This week a connection shared an article from the Catholic News Service titled “Most Catholics aren’t searching for spirituality online, study says” The article bothered (ok, I confess . . . frustrated) me for many reasons and mainly because at one point it suggests that print has been more successful so we should just keep focusing on that. One of the brightly glowing reasons to it all staring everyone in the face is right at the beginning of the article, “half of them are unaware the church even has an online presence”. The appropriate question then is, why aren’t your parishioners aware you are online as a Parish or Diocese? That’s the problem, not the media. If no one knows about your Diocese newspaper how effective do you think that would be in readership? Faith is about discovery, and I discover a lot through others (like this article I’m referencing right here, because outside of online media I would have never saw it) every day online and through social networks.
The “it doesn’t work” attitude is a similar response in other industries and environments. I can also tell you that three of the biggest reasons for lack of success are:
- No clear reason as to why the organization has adopted using new media (i.e. “to reach the kids” is NOT the reason for a Church)
- Setting the wrong goals (i.e. “bring X number of fallen away Catholics back to the Church” is NOT an appropriate goal)
- Not effectively marketing the benefits of the media to the appropriate audience
No Clear Reason For Social Media Use
As a manager for over 17 years, I learned an important lesson that made life a lot easier for me and my people . . . know why you are doing what you are doing. Have real purpose. The REAL purpose you should be doing the social media stuff in your Parish is to improve communications and break down the barriers to connecting with your parishioners all week long and every day.
Too often we hear these lines like “it’s how you reach the young people”, and I’m here to tell you to stop saying that. In fact, scold others you hear saying that. I give you permission. The reason we lose young people is because we lose the parents. One of the main demographics on social networks is 30-something females . . . aka “Mom”. And guess who is still a huge influencer on households . . . Mom. That’s who you want to improve communications for through online calendars, highlighting events on social networks, sharing photos of parish events the kids are participating in, etc.
Setting The Wrong Goals
I did an interview the other night and the person interviewing me made a statement that kind of threw me. It was something about New Evangelization being mainly about bringing fallen away Catholics back to the Church. She seemed to almost be looking for a numerical result, but the only response I (or anyone) can give to that is “I hope so”. My apologies, but if we start “dumbing down” evangelization efforts to recruitment and/or marketing initiatives we are lost. Evangelization initiatives are about being better witnesses to Christ in the world.
For example, how does the “fallen away” Catholic return to the Church? There’s a couple of main ways that I’ve found.
- Someone invites them back. When’s the last time you invited someone to Mass? A Parish event?
- Something changes in their life and the Church is there for them leading them to a new discovery of faith.
In both of those circumstances it takes “the village” of Parishioners. Connecting, evangelizing, and re-energizing your parishioners is what really brings those fallen away Catholics back. I had this debate several times and too many have got it stuck in their heads that it’s about “advertising outside” of your Parish. No. Your main audience is your parishioners and you goals should all be centered around improving communications through online media. You’ll naturally reach the outside people too.
Not effectively marketing the benefits of the media to the appropriate audience
So you have your shiny new website and online social profiles, and nothing is happening. No one is liking, following, visiting, etc. any of your stuff. It doesn’t work. Just like the article said. Then you ask someone if they checked out the parish website or page, and they tell you “no, because the old one was never updated”. No one knows you made it better, are updating it, and even added the social profiles because you forgot to tell them you did and the benefits to them.
There are plenty of ways to let your parishioners (your main audience) know the what’s and the benefits to them. For example, announce at an event to make sure to check out our Facebook page indicated on the flier to get the photos from tonight’s event. Tell others to tweet photos from the event, use a certain hashtag, favorite those tweets, and give a prize for the best photo. You just made it fun AND you just spread the faith wider than you would have with print media all for the low low price of . . . FREE.
The benefits for each parish can be very different because your audience varies. What area of communications is it that your parish would like to improve?
The bottom line for me is that just because we are a Church doesn’t mean that online media doesn’t work for us. We need to stop thinking we are so different. We’re normal everyday people coming together for a purpose of sharing the Good News of Jesus with the world. So the normal everyday stuff does apply, and the worst thing we could ever do (and need to seriously stop doing) is give up on change because it’s difficult and revert back to our “safety zones” of what we’ve always done and all the while continuing to stare at the same problems. Just think for a moment, what if the Apostles would have given up just because of the difficult change they had to bring?
What do you think?