In marketing, we spend a lot of time talking about the power of a brand. A brand is often defined as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.” In other words a brand is based upon someone’s individual perceptions due to their experience or recognition of an image.
Promoting a unique “brand” for a religious institution, such as an individual Catholic parish or school, can seem challenging when the existence of each ministry aligns in purpose with every other neighboring Catholic organization with very little differentiation. Despite varied perceptions of a particular personality or experience, ultimately the mission is the same - to lead people to God through the proclamation of the Gospel. “The root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God.” (Gaudium et Spes, 19). So how is each individual parish, school and ministry supposed to highlight their unique strengths without monopolizing the other Catholic organizations around them?
First, it’s important for all Catholics to recall that we are united in a common Spirit. We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14 that, “[A]ll the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
Understanding that we are many parts of one body, we are called to embrace our unique contribution to the greater whole. If we are able to recognize and harness the gifts we are given, celebrating how our individual contributions strengthen the “one body,” the Church would experience much grace and virtue.
This is a call to reinforce our charisms.
What is a charism? Merriam-Webster defines it as “an extraordinary power.” More specifically, “an extraordinary power given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church.”
By recognizing our spiritual gifts, or charism, we can better articulate how our ministries are intended to serve others and contribute to the good of the whole. This is not to be mistaken with the gifts of the Holy Spirit or the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are graces given to strengthen our own personal sanctification.
Looking back at 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7, then, we understand that, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
Pope Francis references charisms in his latest Motu Proprio from January 2021, “In this regard, the Apostle Paul distinguishes between gifts of grace — charisms (“charismata”) and services (“diakoniai” — “minsteria” [cf. Rom 12:4ff and 1 Cor 12:12ff]). According to the tradition of the Church the diverse forms that charisms assume when they are publicly recognized and are made available to the community and to its mission in stable form are called ministries.”
How this translates to Church marketing and social communications is that it emphasizes the importance of identifying and then publicly recognizing the charism to which your existing ministry exists. Rather than simply building a brand around the primary mission of the Church that is difficult to differentiate, and can build competitive structures, it is important to understand what makes your ministry unique, what is your “extraordinary power” gifted to you by the Holy Spirit in order to benefit the good of the Church?
Once you are able to understand your own spiritual gifts, it creates an opportunity to lean into the bright spots of your ministry with confidence and clarity, while also appreciating the contributions of the other “many parts” that surround us. “[I]n the building up of Christ's Body various members and functions have their part to play” (Lumen Gentium, 7). We are not in competition with one another, but rather companions on a journey, working cooperatively towards a common goal.
It is often said that “rising tides lift all boats.” With that in mind, as Catholic ministries, let us celebrate our differences and build our individual brand identities, our public personas, around the normative story of our charism. There is much value in the contributions of the “diverse forms that charisms assume,” yet we are also called to recognize the complementary between ministries. There are many opportunities to seek collaboration in order to strengthen the overall Catholic identity of a community. It is through intentionally collaborative solutions, rather than competitive alternatives, that we will raise the tide for all boats.