As someone who works full-time in support of helping parishes increase their ability to communicate and engage their parishioners, I am all too often confronted with the lack of familiarity and use of technology by parishes. It is infrequent, even at some of the larger and more financially blessed parishes, that I find a strong use and adoption of technological solutions, even solutions that have been well vetted and a familiar in other aspects of our life.
Typically, introductions of technologies to parish staff members are often met with major hesitations. Often it is the case that parishes are considerably late in adopting new technologies, the industry term for late adoption is called “laggards”. I’ve narrowed down, at least in my own mind, why I think this is happening.
1. Adoption happens over time.
Most people, and most organizations for that matter, slowly accept and begin to use newer technologies as they become affordable and available. At the parish level, and even some (arch) dioceses, we seem to have skipped an entire decade of technology adoption. In the majority of cases parish websites have never been refreshed, which means the user experience remain less than optimal. Only when much of society is embracing mobile applications, online communities, and social media, the parish is just beginning to invest in updating websites. For us to catch up and be in step with today’s communications standards we’re now forced to take technological jumps that seem bigger than we are ready for. Had we kept and followed a normal pace of adoption the next natural step wouldn’t seem so intimidating.
2. Adoption takes consideration and focus.
With limited staff resources and a singular focus on meeting today’s challenges we can often forget to set aside time to look ahead to tomorrow’s opportunities. If someone or some group is not responsible for planning for the future and continuously looking for how we can be more effective in our communications and engagement strategies, we simply will not adopt new processes and tools along the way, we will just keep making do with what we have. Every parish today should establish a technology committee. The committee should work with the parish ministries to understand their needs and then evaluate if any current technologies could be used to solve their problems or enhance their effectiveness.
3. Adoption presumes a technological need.
It has been my experience that past investments made in parish technologies are based mostly upon administrative considerations. We do not often consider the needs of the parishioner or make investments that benefit them directly. If we only consider the internal needs of the parish we will think we have all the technological tools required, therefore we do not find it necessary to consider making new investments in such things as parishioner-facing technologies and/or additional means of communications.
To improve in this area parishes need to think about the needs of their parishioners and what is required to reach, connect, and engage effectively with them. Here, we can draw from what works in secular organizations. Their investment in “customer-facing” technologies develops strong and lasting emotional connections with the people who buy their products—and what they have to offer is not nearly as important as what the church delivers. Considering the eternal ramifications, parishes need to keep up with technology’s applications for ministry and ensure they are using the tools of the time to reach and engage people in relevant ways.
4. Adoption of technology requires a decision.
Often good ideas do reach an interested parish staff member or active parish volunteer. This particular person gets excited about the opportunity to use a new technology and brings the idea to the larger team of decision makers. Typically from this point forward a painful process of reaching consensus and getting “everyone onboard” begins.
Reaching absolute consensus is the surest way to halt progress and is part of the reason why so many parishes lag behind the rest society of when it comes to technology adoption. It is here again that I would advise parishes to establish a committee of competent parishioners that are tasked with the review, evaluation, and presentation of new technologies. Members of the committee should have a broad understanding of how the parish operates, know the demographic makeup of the parish, be staffed with people with various strengths, be able to work in team, have a passion for the faith and sharing it with others, a healthy sense of curiosity, and be open to change even if it means doing things differently.
Of course all is not doom and gloom and hope springs eternal. With a broader knowledge and familiarity with new technologies, even with older parishioners, I am seeing signs that parishes have a greater willingness to consider new technologies and invest in them. Maybe the coming years will bring a shift in our adoption of technology, moving us from laggards to the early majority.