholicism there are hundreds of choices one being a practicing Catholic. Under practicing Catholic are hundreds more choices and I only gave a couple.
In a time with almost infinite choice, we can no longer create programs for and try to reach everyone. We need to seek out and feed to the weird. People like me for example. I like visiting about topics of the day and ideas in books pertaining to religion. I do not mind visiting about and testing ideas verging on heretical, kind of weird. Many of the canned programs parishes have created for me were okay but really did not speak to me. They were too generic, too redundant of past information. Subsequently I formed my own group of similarly minded folks that enjoy the same thing. We talk about edgy ideas regarding church and safely discuss them and the very best thing is we can agree to disagree! Woo hoo!
This is my advice to parish leaders. Become weird and help people embrace their weirdness. Hire someone to tease out a person’s interests and give them a place to express their weird. Connect like minded to like minded people. There is so much diversity in (and out of) the pews that canned programs trying to reach everyone will end up reaching no one. Or at minimum have a very small if any impact.
A look around a typical Anglo parish at Sunday Mass will qualify what I write. The typical parish has mostly people with gray and no hair folks, a smattering of families with kids like mine and a handful of teens and young adults. Our ministries have evolved to give us more of what I just described. What we need are places to be weird.