For most people in parishes over a good many years the weekly progression looks something like this:
- Attend Mass on Sunday. Be handed a bulletin with announcements and some messages. Socialize a bit after Mass.
- The work week and life takes place on Monday through Saturday.
- We encounter life. The good, the bad, and the stresses.
- We get the kids to events. We meet our obligations. The next thing we know . . . the week is over.
- Sunday comes around and we start the process over again.
Most know that faith and the messages can make a difference. Individually we may be able to find solace and resolution in scripture, books, or a conversation here and there. But there can be time barriers and the fact that life can often times “get in the way”. And we also know that faith is better served through the interactions with others. Today, we have the opportunity to create powerful new avenues and leverage social media/networking at the local parish level. Let’s take a look.
The purpose of the internet has always been about connecting people. Email being one of the biggest advances where individuals could share information with one another or large groups within minutes. The “Fwd” feature became popular in no time to spread a message quickly to large groups of people over large distances. Many Catholics have used this mechanism for many years. We all get these types of messages. In the last few years, social networking has broken barriers to connecting people like never before. These new mechanisms allow us powerful new avenues of communication that is far more efficient, effective, and far less costly.
If you look at the majority of parishes today, you will see a heavy reliance on the bulletin to communicate to their immediate community which looks something like this in terms of communication:
It’s primarily a one way communication with many limitations. Then there is the addition of engaging in the use of social aspects of the internet through new avenues such as the website, email, social networking sites, social media and now communication looks something like this from the parish:
Not only does this scenario reach a wider audience more efficiently, it allows for real conversation (two-way communication) through commenting on social networking sites (i.e. Parish Facebook page) and social media (i.e. Parish Blog, online video, online photos, etc.) which is much more effective. Also, notice that the bulletin doesn’t go away. It can remain while adding new avenues via the social web. Likewise, there are many more directional arrows that can be drawn in but I didn’t want the drawing to appear as a “mess”. For example using social networking services, I may have a fundraising event that is announced in the bulletin that is short and says the infamous “Call the office for further information”. In addition, I can announce that event on the parish Facebook page (if you have one) with a link to full detail information on our parish website about the event. Visitors may have a question they leave on the Facebook page via a ‘comment’. Those overseeing the Facebook page can then simply reply with a response. Others may ‘comment’ sharing the experience they had at last years event. The announcement becomes a conversation. Likewise, visitors may share that announcement out to their ‘friends’ who in turn share out to theirs and so forth an so on. This is a very basic example, and I could spend hours going over various features and benefits of just one service like Facebook.
The other reality that we need to be aware of that these online services and the social web is not a “fad”, but will continue to grow and become more and more a part of mainstream life. As these new communication means online and in mobile devices become simply a “way of life” for aging generations, we have the unique opportunity today to lay the foundations for what tomorrow looks like rather than react later as we often have while providing real benefits today to parishioners. Think back. At one point in time someone thought, “Hey. What if we had a newsletter we could hand out to parishioners. We have copy machines now to generate one for everyone.” And the bulletin was born. It was probably a bit awkward and interesting for most at first. Some may have even thought it wasn’t necessary and a waste. There was no “model” and they had to get creative to find the best format, what to include, so forth and so on. Over time a “model” emerged and . . . we have the bulletins as they look today. The use of online social networking and social media is no different than then, and we owe it to ourselves, to the faith, and to our future generations to engage and begin laying the groundwork today in our parishes.
How is your parish using online social networking and social media to engage your community? What barriers have you faced? What successes have you had?