The Catholic Church has joined the Methodists in their belief that you can bring people to God with Madison Avenue advertising techniques, with an ad campaign called “Catholics Come Home.” (to see my post about the Methodist ad campaign – click here). According to an LA Times article that was recently reprinted in my local newspaper: “Using a strategy straight from the secular playbook… the (church) is preparing to air several thousand prime-time TV commercials.” You can preview the commercials here: http://www.catholicscomehome.org/
The article opened with: “Catholic church leaders using TV ads in attempt to lure back lapsed followers.” The target audiences are those who call themselves “Catholic” yet do not attend church, and those who call themselves former Catholics.
According to the article, some of the reasons people are no longer attending the Catholic Church include:
- Many Catholics don’t have “a sense of belonging,”
- Many believe they can be “good members of their faith without attending Mass regularly,”
- Many do not believe missing Mass is a sin, (Missing mass is a sin? Really?)
- Others are too busy with family or work; “as analysts point out, (people) are more interested in material happiness than spiritual fulfillment.”
- “About 1 in 4 former Catholics cited the church’s priest-abuse scandal as a factor.”
- “People oftentimes lose sight of what is most important in their lives,” says a Sacramento Bishop.
I wonder how TV ads are going to address these issues. You typically cannot resolve circumstances like these with advertising, though maybe they can try to “guilt” people into going back to church by reminding them that missing mass is a sin.
My sincere concern is that the Catholic Church has been deluded into believing that advertising will fix the root cause of their attendance problems. How will advertising get people more interested in spiritual fulfillment rather than material happiness? How will advertising heal wounds caused by the priest-abuse scandal? How will advertising give people a clear vision of what should be most important in their lives (this sounds like a job for the pulpit, not the TV)?
If advertising is not the fix, what is, and what is the root cause of the “lapsed followers?” I’ve watched some of the commercials, and they say nothing about what has contributed to runaway members. Based on what’s in the newspaper article, along with some of my own personal experiences, here are some guesses for why people leave the Catholic Church:
- Lost trust: How can you trust a system that harbors abusive priests?
- Lack of knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ: Knowledge of the truth will help grow a hunger for spiritual fulfillment, rather than material happiness.
- Lack of knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ: With a true understanding of the magnitude of the love of Jesus Christ, comes a hunger and thirst for more. This is what brings people to church, and keeps them coming back.
- Lack of knowledge of what truly should be the most important thing in our lives, which is: a one-on-one, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I wonder; does the Catholic Church promote such a relationship between each member and Jesus?
Maybe I’m simple-minded, but the solution seems straightforward to me: instead of investing in TV commercials, the Catholic Church needs to get back to it’s roots, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church seems like a branch that has broken off from the vine. As Jesus said,
“No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:4-5)
I’m hesitant to be harsh, but it seems to me that the Catholic Church has replaced the reality of Jesus Christ with traditions, man-made Catechisms, man-made rules, and man-made advertising. My recommendation would be to drop the TV commercials and preach the truth of the gospel.
Instead of advertising, the Catholic Church needs to introduce people to the Holy Spirit of God. Instead of relying on Madison Avenue to spread the word, how about relying on word of mouth, carried forward by the Holy Spirit himself? It was good enough for Jesus. Remember how 3000 people joined the fledgling church in a single day (Acts 2:41)? Such is the power of the Holy Spirit.
“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:23-24 NIV)
Evangelism via TV commercials, or as D.L. Moody once said, “There is no better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit.” I’ll put my faith in the Holy Spirit.
A final message for wounded Catholics:
Though I pray for the Catholic Church, my limited imagination is not able to truly believe that it can change. Yet I know that with God, all things are possible. Maybe one way for the church to change is for the people to change. Maybe if enough “wounded” Catholics follow their heart by leaving the Catholic Church and then finding true fulfillment and purpose in another church, maybe this will open the eyes of the Catholic Church. If you are a wounded Catholic, my prayer is for you. Please do not give up. My hope is for you, that you find another church that lives by the true gospel of Jesus Christ, the life-giving gospel; that you come to know Jesus and His Holy Spirit, and grow into an intimate relationship with them, so intimate that you are never apart. And that you come to feel more alive than ever before, by the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Amen.