In 2020, I turned 40.
I stumbled over that hill with as much grace and ease as one can in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Birthdays and age don’t normally give me pause; however, that consequential moment in September left me reflecting on the words of Saint John Paul II: “Let us remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence.”
I recognized that while I’m grateful for the past, I had allowed the burdens of life and its everyday distractions to affect my enthusiasm for the present. I had fallen into a rut of existence that muddled through my daily responsibilities with very little structure or recognition of the great possibilities afforded to me. This had left me feeling disoriented and sluggish.
What better way to address this recognition than to begin the new year with a diet, right? But in 2021, I’m not talking about food; I'm introducing portion control with my iPhone, establishing a better sleep/wake routine and intentionally picking up more books instead of Netflix. The true purpose for this “resolution” is meant to reinforce balance, focus and discipline into my life in order to adopt a healthier lifestyle, a better mindset, peace.
As a member of the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s inaugural Church Communications Ecology Program at University of Notre Dame, our first piece of reading was A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction. In its opening pages, it states “... the enjoyment of interior peace was the reward of virtuous living, a healthy and appropriately restrained sensory life, a clear mind able steadily to consider the causes of things in our changing world, and a heart often lifted to God.”
It’s the same reason we budget our finances; it can be difficult to manage our spending adequately when we have little to no recognition for what is coming in or going out. Or, why we map out our destination in advance of a road trip. Living without intentionality can leave us imbalanced, unfocused and with little discipline. Without some sort of structure, plan, or set of goals, what are we truly working towards other than chaos?
Stated differently, A Mind at Peace tells us, “We have agency, the power to act, and the responsibility to order our actions towards a known purpose… The power to choose and to act, is the key to achieving peace.”
I’m finding after just a couple short weeks that this added focus to my daily routine is renewing my purpose. Each day, I’m working toward a set of goals to be better than I was yesterday. I approach each day with a clear plan, I hold myself accountable and I am recovering a better level of enthusiasm. And I’m praying more, because I’m not falling down the rabbit hole of distraction or mindless boredom.
I can feel the slow shift from maintenance mode to mission. This interior renewal is awakening the hunger to be better, to learn more, to try.
I share this as our first post of 2021 because the goal at KPC is to help your ministry
#awakenthehunger. Just as the quality of my personal character is hopefully improving in this new year, our goal is to bring a similar order and strategy to the perceptions about your organization, or more simply stated, to your brand.
In fact, the reason I felt drawn to create better structure in my personal life was rooted in the work we do at KPC. I have seen this process of reinforcing a brand through calculated strategy and intentionality help organizations thrive.
Pope Benedict XVI stated in his Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, “The Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative.” That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known - it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.”
So, I propose we “make things happen” by working toward a path that will help us communicate the Gospel message with the zeal and passion – the enthusiasm – we are called to in our Baptism.
How best to do this from a brand strategy standpoint is to reinforce your own work around three guiding principles: balance, focus and discipline.
“Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!” JPII, Redemptoris Missio, 2
Ministry work is demanding. There is typically a clear recognition that so much “could” be done; however, resources are limited and time is scarce. We can be drawn in many different directions reacting to the latest emergency with little structure or strategic visioning. Because of the mission-first focus, key stakeholders are invested, financially or otherwise, and have a lot of opinions about how a ministry should function, and they are never shy to share what should be done differently.
Maintaining this reactionary presence will often leave us feeling exhausted and dizzy from chasing our own tail. By establishing a framework, or plan, for your efforts, which is fully vetted and approved, you set yourself up for a clear path to success because you know what success means. Establish an annual goal, set your key objectives and communicate regularly with your core audiences.
As your plan starts to take form, it is important to be cognizant of all that you and your colleagues are saying about your organization and showing via its creative presentation. This is where your brand strategy will come into play more tangibly. Do you have a clear brand messaging platform and graphic standards to ensure your written and creative assets maintain a consistent flow? Not only will this ensure a strong brand presence, but it also will simplify the execution of your marketing plan.
Identify the key communication channels that work well for your audiences and fully engage through these channels. For example, if you have a goal to expand brand awareness to new audience segments, limiting your communication channels to those that only your internal, or existing, audiences will consume, such as a parish bulletin, will not lead to success. You can continue to serve your core audience within the parish but also identify a broader means to reach new people and repurpose your content into new platforms. However, don’t feel compelled to be represented on every platform available; rather, pick what is best for you and build a plan around it. Once the process is mapped out, it is important to build expectations that are realistic for your team.
By establishing guidelines for yourself and your team, everyone is working toward a common goal with clear direction that should provide a much better sense of clarity and balance.
“[W]e have all too often capitulated as leaders and formed pastoral methodologies designed to feed those who have no hunger. We give in to pressure from distracted and bored parishioners… Jesus Christ must be proposed anew!...We must rediscover our identity and place the heart of the Lord’s mandate for his Church at the heart of everything we do…” Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission (pg. 23)
It is easy to be tempted to fall off track and try to adopt the newest, most innovative tools, or allow one person’s criticism to distract progress, but I caution you to hold true to your plan and work through its details with confidence and resolve. Once you put the time into planning your strategy for the year, own it and be confident in what you have built. If anything or anyone tries to derail the plan, recommit your focus.
It’s also easy to feel as though you are beginning to sound like a broken record in your marketing and communications. Rest assured, as soon as you start to feel this way, it’s only then that your message is starting to resonate with folks. Forbes reported in 2017 that “[d]igital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day.” With that amount of clutter in our lives, it is important to maintain focus on the plan and recognize the value of repetition for your brand.
One strategy that can build upon this repetition is to invite anyone with a vested interest in your brand into a dialogue - this could include colleagues, volunteers, collaborators or the broader community. Their presence and representation can lend a very positive contribution to your brand. Rather than allowing them to simply relay feedback to you with little accountability, delegate responsibility to them. Our audiences are evolving from being just consumers of information, into authors shaping the dialogue around it and sharing it further. You can resource these individuals to help tell your story in support of your priorities.
“The problem with these outreach programs is, you tease people back into the fold with ‘renewal’ promises and eventually people discover nothing has changed.” The Wideness of God’s Mercy: A pastoral letter reflecting on evangelization by the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, Bishop of Springfield (2016)
I realize this quote provides a rather negative tone to begin this section; however, it’s one I think adds much to the discussion. To achieve success in the implementation of a marketing plan and to ensure a clear, consistent brand presence, much discipline is required. Schedules and outputs should be built around achieving goals that will advance your ministry’s mission. Once established, these goals should be incorporated into your daily communication and marketing efforts. As Archbishop Rozanski reminds us in his pastoral letter, “Evangelization is not just another program; this is not just our focus for the moment…[It] is the mission of the Church from its beginning until the time when Jesus comes again. In order to do that and do that well, we must be open to self-examination and change; business as usual will no longer work or be acceptable.”
Hearing this, it’s vital that each year we build our brand around a renewed commitment to improvement, understanding the value of a solid communication system. The worst thing we can do is say we are taking steps toward improvement and then fail to deliver. Establish your ministry’s brand as a reliable resource that is fully committed to enhancing the Gospel message. Maintain a tone of joy and enthusiasm that recalls the true purpose of our oneness in mission, rooted in your own charism and strengths, in a manner that contributes to the greater whole.
In conclusion, let us finally recall that “[m]edia for communicating the Good News have also been integral to this evangelizing task…,” as Daniella Zsupan-Jerome notes in her book Connected Toward Communion. Communication in all its forms is so important to the evangelizing task of the Church. Zsupan-Jerome later shares, “Pooling wisdom, skill, expertise, and human resources alleviates pressure while also making space for creativity to emerge in the process of discerning how a community’s digital presence can serve the apostolate…, guidance emerging out of communal wisdom toward communal witness of the Good News.”
Let us all commit our “communal wisdom” toward this evangelizing opportunity. In doing so, may we set a clear path of balance, focus and discipline in our work to help the world understand the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ with joy and enthusiasm.