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Wed 17 Apr 2019 @ 21:38
RT @CanonOakleyIn the Wilderness by Robert Graves. I love the idea of the scapegoat keeping Christ company. #APoemADay https://t.co/19UPaXXUfZ
Author(s): Thomas Braun
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The idea of selling advertising on church premises seems a good one, but events spiral and the Church of England becomes so financially viable that the Government decides to privatise it. Soon, a corporate raid sees a majority of the shares bought up - who is the C of E's new owner?
THOM BRAUN lives in two worlds: he is a non-stipendiary priest in the Church of England and is also a senior marketing executive with Unilever. He has published two humour titles with HarperCollins Religious: Holy Orders and Free Spirits. He lives in Kingston, Surrey.
You're a priest and a senior marketing executive for a huge international corporation - how do you combine such different roles?
Active parish ministry is obviously quite limited, but is made possible by being part of a team. In an average month I'll probably take one or two Sunday services (including preaching) and possibly attend an evening meeting or two. But then I've never seen my 'ministry' as being dependent on parish life anyway. I prefer to see my priestly role more in terms of 'keeping alive the rumour of God' - wherever I am, whatever I happen to be doing.
The world of marketing meets the world of the Church in your book - are they mutually exclusive?
I don't think they are. In the context of marketing, the book pokes fun at the church for being both naïve and more than capable of making itself appear ridiculous - but the key principles of marketing need to be part of the way the church develops. By key principles I mean staying in touch with the way people think and behave, anticipating their wants, needs and aspirations - and trying to find creative and constructive ways to meet those needs.
Do you think the Church could learn a few things from marketing and advertising?
Yes - but only if it can start to see 'marketing' in the way I've indicated above, ie. as a way of understanding the way people think and behave in a modern society. Unfortunately, for most of the time the church thinks of marketing and advertising as simply ways of promoting the current 'product' - which is why, every few years, we see another one of those rather naff ad campaigns aimed at attracting more people to church. Marketing is about understanding the way people see life: it's not simply a process for telling them about what you have to 'sell'.
What about marketing and advertising learning a few things from the Church?
Not really. Modern marketing recognises that you can't be all things to all people. Market segmentation - in whatever market - is based on the fact that different groups of people think and behave in different ways, and require different things at different times. The current crisis engulfing the Anglican communion is a good example of what happens when a major and complex organisation fails to understand that.
What gave you the idea for your book?
Years of reflection on a church that seems, at one level, so desperate to stay in touch with reality - but at the same time is so ill-equipped to embrace the opportunities of the modern world.
You set out to write a satire, but things you describe in the book actually started to happen as you wrote. Tell us about some of them.
As the back cover of the book shows, this year within one month alone (July) we saw press reports of one church being sponsored by a mobile phone company, and the promotion of Ripon cathedral as a corporate dining venue. In just the last couple of weeks, I've seen one report about the bill-boards covering the west-front re-development of St Paul's cathedral being offered as sponsorship sites - and another report saying that you can have a gargoyle of yourself put up at Gloucester cathedral in return for a significant contribution to church funds.
Are we going to see more of this kind of thing, do you think?
I think we are. Whether it will go quite as far as I indicate in kingdom.com is another matter! But I think there is a distinct danger of the church being led like a lamb to the slaughter if it fails to take a rather more strategic view of what's going on.
So what is going on - are churches getting clever, or a bit desperate?
I think it's more the second than the first. Because the church is such a decentralised (quite literally parochial) organisation, with no strategic leadership or management skills, it will fall prey to all sorts of ad hoc initiatives which, in the short-term, may provide additional cash-flow - but which, in the long-term, may only serve to undermine further the church's credibility.
Is your book then a bit of a salutary tale, rather than just an enjoyable story?
I'd like to think so. If it makes people smile, then that's good: the church takes itself far too seriously. If it makes people cringe - even better. But better still would be if it prompted a few thoughts about how we tackle some of these issues in a more structured and coherent way.
If the job of head of marketing for the Church of England was created for you, what would be the first things you'd want to do?
First, make sure it was understood that 'marketing' is a basis for the church's strategic development: as I said earlier, marketing is about understanding people - and how the church should evolve in ways that are relevant and motivating. Marketing is not simply a glossy add-on to the current way of doing things. It's about doing things differently to create future growth.
Second, I would want to listen - and listen some more. And then listen some more. There are millions of people in the UK alone who feel the church offers them nothing that touches their lives. Marketing the church has to start with understanding why.
Third, it would be day-dreaming to imagine that any of this could move forward without some fundamental changes to the way the Church of England is structured and organised. It's no wonder the average person-in-the-street is confused when the church round the corner acts as if it had nothing in common with the one half-a-mile away. The church should continue to offer different things to different people in different ways - but there's a hell of a distinction between thoughtful 'segmentation' and mindless 'fragmentation'. The church needs to be more transparent in making clear how and why it has different manifestations - rather than trying to sweep those differences under the carpet in the name of 'unity'.