As the recent election cycle wound down to its final days, a common phrase was repeated continuously by the talking heads on the cable news channels.
“Ground Game” is defined by the strategy and operations of both political parties in deploying supporters across the country – in state and national elections – to get out the vote on election day by any means possible, whether knocking on doors, making phone calls or herding people, who might not otherwise have the means or desire to vote, onto buses to get them down to the nearest polling location.
The political ground game is an interesting phenomenon, one that is pursued with passion, vigor and conviction by people who have strong convictions for the core values and issues they support. Thousands, maybe millions, of volunteers across the country spent countless hours working on campaigns in 2012. As the news talking heads provided a post-election analysis the day after the election, they credited the superior ground game of President Obama’s campaign as the difference in putting him over the top.
As I reflected on this ground-game concept, I couldn’t help visualizing in this Year of Faith what kind of influence Catholics could make spreading our faith and transforming our culture if we had a ground game like Obama’s.
But to have an effective ground game, we need to be focused on core values and beliefs. What is our identity? Who are we and what are our core values? In order to effectively create and mobilize our base for a solid ground game, we have to know who we are, while simultaneously being unashamed to proclaim our identity in the face of individualism or moral relativism– even if it comes from our own Catholic brothers and sisters.
So, who are we as Catholics and what do we stand for? The core of our faith is the Eucharist, which feeds us with the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Savior. We are Saints – both past and present – who strive to live the lives God envisioned for us even before we were born. We are devotees to Mary, the mother of God who intercedes on our behalf to our Lord. We support the sanctity of life from natural conception until death. We support and affirm marriage between one man and one woman, as sacred scripture and the laws of nature and society teach us. We experience life in the sacraments, living signs of God’s grace and mercy in the world.
For all these things and many more, all Catholics must live courageously, speak boldly and love tenderly, so people know what it means to be Catholic – charity in truth as Archbishop Lori has promulgated. You can go as far to say the core values above are our Catholic brand – a brand in recent years that has been watered down, both from within and outside the Church. Sometimes it seems, we have chosen appeasement to keep parishioner counts high, rather than feeding our faithful with the truths of our faith – which, by the way, many are desperately seeking.
I have worked in non-profit, health-care associations for more than 16 years. In a recent book titled, “Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations,” authors Harrison Coerver, CAE and Mary Byers, CAE, address a sharper and more narrow focus of products, programs and services for members as one of the five radical changes associations need to get a handle on quickly in order to be relevant in the future. For years, associations, in an attempt to increase revenue and members while competing with the Internet and for-profit entities, have expanded membership categories and member benefits, finally arriving at the point where they have lost all sense of identity and mission. In order to please and serve as many potential stakeholders as possible, associations have watered down their missions, provided less value and in general lost their way, as well as members. In many ways, they have become irrelevant.
The Church cannot afford to become irrelevant. Jesus cannot become irrelevant.
To get our ground game machine humming to its fullest capacity, the Church gives us the playbook for our efforts in its teachings – dogma, doctrine and the Catechism. We need to share the truth of our faith and do so boldly and without reservation. It is only then that we can truly feed our flock and send them forth to evangelize and transform hearts and minds.
In this Year of Faith and as part of the New Evangelization, we are called to strengthen our spirituality as a driver to building a strong faith, which we can in turn use to transform the faith lives of others – one person at a time.
This is the essence of the ground game philosophy. Instead of knocking on doors, we’re called to knock on hearts. It’s a philosophy that is not new to the Church, by any means. But, with the season of Advent upon us, we have an opportunity to further inculcate the truths of our faith into our hearts and minds, thus sharpening our focus on who we are and what we believe.