You Gotta: Understanding Why Tech Makes Sense In Catholic Parishes

I’m sure there are Pastors out there getting the constant barrage of “we gotta be on Facebook”, “we gotta be on Twitter”, “we gotta get a better website”, so forth and so on.  I’m also sure that many Pastors are also similarly asking “Why?” which is where the conversation is often taking a “nose-dive”.  I agree, tech is exciting today.  But excitement (or ‘it’s what the kids are doing’) is not a good reason for getting immersed in any tech initiative within a parish.  The “why” of tech within a parish should always be about meeting a need and providing a solution.

For example, there was most likely a point in time when someone said to themselves “You know we need a better way to keep our parishioners informed.”  Someone agreed, and the parish bulletin was born.  Then someone said, “We need a way to get a lot of them printed and bound, but we really don’t have time for all that.”  Someone agreed, and the parish bulletin companies were born.  The actuals of how all this transpired is shrouded in mystery so, yes, I am guessing on the details.  The point being, the flow of information to parish communities was becoming increasingly more difficult and someone somewhere recognized and sought out a solution using the media and technologies available at the time.

So here we are in 2011 and the bulletin (for the good majority of parishes) remains as the primary form for getting information out to our parish communities.  Each week parishioners are scrambling to get their “blurp” in and hoping other parishioners are actually reading it.  Our parish offices are the primary “hub” for parishioner questions and requests.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had additional avenues to reach our fellow parishioners that didn’t add costs (or reduced our costs), were easy to put in place, and were a lot more efficient and effective?  Well, we do . . . websites, social networking, social media, and email.  All of which are very affordable (if not free) and provide you powerful new additional avenues to get information out to your parish community, save time, and reduce costs.

“How?”, you ask.  Let’s look at a few scenarios that better explain the why’s:

Scenario #1: The Parish Council

So your Council has about 12 volunteer members all with different personal demands on their time.  They meet quarterly throughout the year.  There are important documents they need access to.  Getting meeting minutes and reminders for upcoming meetings out is becoming more and more trying.  Bob was doing it, but he’s just had an addition to the family and doesn’t have the time any more.  Your office manager really doesn’t have the time to take this on either.  What can you do?

Solution:  Your website is (or should be) a “hub” for your community and therefore is a perfect place to provide this information.  On your website you create a page for your parish council that hosts all of the necessary parish council documents, meetings minutes, and an online calendar with all of meeting dates and times.  The council has it’s own cloud-based (stored on the internet) account that allows access from anywhere/anytime to update this information.  Now, all council members (and your parish community) can simply visit the website to get any and all information they need in regards to the parish council.  This same solution can be applied for many ministries which require scheduling and/or document access.

Scenario #2: A Parish retreat just isn’t getting the turnout you had hoped for

You have a retreat program which used to be popular, but it just isn’t getting the turnout it used to.  You have past retreatants that say what a difference it made and you are promoting it the way you always had before, but it just doesn’t seem to be working anymore.  You wonder what could we do differently?

Solution:  Have a Facebook page for your parish?  This is a perfect place to also advertise your event in the events section, on the “Wall”, and also upload and share those photos out for the whole community to see.  Plus you can get video of past retreatants of their witness to how the retreat has impacted them and post that online on your Facebook page as well as your website in the announcements section.

Scenario #3: Questions about faith

Father Tom has noticed several parishioners asking questions about the readings after Mass.  He thought he explained the relevance in the homily, and after Mass is not the best time to give the best response.  The schedule is tight to set up appointments for further discussion, and that’s not the most convenient thing for parishioners either.  Likewise, an article in the bulletin would probably just be a rehash of the homily anyway and again is just a “download” and not a conversation.  What can you do?

Solution:  The Pastor’s blog is a perfect form of social media to better engage your parishioners and open up the lines of communication throughout the week.  In this format faith explanations and thoughts can be communicated out and parishioners can engage in dialogue and conversation regarding the topic.  The conversation could also occur on the parish Facebook page where you can posts a link to your article and allow questions and thoughts.

We could go on and on with scenarios and practical tech applications in our parish communities.  The two things going through your head if you’ve made it this far in the post are probably:

  1. Can we afford it?
  2. How do we make time for that?
I’m here to tell you that you can afford these things financially and you do have the time for them.  Everything I mentioned above can actually be done for no cost or very minimal costs (depending upon the online services you choose) using equipment you or a volunteer parishioner has.  Time?  In the first scenario (and any scheduling or document request scenario) you will actually free up time and therefore you are not adding but rather replacing.  For example, if I’m:
  1. Typing a schedule
  2. Printing copies
  3. Stuffing the copies in envelopes
  4. Addressing the envelopes
  5. Stamping them
  6. Placing them in the mail
I have 6 time consuming (and costly) steps.  Let’s say I do that for 20 people monthly.  In the online method it becomes:
  1. Entering the schedule into the online calendar which automatically updates on the website (embedded calendars)
Even if you have 20% (or 4 of your 20 people) that do not have internet access, all you have to do is print the calendar and send to those 6 people.  (Just emailing schedules is not a good solution either because it relies on the recipient to jot that information down and most often . . . they don’t.  Use the online calendar.)  There is time and money saved because the number of people requiring a mailer is reduced greatly.
How are you applying tech to enhance and improve the flow of information in your parish?
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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).
  • Ricky Jones

    As the designer of my parish’s website and a new member of the parish council I find it frustrating trying that my parish doesn’t take better advantage of our site to do the things you mentioned above. I’m preparing a report for our next council meeting so I can get them up to speed. Thanks for the suggestions!