Let’s Start Selling the First Blessing Again

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By Graham Simon

gs-1308Running a successful business is not easy. Statistics show that 50% of new businesses fail within the first five years. Companies wishing to survive in a competitive marketplace have to ask themselves such basic questions as:

  • Are the management, organization and financing of the company fit for purpose?
  • How can we best market our product or service?
  • Has the sales force sampled the product or service and are they sufficiently motivated to go out and sell it?
  • How great is the demand for the product or service we are offering?

While a spiritual organization may be very different from a firm, there are many parallels too. Any spiritual organization that seeks to grow through proselytizing can usefully look at itself and ask these same four questions. This approach is particularly pertinent when attempting to discover why the Unification Movement has failed to grow in the West over the past quarter century.

Let us address each question in turn.

Are the management, organization and financing of the movement fit for purpose?

In the U.S. and UK of late, a lot of change has occurred in the management, organization and financing of the FFWPU. In the UK, the FFWPU is constituted as a charity. The trustees of the charity have successfully turned around the finances of the movement over the last five years. Last month, the membership was presented with a detailed proposal, which had been more than nine months in the making, for the restructuring of the UK movement. The proposal sets out a plan for improving both the operational management of the charity and fulfilment of its providential aspirations. However, while all of this is important, it is not essential to the expansion of the Providence, because if any one of us is truly motivated, we are quite at liberty to franchise the “product” that the FFWPU is offering and sell it ourselves. We call the franchise tribal messiahship.

How can we best market our product or service?

Much energy has also gone into the question of marketing. The argument goes: we have the perfect product, but have just not been able to package it correctly. If we work on the presentation of the product and pay more attention to our PR and media strategy, then sales will start to rocket. We have seen it happen in Brazil and the Philippines. Perhaps we can adopt similar strategies in the West. Certainly improvements are being made in this area, but the results to date have been marginal.

Has the sales force sampled the product or service and are they sufficiently motivated to go out and sell it?

The question of the motivation of the sales force is also one to which we pay a significant amount of attention. If our own families can be happier, more successful, and more assured about the choices we have made over the course of our lives, then why would we not want to go and tell others about the product? In fact, if the product really does what it says on the tin, we should not even have to tell others: the benefits should be so self-evident that people will inquire about the product themselves. Sales leads will be self-generating. This is a nice idea and one that may be actually taking place in a few cases. But the question of motivation is really one we can only answer ourselves, as individuals, couples or families.

How great is the demand for the product or service we are offering?

Whether there is demand in the marketplace for the product is the most critical question of all. All students of economics are introduced to the law of supply and demand within the first couple of weeks of study. On a simple chart with price on the y-axis and quantity on the x-axis, demand is generally represented as a line or curve that slopes downwards from left to right, indicating that the lower the price, the greater the demand from buyers. Conversely, supply is generally represented by a line or curve that slopes upwards from left to right, indicating that the higher the price, the greater the quantity that producers are willing to supply. The point at which demand and supply intersect is the point of equilibrium and indicates the price that buyers will pay and the quantity that will be sold.

If we acknowledge the stark reality that new members are hardly joining the movement in the West and that any growth in income is being generated by more productive uses of assets rather than increased donations, then we are forced to admit there is little or no demand for the product we are offering, at any price.

Unfortunately, most debate focuses on supply-side issues — better organization, better marketing, how to motivate the sales force (resulting in more witnessing), rather than the fundamental question of whether there is actually demand for the product itself. And, heaven forbid, if there is no demand, could it be that the product we are trying to sell either has limited value or that we are actually selling the wrong product?

At this point, it may be useful if we come to some consensus about what product we are offering to the public today. When asked this question, the four responses given by a group of members in the UK were: The Divine Principle, True Parents, The Blessing, and Change of Blood Lineage.

There was a time, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s, when our movement was growing fast. In the early ‘80s, between 10 and 30 new people a week were passing through the two- and seven-day workshops in Camp K near San Francisco. Similar occurrences were taking place at teaching centers in other parts of the U.S. and no doubt in the UK and some European countries too. There was a palpable demand for what we were offering and the sales force was highly motivated.

Was it subsequent adverse publicity and reputational damage that killed sales of the product? Was it Father’s indictment and imprisonment? Was it just that times and fashions change and where there had previously been a demand for the product, changes in taste caused it to evaporate? Or was it simply that we changed the product line? Could it be that the product we were selling back in 1980 is neither the product we are offering today nor one we have sold for the past 25 years?

In the post-hippie era of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, people may arguably have been more optimistic and idealistic than they are today. Nonetheless, deep down people, and young people especially, are primarily concerned with the same fundamental issue now as then — their own spiritual development.

While large segments of society have always been preoccupied with the banal or simply bogged down in the routine of daily life, there remains a huge demand for answers to the deeper questions of life and especially for paths that lead to spiritual development. One only has to visit Amazon.com and look at the popularity of “spiritual books” to appreciate this.

books

Here is just a small selection of titles from the top 100:

Even a basic understanding of the Divine Principle gives each of us the ability to speak intelligently on any one of these topics. So why are we not competing in this marketplace? When did the product we started selling cease to address the questions people were asking?

Perhaps the answer is the late ‘80s. The early growth of the movement coincided with sale of the First Blessing. Most members had not yet been blessed in marriage. It was first necessary for members to achieve a level of spiritual maturity, greater mind-body unity, and develop their own personal relationship with God. Or, put in terms of providential restoration, members needed to build their own foundation of faith and foundation of substance. Only then would they be ready to meet the messiah and receive the Blessing, albeit conditionally.

Since the late 1980s, there has been a shift to the sale of the Second Blessing which coincided with the transition of most of the core membership from being single to becoming one-half of a married couple. It also coincided with the huge rise in the number of people being blessed. The 2,075, 6,500, 6,000, and 1,275 blessings all took place in the ‘80s. In the 1990s, the numbers jumped to 30,000, 360,000 and beyond, encompassing large swathes of couples in the unseen spiritual world.

The fundamental problem here is that the Principle teaches about three blessings and three stages of growth, with the Second Blessing bestowed at the top of the growth stage of the First Blessing.

Is it surprising that the movement lost momentum at this point? By way of comparison with Christianity, it is instructive to look at the teaching of German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who took a stand against Hitler in World War II and was executed in 1945.

Bonhoeffer wrote a seminal work, The Cost of Discipleship, in which he predicted that the newly emerging evangelical branches of Christianity that offered salvation purely on the basis of belief would irrevocably damage the religion. He elaborated on the term “cheap grace”:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

With the Second Blessing freely available and our movement focused on how many we have been bringing to the Blessing rather than the spiritual development of new members, the movement has spent 25 years in the doldrums.

If we want to become relevant, we have to start selling the First Blessing again. In practical terms, we need to develop a coherent path to spiritual development based on the core teachings of the Divine Principle. We must create programs so that people can incorporate basic principles in their daily life and see measurable results. It is only on this foundation that men and women will be able to commit wholeheartedly to an eternal union centered on God and strive to become true parents in their own right.♦

Graham Simon met the Unification Movement in California in 1981. He has lived in the UK, USA and Japan and worked extensively for international corporations, including IBM, Shell and Itochu Corporation. He holds an MA in Economics from New York University. He now lives in London and is a trustee of the FFWPU-UK charity.

16 thoughts on “Let’s Start Selling the First Blessing Again

  1. Good article! I hope the writer can make sure and find a way to convey the contents of these ideas to the Korean Emissaries and Envoys who are the only ones who can then in turn share them with the Internatational HQ where all strategies are eventually formed.

  2. “We must create programs so that people can incorporate basic principles in their daily life and see measurable results.”

    I think the above quote is one key issue as to the reason why the movement has stopped growing — not only in the West but around the world. Do people experience that their lives are enriched by joining our movement and by applying specific principles taught by the UC in their lives? If the answer is yes, witnessing to new guests will be mostly natural and automatic as long as good outreach programs are available.

    In my view a deeper reason why the UC has stopped growing is many of our events are too much “about ourselves”, instead of offering real and applicable solutions to the world. It is a cultural thing; our movement is dominated by aspects of the Confucian culture, which tends to focus on the vertical hierarchy and the person at the top of the vertical ladder. To “please the king and now the queen” has become more important than saving people in society. This was well-expressed some time ago by a young Korean leader (in the West) who — when referring to the large Blessing ceremonies in the Philippines and Thailand — commented that “these type of events weren’t very meaningful in his view because the many participants in these rather poor countries couldn’t really do much for our movement”.

    Finally, I think we shouldn’t be too concerned about the growth of the UC but rather about whether leaders in society (St. Pauls) understand the core teaching of True Father and help to put these core principles into practice. “Teaching and living for the benefit of others, for the benefit of society and for the benefit of the world”. Focusing on self-growth is not the way forward, I think.

  3. Graham, you make some interesting points. However, I think that more than selling and marketing the first blessing, we have to live the first blessing. And to be honest, I do not think that DP offers more on the path to fulfilling the first blessing than say, the Bible. Is not the huge strength of DP the clarity it brings about the limitations of individual salvation (First Blessing) and its insights which solve the contradictory position of Christianity regarding sexuality (“better to marry than to burn”).

    I think that it is in the Blessing that our strength lies. And I don’t mean the change of blood lineage part, because I don’t really know what that means, or what “advantage” it conveys.

    So I do not have pat answers about the lack of growth, just my own observations that promised and expected outcomes did not materialize resulting in discouragement and demoralization.

    • Hi, Catriona. Although there has never been an overt focus on spiritual growth within the movement, the course many members followed was rather an effective “de facto” spiritual path. Witnessing, fundraising, living on top of each other and being forced to bear each others’ manifestations, rigid schedules, prayer, fasting, various conditions, self-denial… These facilitated the dynamics for spiritual growth which ultimately occurs at the boundaries of our being when we go beyond our comfort zone and our spiritual self attains dominion over a recalcitrant physical self. Arguably, our tradition would be enriched by a good meditation practice. But basically with some creative and modern thinking, I believe we can put together programs that foster spiritual growth by enabling people to better unite mind and body and build a personal relationship with the Creator.

    • Str. Catriona, the change of blood lineage is what sets us apart form Christianity. Our Founder has explained this repeatedly and this is his greatest accomplishment. Besides that, also introduction to Korean culture. If you have Blessed children of your own you could have observed some unique characteristics of purity in them, and I hope you did. We as parents often didn’t study enough though the well-tested methods of children education so that we could apply those as our dearest children grew up. Often we were dragged by other developments in education that happened in society around us. We can still correct it though with (grand)children that grow up now. I have made an effort in that direction myself in my book A Pocket Book for International Ethics focused on childrens education within the family.

  4. Good solid article, Graham. I think you are accurate about the growth occurring in the ’70s and ’80s and I’m glad you asked this question: “Or was it simply that we changed the product line? Could it be that the product we were selling back in 1980 is neither the product we are offering today nor one we have sold for the past 25 years?”

    In the ’70s, when UTS was founded, we were “selling” our theology to the top theologians in America, and our Seminary professors represented the world’s religions. We were staffing ICUS conferences, selling our value system to the top scientists in the world. We were translating Divine Principle into other languages. We were holding World Media Conferences and World Economic forums, many in top hotels in Geneva, Paris, London, New York, and Seoul. All of this focus was on reaching a global market. Since that time, there seems to be more of a focus on proclaiming events and scriptural texts, and less an attempt to understand the market, and to focus inwardly almost exclusively on TF’s words for an internal market.

    I was fortunate to be in the second class at UTS where we had a wide array of outside instructors, and I was able to work on many PWPA and ICUS conferences and hear TF speak about these topics. My ability to do this was tied to TF’s insistence on these activities to change to world, his personal supervision, and his desire to fund them — sometimes as church leaders resisted such lavish expenditures. No comparable funding coming from HSA national or international has been available for such activities since the late 1980s when the Japanese movement primarily funding these programs suffered its first financial collapse. Strapped for cash, the outward focus of these activities and the movement became rather nominal in these world culture areas, and these events were often tied to internal celebrations with a few VIPs tacked on to maintain some appearance of high-level activity in the world but no real engagement as in the ’70s and ’80s.

    I think properly addressing the market might be tied to reclaiming the spirit of the early UTS, ICUS, World Media Conferences, and others — to again attempt to push the state of the art in religion, science, literature, media, and peace studies. We may need to to this as individuals, because I do not see the movement reinvigorating these activities any time in the near future.

  5. Thank you, Graham, for this article. I am in agreement with parts of your analysis, particularly, in favor of promoting and selling the “Three Blessings” as the best way for the needed reorientation of the Movement.

    The main issue is that the product (using your analysis) should be ourselves, which will confront us with the tough question:

    After decades of full dedication and sacrifice, how many Unificationists can claim with confidence that they have fulfilled the First, Second or Third blessing?

    Let’s use an analogy with athletics. If someone proclaims that he can run, jump and throw more than others, the verification is simple: please prove it in the performance and show it in the records. In spiritual matters, it should be the same: let’s see the manifestation of it in all the individual virtues, the practice of family values and the created prosperity in a successful harmony with the environment and nature. If we cannot show greater spiritual standards as a community over the rest of the society, definitely, there is a need for a reform and reorientation.

    I wrote some reflections about it few months ago here.

  6. Well, Frans, I don’t really want to go down the road of “Blessed Children are superior/different.” I think the jury is still out on that one.
    One other thing strikes me and that is that our own efforts will never be enough. Somehow the involvement of the SW has been misunderstood and overestimated, perhaps even by TF. Leaving aside products/marketing/demand, etc., etc., without much more support and participation from the SW, CIG remains a lofty unattainable dream.

  7. Great article, Graham! Just a few thoughts.

    I agree we should re-examine our “product.” It seems that when we were successful (when I joined in the ’70s) the product was all about hope and change and making a better world. There was also truth, answers to questions that people were asking, and as Gordon pointed out, scholars asked and continue to ask.

    Looking at supply and demand — is there still demand for hope and change? Well, Obama won over many Americans with that message! So the question could be, how do we infuse our product with hope and belief that the world can be changed for the better?

    Also, we need to solve real problems. What about gay marriage, how do we deal with mental illness, what about the economy, floods of refugees from Syria, etc. That’s where we need experts in the field who can be inspired by our TP’s teachings and put them into practice effectively. That’s probably the best our “salesforce” can do, too — if we each embody the teachings in our own area of expertise, that might be more impressive than just all trying to do the same thing according to generic direction from HQ.

  8. I’m all for marketing the First Blessing. I would add, however, that the Second and Third Blessings also need marketing, as I believe that the population is comprised of folks who will be inspired by one of them more so than others. While perhaps many people joined the UC because they felt drawn towards following a spiritual path, others joined perhaps because they felt they were going to solve humanity’s problems, and perhaps others because they felt they would heal the world. I admit that the Second and Third Blessings are built on the foundation of the First Blessing, and so it must get some priority.

    I’m also concerned that the Second Blessing isn’t being marketed at all, really. The institution of the blessed family needs a lot more investment, I feel, to make it attractive and aspirational. Many 2nd gen do not aspire to the gold standard of the cross-cultural marriage blessing (in fact, many parents of 2nd gen equally fail to be convinced by it when matching their progeny).

    And where do we encourage or promote material success in our community? Recently someone involved in ministry told me that they were going to buy a house after their private business was going well. When this person informed other members of their community of this fact, some folks responded by arguing that people in the church shouldn’t be able to buy houses, promoting poverty instead. I feel like we have a long way to go…

    • Hi, Matthew.

      “…others joined perhaps because they felt they were going to solve humanity’s problems, and perhaps others because they felt they would heal the world.”

      I agree with the above quote of yours and I was one of those who joined with this objective in mind. I did not feel a desperate need to be saved but instead had a desire to use my life and profession to serve a larger purpose besides my own. This of course does not mean that I did not need some kind of salvation like every human being does.

      Coming back to the above quote, I’d add that “being part in solving humanity’s problems and healing the world” is one of the most important instruments for personal growth and fulfilling the First Blessing. For the First Blessing to become substantial, living for and investing in others is the best growth agent available.

      I also agree that our families and brothers and sisters should be encouraged to do (very) well economically. This will enable us to help others and be generous not only in words.

    • Yes, it is the old dilemma for all religious people of either focusing entirely on “building God`s kingdom and all things will be given unto you,” even to the point of living like a member of the Franciscan order, or a focus on living a materially attractive life for ourselves but also for others so that they can come closer in that way. Buying a house and ideally a piece of land with animals is a desire of every family I think, but it can tie one down big time, and it may also open the way of never-ending consumerism, even at the expense of supporting like families in underdeveloped countries. In that sense, indeed, accomplishing some level in the First Blessing is very important, and surely also the Second. By the way to “trumpet” around about our plans like buying a house may also not be the most sensible thing to do.

      • After 40 years with our movement and after experiencing the denial of material at least temporarily and giving priority to ideals, I have come to the conclusion that we are meant to be owners and caretakers of the material world. Only ownership awakens the indispensable sense of responsibility within the human mind that the material world needs and deserves. The alternative is communism where everything belongs to everyone and those responsible are others.

        • Br. Johann, I am sure that you and probably all the rest of us — when we look at Jesus’ words when he said, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” — would like to belong to the first group.

  9. Thank you, Graham, excellent points. I like your analysis from an economics perspective with supply, demand and product. As you point out, there is seemingly a great interest or “demand” for education in the area of spirituality. Certainly our theology provides wonderful, unique and comprehensive answers and insights or “supply.” Re-emphasizing the First Blessing product can provide an impetus. Perhaps Ron Pappalandro’s First Blessing Workshops are timely and have relevance.

    I wonder if this young generation has our burning desire for truth and spirituality, with their access and “oneness” with iPhones, Internet, Facebook, etc. It almost seems like these devices provide a quasi-religion or idols, that provide a certain level of spiritual satisfaction, satiation and happiness, like a replacement god, that blunts that desperate search for truth, spirituality and sacrificing for a good cause like we had. On the other hand, everyone is searching for authentic spirituality and meaning.

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