When the word technology is mentioned in a parish, the fear of replacing an incarnational church arises. For Catholics, in-person worship is what experiencing the sacraments is all about. In the past year, we’ve all learned that church may look different, but the sacraments remain key, thanks to Catholic technology.
At Church Disrupt 2021, a group of Catholic church leaders lent their expertise in breakout sessions focused on how technology is here to supplement, not substitute, how you lead and bring parishioners back to church.
Using Catholic Technology To Bring Parishioners Back to Mass
Kicking off the Catholic breakout sessions, Michael Gormley, Director of Evangelization & Youth Ministry at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, discussed how you can effectively leverage technology to keep your parishioners connected and engaged.
“Leverage the means of social communication to build connections that will last, especially through difficult and dark times.” said Gormley. “Reach people with the gospel so they can come home, into his family, the church.”
The reality of technology in church is it’s a good supplement and it’s a terrible substitute, he added. When it becomes a substitute, it ends up taking away from the experience rather than building it up. So to capitalize on your digital experience, you need to get over the fear of technology and use it as a tool to extend the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good news through online means.
Secondly, how are you bringing people into your physical church from your digital world? Your digital footprint is a means to create a place to point people into the sacramental reality. It’s important to create spaces where people can land. Use simple topics to get people involved through small groups and online classes which will help recruit people outside of mass.
Lastly, your digital tools are only as good as the people who manage them. From your website to your mobile app, to your social media platforms, these communication tools are where you should continue reaching your people. Gather a team to help build engaging and inviting content. People who understand how to write, and know how to create videos. Your content does not have to be perfect, but it should be the best it can be.
How to Leverage Data in Your Parish
As the Parish Administrator at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Lisa Silker shared her experience and expertise on the frustration churches face due to overcommitments, lack of people, and communications issues. To her, they aren’t necessarily frustrations but opportunities in disguise.
Silker uses a crawl, walk, run approach when utilizing technology to solve challenges churches face today. It’s about taking all that needs to be done and figuring out how to make it all happen.
Crawl looks at things that can be accomplished in a day. Walk addresses issues that can be accomplished in a week. And Run tackles how you handle bigger projects.
Getting (the right) Help
Are you working with enough or even the right people to get things done? Helping members identify gifts through spiritual assessment will guide them to serve based on the gifts God has given them. With the use of technology, your understanding of the specific talents your parish people can provide can be matched together with the needs you’ve identified for your church. And remember to turn to your parish members to help you communicate messages effectively. The end product of digital evangelism is digital discipleship.
“It’s Netflix for Catholics,” Silker said.
Another approach is conducting a parish census. With a parish census you will get a better view of your membership and the people that make up your church. This is your opportunity to get to know your people and understand if they serve operationally or minister to the spiritual needs of your church.
Getting Ahead – Church Tech Solutions
“Good data is the basis of good information which allows us to make the best decisions,” adds Silker.
A centralized repository for membership data is also a simple solution to your multi-tasking needs. A single ChMS (church management software) takes the frustration out of managing multiple software networks and provides integration of all your data, insights, and tools in one reliable place.
When overcommitment starts to feel like you’re stretching your resources beyond capacity, consider using your ChMS for automation. Automation guarantees high production, better quality results, and reduces the burden on your staff and ministry leaders.
Missions and Initiatives and How Catholic Technology Can Help
Pushpay Catholic Account Executive, Steve Lenahan, rounded out the Catholic breakout sessions with a final panel to discuss how church leaders stayed connected to their parishioners during the pandemic and how they’re utilizing technology today.
Joined by panelists Michael Gormley, Lisa Silker and Associate Director of Adult Faith Formation at Cathedral of Christ the King, Bernadette Flowers, they shared first-hand experience of the effectiveness technology had in providing necessary touchpoints that helped them stay engaged with their parishes during the past year.
The personal, incarnational experience is important, but what Catholics need to keep in mind is that technology is a tool that helps people come together and fill in the blanks, especially when in the absence of in-person church this past year, described Flowers.
Even though many churches pivoted to a digital strategy, it didn’t mean that the transition wasn’t overwhelming, especially when creating fresh, new, and engaging content through a number of channels.
Leaning in hard on technology as a communication tool for evangelizing and getting messages out can be challenging, but necessary. “I would say for a lot of people who are intimidated by the technology learning curve, don’t let that stop you,” said Gormley.
Establishing a regular, reliable presence on a stable platform can help you start to leverage all that online has to offer. And it assures your people that you’re providing for them, online and off.
Flowers saw how online platforms can benefit a parish, leveraging small groups, live streams, and broadcasts to stay connected. They also utilized social media channels, recognizing that there were different audiences they could reach in each channel, too.
As for Silker, being able to identify a ChMS that had integrated functionality allowed for her parish to breathe. They’ve been able to stay in one place, look at their problems while finding features and functions that helped them adapt and allowed them to do what they needed to do.
“We are now entering a time where the language of the people is digital,” said Lenahan. “It’s technical. To be a missionary disciple is not to sit and wait for someone to come to you. You’re called to be sent out and that even means in the digital world.”
Even if a parish is within or near a person’s neighborhood, that means they’re experiencing community. Which makes digital that much more important. Whether it’s connecting millennials or your senior community, your parish shouldn’t assume who can or can’t use the digital tools your church is providing.
“If the desire is there, they learn how to use it, “ said Flowers.
To hear full Catholic breakout sessions, along with all the other fantastic content from the conference, go to ChurchDisrupt.com.