Category: Communications

The Wrong Reasons Parishes Choose to Use Social Media

This is a guest post from Jared Dees, the Digital Publishing Specialist at Ave Maria Press. He blogs at his website, The Religion Teacher, as well as Ave Maria Press’s Engaging Faith classroom resources blog. He can also be found on twitter as @jareddees.

Before you decide to jump into social media, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration. You must first ask yourself “Why?” If your decision to adopt social media strategies as a part of your parish evangelization is due to outside pressures, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Under pressure, many organizations, including parishes and Catholic schools, are entering into the social media world for the wrong reasons. Consider the following reasons that have influenced organizations to begin using social media prematurely.

  • It is a great way to share announcements. Social media is by its very nature social. Sharing information and announcements does not properly tap into the social nature of these new tools. Digital natives are trained to tune out these announcements and prefer information that they can engage in themselves.
  • It is free. One of the most appealing characteristics of social media is the cost. If it is free, why wouldn’t organizations use it? Many people neglect the cost of time that engaging in social media can place on people. Not only will parishes need to create good content to share and provide updates on social networks, they will also need to invest the time needed to develop and nurture relationships online. This will be something new and challenging for many people. Building relationships is never simple and never quick, but it is always free.
  • Facebook has 500 million people. Just because a lot of people are using social media does not mean that your parishioners are going to engage with your or their fellow parishioners on your Facebook Page.
  • We can focus on social media and forget about our website. No matter how many social networks you join, the parish website is the most important online presence you can have. If there is a weakness in the website, efforts should be made to improve it before anything else.
  • We can reach young people. Unless you involve young people in the creation and moderation of content on social media websites, they are not going to participate. Yes, young people are using social media, but their experience can really hinder a parish’s ability to connect with them if the parish does not know how to use social media correctly.

Take some time to seriously consider they ways in which your parish can use social media. Learn from others and enlist the help of people who are already active in the various social networks and proficient in using the various social media tools.

The Right Reasons for Parishes to Use Social Media

There are a number of reasons that organizations like parishes and Catholic schools begin using social media as a form of outreach prematurely. But what are the right reasons to use social media? How would a parish know they are ready?

  • I can engage in conversation with parishioners. The most powerful opportunity with social media is the ability to establish and develop relationships with people you otherwise would not have been able to reach. Conversations are no longer squeezed into formal meetings or rushed in between events.
  • Parishioners can engage in conversation with other parishioners. Now parishioners can connect with one another and with the parish staff through social networking sites. Connecting via social media is much easier and less involved than connecting on the phone or even by email. The opportunity is there for parishioners to develop relationships with one another that extend into actual parish events and prayerful gatherings.
  • It only costs time. Using social media is free, but it does cost time. The recognition and commitment to dedicating time to using social media is a necessary first step to using it effectively. It takes time to post and engage with people in your social networks. Parishes and schools should recognize this and realize that it will be difficult to see the results of the day to day time that is spent on these websites.
  • I can get more participants at events. One of the primary goals of any online outreach to parishioners should be actual physical presence at events and participation in ministries. Social networking sites allow parish staff to provide another reminder of upcoming events and ministries and to post the people and successes of those events and ministries on an ongoing basis. The more the focus is placed on the people, the more people will come to the events.

If you are beginning to use social media on a professional level or you have been using it for a long time, do not forget that at its very nature it will always remain social. This means that the foundation of social media is relationships. If you are not using the tools to build real relationships with people, then you are doing it wrong. Don’t be afraid to encourage parish staff to be active in social networks and build personal relationships with the parishioners that could blossom into attendance, involvement, and volunteerism.

Good luck!


One of your most effective catechetical tools: the parish bulletin

The late Rev. James Field took advantage of every opportunity to catechize his parish. One of his most effective tools was the parish bulletin. Many bulletins are deadly dull, and few parishioners actually read them. But Fr. Jim transformed his parish bulletin into a highly effective communication piece that parishioners would stop by during the week to pick up if they missed Mass on Sunday.

He writes:

I had a pre-defined marker of success: I would begin to see our bulletin in places other than the parish grounds. Soon, I was noticing it on refrigerator doors around the parish; once I saw one on the Starbucks bulletin board downtown; a business man said he always posted it on the office bulletin board. Other markers of success emerged before I had a chance to define them. People started coming to the office door on Mondays asking for the bulletin since they had been out of town over the weekend. When I spied a lady sneaking three bulletins into her purse one Sunday she sheepishly gave me an excuse that has become a motto for us: “I’m sorry, Father, we need one in every bathroom.” Luckily, I understood her to mean for literary purposes only, unlike the Sears Catalog of old.

Read how he did it in his article, “The Parish Bulletin: A Faith-Formation Resource.”

Use mind maps to brainstorm, collaborate, and plan

Are you familiar with “mind mapping”? Mind mapping is a pictorial form of brainstorming. Traditional forms of brainstorming involve making lists that tend to look like outlines or a series of unrelated check boxes. Mind mapping revolves around a central idea with branches that extend out organically.

Mind mapping can be a valuable tool for parish ministry. And with the explosion of web-based applications, there are lots of ways to do mind mapping online. In an article in Today’s Parish about using mind maps in ministry, Michael St. Pierre wrote:

With online collaboration, groups can work together as they prepare for upcoming events or even liturgical seasons. I’ve even used online mind mapping with students as they prepared a “visual book report” of selected readings. In short, mind mapping has never been easier, and you don’t have to worry about losing newsprint, bleeding markers, or wall-space to display your thoughts.

To read more about mind maps and how you might use them in your ministry, click here.

Is it time to get on the social media bandwagon?

In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, Jim Collins lists six characteristics that distinguish good organizations from great ones. Number six is that great organizations think differently about technology. If we want to move our parishes from being merely good and put them on the path to becoming great, we need to think differently about the way we use technology also.

Collins makes the point that great organizations do not hop on the latest technology bandwagon for the sake of being trendy. Often, in fact, they are late adopters of new technology. Sometimes they don’t adopt a new technology at all. What they do is, they think about what an emerging technology can do to help them further their mission. Then they make a systematic decision about incorporating that technology into their existing structure. Collins says that great organizations do not use tech for the sake of tech. They use tech to accelerate what they are already doing.

In a recent issue of Today’s Parish, Jon Givens helps us think differently about social media and how using social media wisely can help parishes accelerate their mission. He draws upon Pope Benedict’s letter, “The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word,” to offer three steps parishes can take to adopt a social media strategy:

  • Define your goals
  • Meet your audience
  • Build your content

Social media is no longer a cutting edge idea. It has gone mainstream. Catholic leaders need to think seriously about how to use this new media to evangelize, catechize, and generally accelerate the mission of the parish. You can read Jon’s entire article here.

Five ways not to run a pastoral council meeting

At school by SuperFantastic [Flickr]Actually, this could be about how not to run any parish meeting. Social media and communications expert, Chris Brogan lists five things that derail most meetings. In my experience, the most common is that meetings veer off the agenda. People start wandering off onto other topics, and no one calls everyone back to the task at hand. Clear, timed agendas are essential to effective meetings. But they only work if you stick to them!

Brogran’s other four derailers include scheduling too much time for meetings, not staying focused on making decisions, letting someone hijack the agenda, and confusing meetings with work. To see his full description of how to keep meetings productive and on track, click here.

6 bright ideas from around the web

Light Bulb 2 by brokenarts  [via stock.xchang]

People are never illegal

Father Allan Figueroa Deck writes of his time in Boise , listening to Bishop Michael Driscoll speak about his concern for the immigrants in his diocese.

It was very poignant to hear him speak about his concern for immigrants in his diocese. He noted that the very use of the term “illegal alien” by even some good Catholics is very disturbing. He points out that people may commit illegal acts, but they are certainly never illegal. To use that term is to dehumanize persons not unlike the dehumanization of the unborn….

Do you ever preach on the Opening Prayer?

Father Paul Turner reviews Daniel McCarthy’s new book , which is a compilation of his “Listen to the Word” column in The Tablet.

Even non-subscribers to the journal can now benefit from McCarthy’s labor of love. Listen to the Word: Commentaries on Selected Opening Prayers of Sundays and Feasts with Sample Homilies, is a most welcome scholarly and pastoral aid for appreciating the opening prayers of the mass.

For each Sunday and major feast of the liturgical year, McCarthy provides the English text of the opening prayer from the Sacramentary together with the Latin original from the Missale Romanum of 2002. After a brief introduction, he explains where this prayer comes from, its grammatical structure, its vocabulary, its scriptural allusions, its meaning, and its spiritual bearing. For people who think the opening prayer of mass has been time for a quick snooze, this work is an eyeopener.

Do more of what you want to do

Today’s Parish author Jason Womack is interviewed on how to implement strategic best practice behaviors to focus on priorities, manage change, and successfully plan for the future. Note that he is not a fan of “work-life balance.” The audio is a little soft, but it’s worth a listen.

What do people need?

Parish leaders are in the need-fulfillment business. We know people need Jesus, and we’re about filling that need. However, Seth Godin points out that “need” is not the same thing as “demand.”

If you want to help people lose weight, you need to sell them something they demand, like belonging or convenience, not lecture them about what they need.

If we want to help people find Jesus, we have to provide them with something they demand.

Spread your homily “by all means”

The Church Marketing Sucks website offers a terrific plan for spreading the Good News, using the Sunday homily. This plan would require a serious commitment to a communications strategy, but imagine the results!

The mission has never changed: Get the gospel to the world. But the tools have multiplied many times over, allowing us to do it more efficiently than ever before. Which means we can spend less time fighting to create more content at all costs and spend more time simplifying our message and distributing it effectively.

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out my free offer to help pastors start a blog .

Is your web presence effective?

Susan Wolf, SND, says that even if you have a “great” website, that alone is not enough to create an effective web presence.

An organization, religious community or ministry also needs to be interacting with their constituents via email and social media. An organization does not need to be using every form of email communication or social media, but I think that it does needs to be using at least two platforms in addition to the website to be present to as many different generations and stakeholders as possible and to facilitate various forms of engagement.

Be sure to check out her examples of organizations that have an effective web presence. There are two parishes listed.

Free blogging help for pastors

Permission-to-speak-freely by jurvetson [Flickr]On The Daily Saint, Today’s Parish author Mike St. Pierre has compiled a list of the posts that his readers have most enjoyed related to blogging. He says:

One of the easiest ways to be creative is to blog. It’s nearly free and takes so little time that it’s any wonder everyone isn’t blogging. But they aren’t and that’s too bad because it’s a wonderful outlet for ideas and conversation.

Earlier, I made the point here that I thought pastors must blog. That drew a comment from pastor and writer Fr. Austin Fleming, which you can read on his blog, A Concord Pastor Comments.

I agree with Mike, that just about everyone would benefit from blogging. But I think pastors (or associate pastors who will one day be leading a parish) must blog because of their central role in the parish’s mission of evangelization.

Some parishes have lay people or deacons who serve in the role of pastor. I would say that they, too, must blog for the same reason a pastor must.

Free offer

To help you with this, I want to make you an offer. If you are a pastor, associate pastor, or serving in the role of pastor, I’ll help you get started. I’ll meet with you by phone and answer any questions you have. I’ll walk you through the process of setting up a blog. The phone call is free, the blog software is free, and my time is free. E-mail me, and we’ll set up a time. My only request is that if we meet together, you come to the meeting with the intention of blogging at least twice a week for 30 days. That’s roughly eight blog posts.

And if you are already tech savvy enough to get started on your own, then start. And let us know about it in the comments section. We’ll all come visit your blog!

If you need a list of ideas to blog about, click here.

Who should you hire next for parish leadership?

videographer Becca by Melissa & David [Picasa]When you do your long-term planning, what staff or key-volunteer positions do you need to develop for the ongoing vitality of your parish? The job bank on the National Association of Lay Ministry website indicates that parishes are looking for liturgical musicians, youth and young adult ministers, stewardship/development directors, and catechetical directors.

The Center for Church Communication Job Board, a non-profit with Evangelical Protestant roots, lists openings that include media director, web designer, graphic designer, and videographer.

Is there a trend indicated here that Catholic parishes should pay more attention to? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of employing, say, a parish videographer instead of (or in addition to) a young adult minister in the next round of hiring?

The secret to productive meetings

pdac-parish-meeting-0031 by Denise Morin Janet Baker, RSM, has a very simple solution for making parish meetings more productive: Be prepared.

“The answer may appear simplistic,” says Baker, “but it is essential. Persons attending any meeting need to know what they are meeting about.”

According to Baker, preparation means:

  • Sending out an agenda ahead of time
  • Providing a clear sense of expected outcomes
  • Providing a way for everyone to contribute to the outcome
  • Starting and ending on time

For more on productive meetings, see Baker’s chapter, “Parish Identity” in The Parish Management Handbook (Twenty-Third Publications).


Disclosure: I am an editor with Bayard, Inc., the company that published this book. Regardless, I only recommend books that I have personally read and believe will be good for my readers.

Are you ready for the revolution?

Communion by Julien Harneis [via Flickr]I do a lot of work in catechumenate ministry. RCIA team members will often ask what the catechumens have to know before they can become Catholic. I understand the motivation for the question, and yet I often feel uncomfortable answering it. It is akin to asking what a bride needs to know before she says “I do” on her wedding day. A lot, to be sure. But exactly what is difficult to say. And ask anyone who has been married for a year, five years, ten years—on your wedding day, did you know this is the person your spouse would become? Did you know this is what marriage is? Of course not. The “knowing” is always a work progress. A mystery unfolding. An ongoing revelation.

I thought of the catechumens today when I read John Allen’s article in the National Catholic Reporter (“Trent launches world revolution in theology”). He is reporting on a July 24-27 gathering of nearly 600 Catholic ethicists and moral theologians, representing four continents and 73 countries. Half the theologians were laity and at least 200 were women.

A radical new lens for theology

If Allen and the organizers of the event are right, the content of theology will not change all that much in the future, but the way it is expressed will be racially different. That means that the catechisms, textbooks, sacramental preparation programs, liturgical adaptations, ritual music, and prayer resources of the future will look and feel and sound a lot differently than they do now. All of these resources will still reveal the same person—Jesus Christ. But the lenses with which we view the person of Jesus Christ will be much different. Think of it as an 80-year-old woman looking at the man she married 60 years ago. He’s the same man. And yet there is so much more to see and he looks so different.

According to Allen, there three significant implications of the “revolution”:

  1. Future theological and pastoral resources will be much more attentive to diversity in the church.
  2. Future resources will have a broader sense of the key issues in society that impact our faith. Allen’s article noted five in particular:
    • Human dignity (and not just in the context of health care and “life” issues);
    • Justice (North/South, but also within cultures);
    • The environment;
    • New technologies;
    • The position of persons within institutions.
  3. Finally, no resource will rely on exclusively on one’s own national perspective.

An example of this last point might be the resource the U.S. Bishops publish each election cycle on how Catholics are to participate in the election process. Future editions might begin to be influenced by how democracy is understood by Catholic theologians in the Ukraine, Italy, Brazil, and so on.

The revolution will be social

The church moves slowly, especially in matters of theology. So I’m not sure how much of the revolution many of us will see in our lifetimes. However, as scholars and theologians begin to develop these new ways of seeing, writing, and teaching, their work will not only appear in dusty tomes shelved in European theological centers as may have happened in the past. They will also begin to appear on blogs, Facebook updates, and Twitter posts. Marshall McLuhan once said the medium is the message. That is perhaps especially true concerning the revolutionary way the gospel message will be proclaimed.

Staypressed theme by Themocracy