Why Are Many Parishes Laggards When It Comes to Technology Adoption?

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.

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Author:Ryan Foley

Ryan Foley is the CEO & Founder of Faith Interactive. As a former executive director of a large faith-based organization, he has a passion for supporting organizations in their efforts to become more effective in the areas of evangelization, communication, and engagement. He has successfully coupled his understanding of faith-based organizational requirements with advanced technological strategies & solutions. Faith Interactive, founded in January 2010, uses it Connected Community software to help churches and other faith-based organizations connect and engage their members.
  • Marcy K.

    I think this is more than about technology.  I have worked for some apostolates and my good friend works in Catholic marketing.  One problem is that a majority of Catholic apostolates, churches etc. have no conception that to be effective they have to run their group similar to a business.  Good business principles would go a long way.  Leaders are stuck in the “volunteer mentality.”  They don’t think to hire the best person for the job, or to hire a professional if needed – they think small. 

    One apostolate I worked for was run by the 70+ set who refused to collect emails of people at events because they did not think it was necessary.  They had a database but did not keep it updated.  They did not feel it necessary to keep in contact with their contacts in parishes to keep them updated and enthused.  It was almost as if they wanted to fail.  They were disappointed it costs so much to mail a flyer out to their “promoters” at parishes. 

    This apostolate did have a website made by the son of a board member, who was actually paid, but the website was awful.  After pouring through the website in detail and reading copious extremely wordy articles that said little and was written like a 19th century saint biography, I could not figure out what their apostolate really did or what they were trying to get people to do, or what exactly a person needed to do to belong to their group.  They hired my friend to market their apostolate but did not follow most of the suggestions.  You just want to bang your head against the wall.

    So many Catholic groups have so little money that it completely affects how they think and when they get a little bigger they don’t get past that.  Also, so many Catholics expect the priests to do everything and that they will be spoonfed whatever they need to know.  They don’t think they can actually charge ahead.  Many protestant groups don’t seem to have this problem because most of the lay people realized they are required to get things done, and that they also have to donate more money to the cause.  And they don’t have problems promoting themselves/making themselves look slick.  The are much better at using standard business principles.  We Catholics would do well to imitate that to get our message across – and of course technology does that at little to no cost relatively speaking.

    • http://twitter.com/CathTechTalk Joe Luedtke

      Marcy, you are absolutely correct.  We tend not to think of a church as a business. It almost seems wrong to do so.  However, we really need to in contexts like these.  If you replace the word ‘donations’ with ‘revenue’ you’d realize that a church is a business and many churches are million dollar businesses in size.  At that size, the church like any organization needs to adopt standard business practices.  Unfortunately, priests often have no or inadequate business training and only over the last decade are we starting to see the role ‘Business Administrators’ enter our churches and reach the prominence they need, but too many of them are still part-time volunteers.

      We appreciate the contribution and the effort you took to respond.  Blogging is a lot of fun, but feedback like this makes it all the worthwhile!

  • http://catholicservant.com Craig Berry

    @259acc621e0d78cb624cf6f4de82f54a:disqus – Unfortunately, I’ve seen many similar stories while working for the Church these past 9 years.

    I believe things will get better eventually.

  • Ggfrailey

    I think the most important thing you said was that we need to set time aside to look at tomorrow’s opportunities!!! It is so easy to get bogged down in the today that we can forget to plan ahead for a bright future.  Thanks for sharing your insight. Keep up the good work.

  • http://digitalcatechesis.ning.com/ Caroline Cerveny, SSJ

    We need to wake up!  That is we are in the midst of an ever evolving Digital Culture with its own language.  Whenever we send missionaries to China, South America, Africa or any other foreign country, we train these ministers to understand the culture and to speak the language.  Where in today’s church are we training our ministers to meet this ever evolving Digital Culture so that they can speak today’s language and understand clearly that these tools are essential for our business side, our ministry side, our learning side and to evangelize? 

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