THE LURE OF YELLOW BRICK ROADS (Part 1) MARKETING THE CHURCH TO YOUNG PROFESSIONALS

September 20th marked the inauguration of the 75th anniversary (August 2014) of The Wizard of Oz! To properly celebrate the release of the iconic 1939 film, Warner Bros is spending $25 million on a comprehensive marketing campaign that includes Oz-themed programs, products, and services through corporate partnerships with McDonald’s, QVC, Simon Malls, Amtrak, and the Food Network. Additionally, on Friday, September 20th, AMC began showing the film across the nation for a special one-week period in their I-MAX 3D theatres. According to the Wall Street Journal, Warner Bros will culminate its celebration of the film on October 11th with the release of digitally re-mastered Blu-ray 3D, DVD and Ultra-Violet multi-media five-disc Collector Editions.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” – Dorothy

 A newspaper editor and author of over a dozen Oz-inspired books, L. Frank Baum originally composed his Wizard of Oz novel for children and aimed at presenting a gentler alternative to the more violent cowboy films of his era. Victor Fleming’s subsequent screenplay production became an instant American classic, nominated for six Academy Awards including the Year’s Best Picture. Although Gone with the Wind was the first color movie in film history, the juxtaposition of the sepia-toned Kansas with the Technicolor brilliance of the Realm of Oz successfully persuaded audiences into accepting Baum’s proposition to fearlessly brave the difficulties linked with the quest for spiritual insights that await discovery at the end of the rainbow tints of mystical truth.

Social research indicates that humanity’s desire for such “spiritual questing” has intensified since the 1939 release of The Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, young adults have wandered along yellow brick roads of worldly scholarship, financial success, and scientific ingenuity for decades in search of something – or someone – that might “complete” the missing components (wisdom, love, courage) of their personality, and thereby supplant their often colorless nihilistic actualities. Unfortunately, save for a few exceptions, most Christian institutions have neglected the opportunity to effectively respond to this psycho-social questing by promoting their life-transforming mission, message, and ministries as an spiritual anecdote to this hazardous cultural anemia!

According to recent Gallup Polls, while 90% of Americans believe in God, 82% claim a “need for spiritual growth” – an increase from 58% in 1994. More specifically, over 85% of young adult professionals (ages 18-35 years) confess that religion is “personally” important to them. In support of Gallup’s data, a study conducted by Life-Way Research indicates that 73% of young adult Americans consider themselves “spiritual,” claiming a strong desire to know more about “God or a higher supreme being.” Unfortunately, only 42% of them could only name five of the Ten Biblical Commandments. What is more disconcerting is, when compared to 76% of adults 50-years of age and older, only 60% of this younger cohort claim recurring church or synagogue engagements. Fortunately, the research also indicates that these same young adult professionals are amicable to conversations about Christianity, with 89% reporting that they would appreciate a serious conversation with individuals who “authentically live-out” and not merely “profess” pre-packaged doctrinal ideologies.

The 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz provides a valuable occasion for the Church to effectively extend itself to this increasingly post-Christian generation. Religious leaders should consider seizing the opportunity that the Warner Bros cinematographic celebration provides to utilize the “5-P” marketing mix (see Marketing the Church; Parts 1-2) of purpose, product, place, promotion, and price to appropriately promote an alternative worldview to them. In so doing, the contemporary Church can more effectively address the expressed needs and frustrations of these young professionals and, thereby, provide persuasive motivation for further engagement and/or appropriate paths for potential return.

As discussed in previous publications of Frankly Speaking (OINOSConsulting.com), the Church and its faith-based institutions should initiate a well-conceived process to “market” its mission, message, and ministries by first ascertaining the actual difficulties, needs, and hungers of a specified target group. Consequently, only when the drivers that trigger the spiritual restlessness of our nation’s young professionals are correctly identified can the category of “purpose’ subsequently guide the utility of the remaining four marketing components towards successful outcomes.

Such serious investigations concerning “purpose” most certainly motivated Warner Bros’ decision to expend $25 million to market a 75-year-old children’s narrative! One can be assured that the company’s verdict to do so was predicated on research discoveries that coincided with Gallup, Life-Way, and others! However, while every spiritual gift of grace and healing should, in fact, respond to specified penuries and privations, purpose alone, should not be twigged as the prime vantage point (human rather than Divine) from which to establish a firm marketing foothold for the Church.

Saint Paul correctly warns religious leaders of every age to “seek and please God, rather than people” (Galatians 1:10). Marketing orientation exclusively motivated for the sole “purpose” of customer satisfaction and/or user-need may be effective for business, but, as Saint Paul concludes, not appropriate aspirations for the Church! While faith-based institutions must courageously persist to promote their mission, message, and ministries in ways that express the un-changing truths of the Gospel, they must, nonetheless, wisely do so in ways that also serve, satisfy, and sustain legitimate “hungers” of soma, soul and spirit.

As delineated by Philip Kotler, the Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, the “5-P” mnemonic marketing arrangement (purpose, product, promotion, place, and price) clearly furnishes a valuable communication capacity to religious leaders who are so inclined to fearlessly advance the classic marketing framework for use within their respective institutional contexts. The Church can no longer expect current and future adherents to reasonably seek out the “Yellow Paged” locations of the nearest parish. Far greater benefit can be enjoyed by the Church’s provision of alternative pathways to the I-MAXED Yellow Bricked Roads currently propositioned by a post-Christian society. Such a strategy must be advanced, however, through horizontal rather than vertical (hierarchical) communications. Apart from more traditional mailings, radio and/or televised communications, effective outreach strategies must, therefore, now include Twitter, Facebook, and other rich-media Internet messaging formats for the “purpose” of engaging and intelligently relating the mission, message and ministries of the Church to current moral, political, and societal apprehensions.

The inclusion of “purpose” in the “5-P” marketing matrix consequently provides the Church and its institutions an effective filter for safeguarding their divinely apportioned mission from triumphalism, venal distortion and commercial reductionisms. While financial sustainability is, indeed, an important consideration, Church leaders must guard against diminishing their promotional and marketing activities to the level of increased revenue capacity, as such amplifications do not befit nor dignify Christianity’s divinely appointed mission! Alternatively, Faith-based national institutions and local communities should strive to adhere to a “higher purpose,” namely, the promotion of unique “pathways” that actually make a difference in people’s personal and interpersonal lives.

By endeavoring to provide spiritual health through comprehensive positive modifications, “purpose” endows a Church-based marketing mix its most unique and distinctive quality. By employing promotional strategies that emphasize engagement and service to the wider community as the primary temporal context for the Church’s otherwise eternal focus, religious leaders can effectively invite current and potential young professionals opportunities to love their neighbors, care for creation, learn the benefit of sacrificial living, and, thereby, encounter the life-transforming Grace of the living God. Only by applying its pastoral and ministerial concerns to advance the respect, dignity and worth of others in such a strategic fashion can Christian institutions begin to more effectively solicit commitments, approaches, techniques, and perspectives best suited to the essentials of differing contexts.

In her book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (2002), Colleen Carroll provides four general patterns that run through the stories of young adult professionals who yearn some form of religious homecoming:  (1) They have achieved success at a young age that leaves them hungry for meaning; (2) They have been exposed to “watered-down” religion, moral relativism, or theism and crave its opposite; (3) They have practiced religion out of a sense of duty and now want a more personal relationship with God and a more intentional way to worship Him; and, finally, (4) They have had a personal religious devotion since childhood but long for a more integrated faith that is supported by community.

The current inner hunger of young adult professionals to discern viable “Yellow Brick Roads” back to traditional values and spirituality is much more than a nostalgic yearning for a return to simpler by-gone eras reflected by their respective “Kansases.”  On the contrary, like Carroll, other social scientists and expert theologians alike insist that this current cultural phenomenon reflects an early mid-life crisis of a generation in search of sustainable answers to life’s challenging and most complex problems. Research indicates that this cohort longs for a paradigm that provides a system for intimately relating to commitments greater than personal occupational aspirations.

The good news is that, faced with such a deep spiritual longing and renewed curiosity about religious teaching and tradition, these young professionals are extraordinarily inclined to attend educational gatherings and liturgical experiences that may assist their honorable re-embracing of traditional expressions of Christianity with all its rigor and unique particularities.

The 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz should be leveraged by the Church to minister to the spiritual needs of today’s young adults.  Parallels can effortlessly be drawn between Dorothy and her three fellow travelers and utilized to appropriately relating the Christian worldview to the lives of cotemporary professionals seeking “Yellow Bick Roads.” While on the surface, Oz is a wonderful, family-friendly classic, many may correctly warn that the film is often used to advance Hollywood’s frequently discernable anti-religious message of secularism!  The Church’s task is to, therefore, effectively argue against such distorted anarchic allegories by re-interpreting Baum’s powerful message for those seeking hope, wisdom, and a return to holiness.  In the end, the actual personal items that Dorothy and her three companions are lacking are not temporal humanist abilities but, rather, the more valuable spiritual potentials of heart, mind, and spirit!

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX).

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