CURTAIN CALL: CALLENGING CULTURAL CONS MARKETING THE CHURCH TO YOUNG PROFESSIONALS (PART 2)

The colorful characters, places, songs, and unforgettable dialogues of The Wizard of Oz permeate many aspects of Pop Culture around the world clearly demonstrating that L. Frank Baum’s classic 1939 film is not merely a children’s narrative but a highly sophisticated mix of myth and metaphor. One of the more widespread recollections of this cinematic sensation occurs near the end of the screenplay. Having successfully braved an arduous quest for a witch’s broomstick, Dorothy and her companions anxiously stand before the terrifying facial projection of the Emerald City’s “Great and Magnificent” Wizard. Confident that the mighty sorcerer will reward their efforts by conjuring innovations to address their self-imposed inadequacies, the travelers are, at first, awestruck by the wizard’s booming voice and larger-than-life persona. However, as a consequence of Toto, Dorothy’s spirited canine, the four friends are stunned to discover the true identity of Oz’s mysterious potentate.

Unaffected by the theatrics, the loyal Terrier sniffed out the scam, pulled back the ?curtain with his teeth, and exposed him for what the wizard truly was, a ?con-man and a fraud. As Dorothy and her allies monitored Toto’s incessant barking at someone hiding behind a ruffling green drape, they too discover the kingdom’s veiled political fiction. Once exposed, the oversized disembodied head of the “all-powerful” was quickly eclipsed by his more diminutive identity. Instead of a terrifying sovereign, the Wizard was unmasked as a short and balding carnival entertainer who used ?smoke, flames and holographic images to frighten people into ?complying with his mechanical broadcasts. In the end, the Wizard was exposed as nothing more than an impish charlatan controlling levers, cranks, and pulleys to shape a self-serving ?illusion of power, influence, and authority!

The 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz provides an opportunity for the Christian Church to inaugurate a marketing methodology that may help young adult professionals unmask the spiritual, political, and societal scams of our contemporary age. Religious leaders may successfully advance the methodology implicit in such “discernment” by first conveying a core message, namely, that a healthy realized life is the result of an ever-deepening relationship with God. It is the consequence of love, charity, and mindfulness towards the needs of others and not acquired thru the vagaries of degree, position, or vigorous financial portfolios.

Unlike Baum’s solution, simply clicking the heels of “magic” slippers cannot attain such acumen. On the contrary, it can only be reached through a humble yet persistent advance from incompleteness to fulfillment, ignorance to enlightenment, self-regard to altruism, from estrangement to reconciliation.  This is the core message that must be promoted to young adult professionals by the contemporary Church. Unlike Warner Brothers’ Emerald City, the Kingdom of God is not an IMAX fantasy at the end of a rainbow of scholarship, financial success, and/or wizard-like technological innovations, but rather, the life-quest of young men and women, longing to discern the best route to advance their inner desires for spiritual integration, fulfillment and homecoming.

Toto is the Latin word for “in total,” “integrated,” and/or “complete.” Baum’s use of the word as an appellation for Dorothy’s dog is significant as the pesky canine is the only protagonist in the novel that does not pursue refinement, reintegration, or reward for his courageous actions. Consequently, apart from the group’s poppy field torpor, Toto is portrayed as the lone character that always seems to recognize what the others are slow to distinguish.

Up until his ill-fated “curtain call” the Emerald City’s Wizard spoke with brash authority and fiery fury. In contradistinction, when the “curtain of the temple,” symbolizing humanity’s separation from God, was “torn from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51), authenticity was revealed. Indeed, rather than expose a dysfunctional religious charlatan manipulating ethno-political pulleys of egocentric propaganda, when the heavy drape that some insist conceal the true identity of the Christian Church was agonizingly drawn on Golgotha, it revealed a faithful Sovereign who, unlike the “Mighty Oz,” was, and still is, quite capable of providing “offerings” of love, wisdom, and verve to those who humbly request them.

Like Toto, contemporary religious leaders must maintain the courage and tenacity to “pull-back” the curtains that often veil dangerous deceptions and cultural cons. This, indeed, was the drive that distinguished Jesus, His disciples, Saint Paul, and the ecclesial leaders of the early church. Consequently, any attempt to successfully utilize The Wizard of Oz to market the mission, message and ministry offerings of the contemporary Church must do so by judiciously utilizing a marketing mix methodology that accurately links the value/benefit of its offerings to the appropriate target audience.

In the 15th edition of their notable book, The Principle Of Marketing (2013), Philip Kotler, and Gary Armstrong outline a useful method for effectively linking and leveraging the value/benefit(s) of goods and/or services. According to the authors, products and services should be analyzed on three interrelated levels: (a) core, (b) actual, and (c) augmented. In this fashion, products and services can be divided into a series of differentiations that can subsequently enhance their segmentation, targeting, and overall marketing mix.

Essentially, a product’s “core” represents its basic purpose and primary intention. The core value(s) of a coat, for example, are warmth and protection from the elements. The “actual” product, on the other hand, represents all the qualities of a specific item or service. The actual qualities of a warm coat subsequently embody its fit, weather repellent ability, and the quality of its material and fasteners. Finally, the “augmented” benefit(s) of a product and/or service refers to all the additional factors that set it apart from alternatives and competition. Herein is the basis of brand, identity, value, and image. Apart from providing warmth, a coat’s augmented value should, therefore, include attention to style, trend, designer reputation, warranty and value.

Although the difference(s) between the “core” and “actual” benefit of a product and/or service may at first appear small, it is vital to identify the variance. While “core” expresses benefit(s) that are generally intangible in nature, the “actual” product is what is manufactured or “provided” after the decision concerning value for a targeted recipient (client, customer) has been made. Additionally, as the designation suggests, the “augmented” benefit/value of product/service are “ancillary” consequences of the core and actual product subsidies.

The three levels of product and service differentiation must be understood as vital components of any Church marketing mix management.  Whenever core and augmented benefits/values of ministries, programs, and/or activities can be identified, Church leaders should strive to strategically leverage these elements in their marketing mix. Unfortunately, offerings of the Church are promoted by actual product descriptors at the expense of more of their more attractive core/augmented product values. Alternatively, if a Church’s “core” program offering is intended to develop the ability to effectively discern and reason fact from fiction, good from bad, truth from falsehood, then the actual “offering” should include a highly relevant facilitation by a competent discussion leader concerning the impact of Christianity’s engagement with societal issues.

Service offerings may be differentiated from physical products by five factors: (a) lack of ownership (you cannot take a service with you and put it on a shelf), (b) intangibility (an experience rather than a physical object), (c) inseparability (cannot separate service from the provider), (d), heterogeneity (service provider must be present for the service to be received), and (e) perishability (inability of a provider to create and store an inventory of services). Each of these characteristics should be taken into account when employing the 75th Anniversary of The Wizard of Oz as the basis for marketing Church-based offerings.

When properly correlated to religious institutions, the product level model may be used to more accurately describe the complex, multidimensional concept of the Church’s respective service-based “offerings” that include all tangible and intangible value aspects of ministries, programs, activities, and interpretations directed to meeting the needs of a target audience. While many aspects of service overlap with product marketing, understanding the key differences will help religious leaders avoid the commoditization of religion by crafting more effective strategies for promoting the ministries of their respective institutions.

A brief, yet thoughtful character analysis of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion discloses numerous similarities with the spiritual needs of today’s young adult seekers. While the “actual” need (brain, heart, verve, home) of the four characters is self-identified, each includes “core” and “augmented” hungers that must likewise be carefully discerned.

The Scarecrow’s need for a brain represents, what scholar Stephen Prothero refers to in his provocative and timely book Religious Literacy (2007), as the “religious illiterate” of America.  While eager consumers of secular knowledge, many young adult professionals readily confess their ignorance of religious knowledge. Posted in the market fields of life, however, they are taunted by the circling crows of competition, ever fearful of the straw-consuming fires of failure. Fortunately, these young adults now seek to replace their misinformed view of God with a renewed sense of honest appreciation.

Other young professionals, holding the axe of science and technology, represent the secular pragmatism of a tin-covered humanity who, like Baum’s Woodsman, yearn for the vulnerability of a sensitive heart.  Tired of chopping at the long-standing tree of Christianity, these young adult professionals seek the touch of something more than a ubiquitous and affordable voice, text, and image messaging mechanisms.  Contemporary prodigals desire the belonging and unwavering acceptance of family and community who, they hope, lovingly await their spiritual homecoming.

Like the Cowardly Lion that initially tried to intimidate and threaten, the inner verve of many young adult professionals has, similarly, been forced to cower by financial collapse, dwindling job markets, and, most tragically, a loss of moral certitude. Once a symbol of Wall Street’s power at its height, the lion no longer frightens, but now resembles a toothless, cowardly mess. Jobless and anxious over an uncertain future, such young professionals now seek the courage to stand firm against those who previously held powerful sway over their lives. Unwilling to comply with anti-Christian secularist agendas, they now desire the grace and strength to remain faithful to God’s wise directives.

Finally, Dorothy’s desire to return home to Kansas indicates society’s “core” requisite for stable familial relationships. While the Tin Woodsman’s longing for a heart must be understood as expressing the value of selfless love, the Scarecrow’s desire for a brain discloses humanity’s appeal for reason. The lion’s quest for courageous verve should be explained in terms of self-sacrifice. One could additionally assert that the durable affiliation that gradually developed between the comrades represents the orphan Dorothy’s most vital “core” hunger.  In the end, the quality of their association was the strong bond that held this “family” together, yielding its concentrated intensity.

The following Matrix briefly outlines a program offering for local religious leaders who may be interested in utilizing the 75th Anniversary of the Wizard of Oz to serve the needs of young adult professionals. While not exhaustive, the aforementioned character studies provide an opportunity for the Church to promote its mission, message and ministries to these most vital constituents.

Church Offering Matrix

Marketing Opportunity

Church Offering Levels

Core Offering

Actual Offering

Augmented Offering

The Wizard of Oz Narrative Facilitated Christian interpretation of the film’s allegorical componentsApplication of film’s interpretations to daily life Presentation of actual film on the occasion of its 75th Anniversary Opportunity to deepen relationship with Church leaders/representativesEstablish relationships with other young professionals attendees
Character of Dorothy Examination of the Christian notion of familyDiscussion concerning religious “homecomings” Discussion concerning her desire to return to Kansas Opportunity for a “return” to the local Christian community 
Character of the Scarecrow Examination/comparison between fact, knowledge, wisdomDiscussion concerning the difference between “knowledge” and “reason” Discussion concerning his desire for a physical brain Opportunity for general community/group Christian interactions Opportunity for specific expressions/experiences of reason, love, and courageOpportunity to evaluate personal levels of sacrificial living

Identification of potential areas for servanthood

Character of the Tin Man Discussion concerning the relationship of technology to creationExamination of humanity’s tri-part composition (body, spirit and soul) Discussion concerning his desire for a physical heart
Character of the Lion Examination/discussion of sacrificial living and servant leadership Discussion concerning his desire for verve (physical strength)
Character of Toto Purpose and potential benefit associated with developing a healthy integration of personhood Discussion concerning the character’s non-speaking role in the film Develop sensitivity for the humane treatment of animals
Character of the Wizard Discuss method of discernment for “pulling back” the curtain and exposing false, forged, and counterfeit messages and “truths” advanced in contemporary culture Discussion concerning the character’s major role in the film Develop ability of spiritual discernmentDevelop ability to differentiate between levels of truth and societal fabrications

 

As briefly demonstrated, The Wizard of Oz is an expert societal commentary replete with symbolic historical nuance and mythical overtones. The story chronicles the quest of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion as they journey to a fictitious Emerald City – a destination they hope will provide the solutions and answers they seek to life’s most primal concerns. While Dorothy’s tornado-tossed arrival in Oz signals the defeat of the Witch of the East, to a discerning audience, Baum’s “core” message should be interpreted at deeper, sharper and more distinct levels. Since Christianity first defeated the ancient paganism of the East, the contemporary Church must now courageously confront the secularist broom of the West. However, while the early Church swiftly defeated eastern paganism, the victory over secularist fancies demands prudence, patience, and proactive effort. Only through such a “water-bath,” can the influence of western humanism gradually “melt” like the Wicked Witch!

With a marvelous twist of Carl Marx’s classic notion that religion is the opiate of the masses, Baum nears his tale’s conclusion with Dorothy and her three companions benumbed in a poppy field just outside the gates of the Emerald City – the consequence of an ill-fated quest. The contemporary Church must be willing to help contemporary seekers wake from the grip of such tragic stupors, frequently encountered at the very threshold of a secular journey’s end. Only by helping young adult professionals peel back the curtains of secularism will they develop the discernment required to challenge the numerous cultural cons of our age to the scrutiny of a “curtain call.” Only by heeding the Church’s warning to “pay close attention to those hiding behind the curtain,” can they hope to avoid being conned by dangerous illusions perpetrated by impish cultural charlatans!

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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