Friday, July 17, 2009

Fuel for the Engine: Getting Our Priorities Straight

“…the heartbeat of our Episcopal Church will forever be ‘mission, mission, mission.’” This statement of “Priorities” appeared in the published budget presented to the 76th General Convention in Anaheim by the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance. There can be no doubt that mission is a central priority of the Episcopal Church. 62% of our budget is expended on program and mission. Sadly, the budget for the 2010 – 2012 triennium shows scant concern for what, in the absence of better language, I would label “branding,” “marketing” and “advertising” The Episcopal Church. Actually, I do have better language - evangelism.
In the upcoming triennium, The Episcopal Church plans on spending more than $3 million to preserve our past through our Archives Offices and another $3 million to communicate with our own members through budgeted communications expenses and such vehicles as Episcopal Life. Nowhere is there evidence of an equivalent financial commitment to sharing The Episcopal Church’s compelling story of mission and ministry and our unique presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a strategic, systematic and significant way to the millions of people in this country who are unchurched and who, according to reliable research, increasingly identify themselves as “not Christian.” In fact, in passing the budget for the upcoming triennium, the 76th General Convention skewered an exciting and carefully developed plan for strategic evangelism and growth among Hispanics and Latinos, the single largest growing segment of our nation, allocating only $300,000 for the project instead of the $3 million originally requested by those ready to do the work.
The Episcopal Church has an amazing story to tell, but too often finds itself in a defensive, reactive posture rather than a positive and proactive one. We are an inclusive body of the faithful who invite all people into a living relationship with a loving God. We offer people an opportunity to be part of vibrant churches that provide genuine, caring, cross-generational communities doing phenomenal mission work in their local neighborhoods and throughout the world. This story needs to be told and retold in bold, creative, strategic and systematic ways through television, the internet, magazines and in any other effective form we can imagine. Accomplishing this will require knowledgeable people, strategic thinking and substantial expenditures of funds.
Some argue that this kind of work is best accomplished at the local level through parishes and dioceses. They are wrong. The kind of branding, marketing and advertising we as a Church require to establish strong “brand identification” throughout the country and beyond can only be accomplished by the central leadership offices and agencies of The Episcopal Church. This ought to be among their top responsibilities and priorities. It is part of the reason dioceses pay their “franchise fees” (i.e. giving to The Episcopal Church).
815 Second Avenue needs to learn from Madison Avenue. Any secular corporation possessing assets and resources similar to those of The Episcopal Church would soon find itself in reorganization if it managed its branding, marketing and advertising functions in as anemic a manner as we do. We appear heading in that direction..
The Episcopal Church has a deep heart and is rightly committed to spending its money beyond itself. Our failure to pay serious attention to the branding, marketing, and advertising side of the equation – to evangelism -- is having a devastating impact on our capacity for mission and ministry.
If we do not alter our strategy, this downward trend will continue. After more than three decades of membership decline, we are now struggling to meet the ever- increasing needs of the world with a diminishing pool of financial resources. Fewer and fewer Americans are identifying themselves as Christian. By neglecting to make “evangelism” (translate: strategic branding, marketing and advertising) the major priority of this Church, we have made a significant strategic mistake. It is costing us and the millions of people in our mission field dearly.
If the heartbeat of the Episcopal Church is to be mission, mission, mission, we must stop doing things the same old way and get our priorities straight. Evangelism and growth provide the necessary fuel for the engine that is our mission. They are also an inherent part of our mission.


Clelia Pinza Garrity said...

Thanks for this accurate and much needed commentary. At the local level, without support from that National Office the task of evangelism becomes more and more difficult. Increasingly, "newcomers" who are frequently elderly, don't "get it." They come to church each Sunday merely to sit in the pews and have very little, if any, interest in hearing the story and participating in mission, mission, mission that will truly shape the congregations of the future, filling them with the unchurched, the needy, and the young. Count me into any efforts you think of and need "evnagelised."

Bishop Dan said...

Fr. Chip, this is an apt statement of how the world needs us to tell our truth and tell it boldly in the language of the people to whom we are speaking. Thank you. Dan Edwards, Bp of NV.