The Social Web: Why Social Media/Networking For Catholic Parishes

For most people in parishes over a good many years the weekly progression looks something like this:

  1. Attend Mass on Sunday.  Be handed a bulletin with announcements and some messages.  Socialize a bit after Mass.
  2. The work week and life takes place on Monday through Saturday.
  3. We encounter life.  The good, the bad, and the stresses.
  4. We get the kids to events.  We meet our obligations.  The next thing we know . . . the week is over.
  5. 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?

 

 

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Craig

    Perfect graphic Brad.

    Also,I like how you point out that the bulletin can still be used, not discarded. Resistance sometime comes from people who think all the tech stuff will “do away” with the older things. Not true.

  • Jonathan

    This is real and meaningful conversation that needs to start happening more and more…and be implemented! This does not seem to be about the ‘ceiling’, making Catholic parish websites the coolest websites in America, but more so about raising the communicative ‘floor’ so that even the smallest parish or oldest staff is able to implement communication strategies more effectively.

  • Brad

    Great points.

    Craig, that’s right on. These aren’t replacements which is a major objection. Rather they are additional avenues.

    Jonathan, you couldn’t be more right. Every parish has the ability to have an extremely powerful website today with tons of functionality that pays for itself in expense savings and then some.

  • http://twitter.com/fsantoni Frank Santoni

    I think as soon as Church leaders understand that social media is an effective tool for *ministry* not just marketing, then we will begin to see it implemented effectively in more places. We have to get beyond thinking that Facebook is just one more place to announce/promote/broadcast stuff and begin to see it as a means of participating in an ongoing conversation with those the Church seeks to serve.
    Frank
    techreligious.com

  • http://marccardaronella.com Marc Cardaronella

    I’ve been thinking that the parish website should become the online bulletin and it can be distributed through RSS and email marketing systems. And, the parish could also attract people to programs, volunteer opportunities and spiritual development opportunities through content marketing style blog posts the could influence people to take action and become involved in the parish. The potential for two way communication and interaction with parishioners is unlimited as well.

    I like what you said about the bulletin being a model that worked at one point and now there’s other models that will rise up as well. As social media gets more accepted, I think this will be the case.

    Great post!

    • Brad

      I agree that this is a component and another great example of the many uses of the website as a great new supplemental “hub”. There are tons of great possibilities. One of the biggest hurdles is that it is often viewed as “a lot of work” or “really expensive”. The truth is that it is actually the opposite for both objections. Websites can be set up in hours and will always be updated and changed easily over time. When there is careful thought to processes and community services, the cost savings is very significant while improving parishioner involvement at the same time. A win win win situation.

      Thanks for the great feedback.

  • Mike Stone

    Your article is right on target. I am the Internet Product Manager for Liturigical Publications (LPi) on of the largest printers/publishers of Church bulletins in the country. Interesting to note, that electronic versions of the bulletins exist today for our Churches. All LPi produced bulletins and newsletters are available at http://www.SeekAndFind.com in fact, you can even sign up to receive an email notification when a new bulletin is available.

    In addition to providing the traditional bulletin online, we also have a variety of products that enable the Church to facilitate it’s own “private” social network as well as online donations. These tools enable to Church to engage it’s members Monday thru Saturday as the article suggests.

    Keep up the great work!

    Mike Stone
    Liturgical Publications Inc (LPi)
    mstone@4lpi.com

    • Brad

      Mike, it is so nice to see such a great company like yours embracing and evolving with the times. I checked out the website and your services are fantastic. We are all very blessed to have great companies like yours supporting church communities in such wonderful ways.

      Thanks for sharing and the great compliments. It’s a very exciting time, and it will be very interesting to see how these different things take hold and evolve in church communities.

  • http://www.productivecatholic.com Dean Soto

    Hey Brad,

    Great post!  I couldn’t have agreed with you more!  So many parishes rely on Church bulletins (and end of Mass announcements) to communicate with everyone.  Having a parish blog and a social media presence is a super low-cost way to engage the community.  Heck, even an email newsletter could be used to reach out.

    I think the main reason why it hasn’t been adopted yet is because it does take time and it does take a great effort to be consistent.  Not only that, some parishes may require the parish council to approve certain communications etc.  However, I totally agree that there is a huge opportunity that is being missed.

    Thanks for the great post.  Just liked it on FB 😉