DeSales Media is working to bring new tools to diocesan communications departments throughout the country. One of the dioceses that has blown us away with its holistic program of digital and personal evangelization is the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Their evangelization movement, Unleash the Gospel, works to bring out the hope and faith of the faithful in the diocese, to create a positive spirit and image around Catholicism in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This positive spirit is a burst of fresh life not only to the Archdiocese but beyond.
To tap into the positive spirit, DeSales teamed up with the Archdiocese’s Communications Team to host the first-ever Catholic Leadership Summit entitled “Marketing for the Church.” Our idea was to get some of the most innovative thinkers of the church in America together in a room to discuss what’s working and what’s not, how to troubleshoot, and how to collaborate going forward.
We’re grateful for its success. Because of the summit, tangible collaborations have kicked off, a renewed spirit of missionary discipleship is rekindled, and we’re already thinking about planning for next year.
We sat down to talk down with Edmundo Reyes, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Edmundo’s energy and enthusiasm are absolutely infectious.
Edmundo has been with the Archdiocese of Detroit as the Director of Communications for almost two years now. Anyone who sits down for even a brief conversation with Edmundo can see that he is full of missionary spirit and zeal for the work of spreading God’s word in the diocese. Edmundo shares with us some insights from the Archdiocese of Detroit’s initiative to unleash a new Pentecost in their diocese and become a more dynamic, outward-facing Church.
DeSales Media: How did Unleash the Gospel begin? What was its origin point?
Edmundo Reyes: Unleash the Gospel is a movement that had its origins in March of 2014 with the announcement of a Year of Prayer in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This Year of Prayer was announced in preparation for Synod 16.
The archdiocese had been closing parishes, so we responded with prayer and a syond. We took a full year to pray for a new Pentecost, a renewal of faith, in the diocese. Over the course of the year leading up to Synod 16, we had Talking and Listening sessions with laypeople and clergy all over the archdiocese.
After learning from and listening to our diocesan members over the course of the year, Archbishop Vigneron published the initial pastoral letter “Unleash the Gospel” in June 2017.
DS: What prompted this year of prayer and pastoral letter?
ER: We saw the archdiocese needed to move from maintenance to mission. The natural state of a diocese ought to be one of growth—not maintenance, but growth—if we’re not growing, expanding, spreading the Gospel, we’re not doing what God asked us to do.
An important milestone in our movement was the Mass for Pardon. We asked forgiveness as a community, for pardon for the institutional sins of the Catholic Church in Detroit. It wouldn’t have been possible for us to move into this mission phase without these two events—the year of prayer and the Mass for Pardon. Our movement is not based on ingenuity and savviness, but on the work of God. We depend upon the work of God to do the work of the diocese.
DS: And then how was the full movement of Unleash the Gospel born?
ER: We call the pastoral letter a “roadmap of the missionary confirmation.” It’s not just a strategic plan, but a roadmap and a call. Unleash the Gospel is a movement that we join: there are no bystanders—everyone needs to do their part in this mission. And there’s work that needs to be done right now. We wanted to change the narrative of the diocese, and this letter created a roadmap to health for the diocese.
We want to build a movement of people who care so deeply that they are willing to do something. The letter was not just about amplifying the work of the archbishop but a call to build a movement. The letter articulated our core principles. To build a movement, you need to start from these core principles to gain momentum. You build a movement from the center out. You start from the center, from people who are already tuned in and move from there.
Our movement, our second Pentecost, is modeled off of the first Pentecost. If we want to ignite a new Pentecost, we have to grow it organically. We have to invest in the people already in the movement and then deploy them to reach out to the broader community.
DS: What were some key communications strategies to launch this movement?
ER: One thing we emphasize is that vocabulary matters, semantics matter. When we talk about the pastoral letter, we talk about it as a roadmap. Think of the difference between the phrases “document implemented” versus a “roadmap for a movement.” One is dynamic, directional, and motivational. The other is sterile and formal—it lacks direction.
In November 2018, we launched Detroit Catholic, the Catholic newspaper for the diocese. In January 2019, we turned Detroit Catholic into an online-only news site. And, in January 2019, we launched Unleash the Gospel Magazine.
DS: Why the switch to the magazine?
ER: Detroit Catholic is a news site, and Unleash the Gospel magazine is a lifestyle publication. We wanted to create the Unleash the Gospel magazine as a lifestyle publication for the wider Unleash the Gospel brand.
We think of a “brand” as communication that moves across channels—the newsletter, social media, website, and magazine. We have built infrastructures to develop the brands and execute them across different channels. We distribute the 90,000 magazines in the archdiocese (which we print every two months). The core lifestyle identity that we’re promoting is that of a joyful missionary disciple.
DS: How did you think about “branding” or “rebranding” the diocese?
ER: We created a brand framework just the way consumer products develop brands. A brand is not just a product. People get tattoos of their favorite brands, not because they just love their products, but because these brands are emblematic of a certain identity, community or lifestyle. So we wanted to present Catholicism as a lifestyle brand. Catholic identity is not a product you can buy, it’s a way of life that gives you something—an identity and a community—but asks something of you.
Everything in our digital spaces, our social media and our online magazine promote our brand identity—being a joyful missionary disciple.
DS: What are some core principles of lifestyle branding?
ER: Lifestyle branding is made of four key components: identity, community, practical advice, and inspiration/aspiration. For example, when I was living in Minneapolis, I watched a friend run a marathon, and I told my wife afterward that I wanted to run a marathon. In order to do this, I had to start from scratch, as I was not a runner. So I subscribed to Runner’s World.
Runner’s World offered identity—being a runner. The magazine never includes the word “jogging.” Semantics matter, the vocabulary you use to talk about yourself definitely matters. Second, Runner’s World creates a community of readers and subscribers joined around one common interest. Third, it offered practical advice to equip you with the practical needs that you need to become that identity. So, for Runner’s World, I learned how to get shoes, training, cool down, and what to eat. Finally, perhaps most importantly, it provides inspiration for aspirational new goals.
DS: Who is the core audience for Unleash the Gospel?
ER: Unleash the Gospel is the “big umbrella brand” for the movement. The UTG magazine is our channel for reaching the core members of the movement. We see families as core of the movement rather than parish professionals or ministers, because they are the lifeblood of the new evangelization. Our magazine is designed to reach families and the “domestic church” in the archdiocese.
For 2020, we’ve launched 52 Sundays, a dynamic guide that helps families reclaim the Lord’s Day with prayers, suggested family activities, recipes for Sunday dinner, and more.
DS: What would you recommend to other dioceses seeking to emulate your success?
ER: First: we always begin in prayer and humility. We do this for the glory of God. Second, we all need to up our game. The expectations of the American public for media they consume are high. We cannot afford to be mediocre. If we want to get the attention of our parishes, our diocese, of the wider public, we have to put out a product that looks slick, professional, and communicates our serious, high standards.
The thing about the Church in the twenty-first century is that we’re competing for people’s attention, and we’re competing against people’s attention. The competition is selling lifestyles. We could be the best diocese in the country, but we’re competing with the professional lifestyle brands of top clothing brands, car companies, or tech companies. There’s so much thrown at people all the time that our message and brand need to stand out.
Because of this, we need to create products of the highest professional quality. There’s so much being thrown at people all the time. We have to create something that is consistent and professional. They’re selling them lifestyles, but we’re giving them something more.
So, our strategy is simple. We work hard to put out good work. We can only do that if we’re investing the numbers in this work, if we’re committing to it financially. We have, to my understanding, the largest team of marketing professionals of any diocese in the country. We changed our hiring policy to start hiring specialists, rather than generalists. Instead of having a small team of generalists, we have a large team of highly specialized workers. We needed expertise rather than general knowledge.
If you have a smaller team, that doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. Just do less—and do it really well. A small output from your diocese’s communications office that is really well done is better than a lot of content that is mediocre. That said, we communicate our own values to others by how we do things. There definitely needs to be an investment from leadership that matches the investment of our time and resources. I see very few dioceses investing in marketing in a significant way.
Finally, we need to not be afraid of change or failure. We need more courage in our dioceses to be bold and innovative, and trust that God will provide and guide, to operate less with fear, and more with apostolic boldness.
We’re grateful to Edmundo for his time and for sitting down to talk with us. We highly recommend you explore Unleash the Gospel’s spectacular website and get inspired to start a movement of your own!
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.