The other night I participated in an interview for a Diocese publication. I apologized to her as well because I am really bad at interviews. Anyway, one of the questions she asked was, “What would you suggest for a parish just starting out?” I have to admit that I was kind of taken back. I know this conversation has been going on for a for years now and I guess I tend to forget that there are many parishes not using the internet today.
So I thought I’d take a step back and go over what I think are the key steps in getting started today. The biggest mistake I find (and I’ve done it too) is just jumping into it without the initial planning. So you’ll notice that the first part is planning:
- Decide what it is you want to accomplish by using the internet for your parish. I will tell you that the main reason you should be is to improve communications. Good communication is the foundation for everything else your parish sets out to do and achieve. If you listen long enough to the grumblings in your parish (i.e. money, attendance, participation, etc.) it often boils down to ineffective communications that lack engagement.
- Determine who will lead the initiative/ministry. This person ideally should be your website person. The website is the hub of everything else (we’ll get into that in a minute) and they should have the mindset of being able to implement websites that others can easily take over in their absence or them leaving. This person might not be comfortable other things like social networks/media, but they can bring in others now and should identify who those people are now.
- Determine your budget. Don’t think you need thousands of dollars. If you have someone in your parish that can build a site on say WordPress using a customizable theme, you can get started for under $200 the first year. If your budget is tight, Bluehost is a really good hosting service for under $10 per month with unlimited storage. The social network stuff is typically free.
- Determine your processes for keeping the information up-to-date. So you got the shiny new website and social networks and within no time the information is all wrong. Sound familiar? It happens all of the time. Set up the means as to how the information will flow for updates, AND make sure not to forget about the web people when changes happen. I primarily get emails, but really would prefer a form be filled out online. Online form submissions make sure you get the information the way you need it (i.e. page name, etc.).
- The online things you’ll want
- A good website that is MOBILE RESPONSIVE. A good website for your parish in my opinion should make your bulletin obsolete while acting like your parish front desk in the office. It should be service-focused and informative. IF you are using your website with the intention of it being a “sales pitch” (sorry to use the term) to attract others first, you are doing it wrong in my opinion. Your audience should be your parishioners first. A good design will be welcoming and inviting and because of that it will naturally serve to attract. The mobile responsive piece is relatively new but extremely important. Most websites are seeing around 30% of traffic from mobile devices.
- Presence of social networks. Which ones are determined by where your audience is. Don’t assume . . . ask. And it’s not just one because each network and service plays a role in the grand scheme of things. Each you work in together. The goal of social networks for your parish should be to replicate the Gathering Space 24/7 and without geographic bounds. Here’s some examples
- Facebook – Acts like a social site where you provide a variety of information (history, general info, mass times, photos of events, event dates and times, etc.) while engaging in conversation. You should be linking backto and supporting the information on your website to drive the conversations on Facebook.
- Instagram – This is a great service to enhance the message. “A picture (or 16 second video) is worth a thousand words (or likes)” is very true. Taking a relevant photo (or 16 second video) and tying it your message shared on both your Facebook page, Twitter, etc. can be a great attention grabber and help get people commenting, liking, sharing, etc. This service is huge with young people in my area and I have found it a great way to engage them in experiments outside of the parish.
- Twitter – Twitter is one of my favorites, and as I’ve always said, one of the most confusing services. I read more recently one of the best descriptions of Twitter where the author called it “social news”. It’s very much a “what’s happening now” service. It’s more announcing in nature rather than conversational. This is a great service to use for “live” coverage of events (but make sure you announce prior to the event) and a a great way to enhance an event and tie in a hashtag. It’s also a great service to follow the posts of others within the church (i.e. Cardinals, the Pope, Clergy, Nuns, etc.) and share that along through the use of public lists.
- Google+ – This service plays a similar role to that of Facebook in that it more of a “social site”. In all honesty I prefer it to Facebook but the audience I serve for my parish just really isn’t there.
- Tumblr – This service is more of “blogging” site but is used a lot like Twitter without the restrictions of 140 characters or less. I’ll admit I have little experience with this service.
- There are others, but I think you get the point. Again the important thing here is that these all work together and play different roles in engaging your audience and staying connected.
The final part to this and the success of any of this is how well you communicate having it and benefits to your parishioners. If you just put it out there, don’t tell anyone, and think it’s how you are going “to reach young people” it will most likely not come anywhere close to being any benefit to your parish. It’s about leveraging this technology to improve communications and should serve as a communications function (much like having phones). When put into place with a good well thought-out plan and used effectively it will naturally serve the other purposes of evangelizing, inviting others back, engaging young people, etc.
So that’s my take on getting started. What do you think I missed? Or what would you suggest?