As the Coordinator of Stewardship and Development at a parish in Florida, part of my job responsibilities include maintaining all of the parish’s communications. In that role, I have developed a basic understanding of what works and what doesn’t work. So, some thoughts…
First of all, there is no doubt that social media has revolutionized the way the world communicates. In many ways, it is the printing press of our generation. Those of us who utilize the various social networking sites are fortunate enough to be the founding fathers (and mothers) of something that will continue to transform our interactions with the culture. In other words, social media is not just a fad; it’s here for good!
With that in mind, however, it’s also important for us to realize as a Church that not everyone is comfortable in using this new medium. Therefore, parishes and Catholic organizations cannot simply abandon traditional communication efforts. Sorry to say it folks, but the parish bulletin isn’t going anywhere just yet.
So, what’s a parish to do? How is a parish to communicate its message in this 21st century world?
Below is a list of 5 simple things parishes (and any Catholic organization) should be doing in the area of communications to reach out to their parishioners and the larger community.
1. Create a dynamic and user-friendly Website.
Yes, believe it or not, there are parishes out there that still do not have a website—or, that have a website that was last updated back when I was in diapers. To be honest, there is no excuse for it. Nowadays, the parish’s website provides people with that ever-important, first impression. If the website provides recently updated information, highlights pictures of parish events/ministries, and looks halfway decent from a design standpoint, there’s a good chance it’ll attract people to give your community a shot.
There are so many great and affordable resources available out there that can assist parishes with getting a website setup or revamping a website that needs a facelift. Pastors might check out CatholicWeb, eCatholic Websites, or Catholic Web Services—to name a few. All of these companies do great work for an affordable price tag.
2. Develop a presence on Social Media.
Within the last couple of years, parishes and dioceses around the country have begun placing a greater emphasis on the role of social media in their communications. Setting up an account on Facebook and/or Twitter is simple—all you need is an email address, an idea for a username, a password, and a picture or two. Once the pastor or parish employee gets the initial setup completed, you can start tweeting or updating your Facebook status.
Managing social media accounts can seem like quite a daunting task. Many times, parishes lack the resources to put information together and send it out on a regular basis. However, spending an hour or two each week planning a strategy for the parish’s social networking channels can go a long way. Ask the pastor if there are any particular messages he wants to highlight during the week. Ask other staff members—youth ministers, pastoral outreach coordinators, etc.—if they have something they want to advertise. Then, develop a schedule for the social media posts. Thankfully, there are services available on the internet (HootSuite, for example) that can help with the scheduling of posts…you put in information, set the date and time you want it to go out, and you’re done.
At this point, I must also note that there is one very important aspect to keep in mind when communicating via social networks. In recent years as the importance of social media has increased, many dioceses around the country have begun developing specific social media policies that all parish employees and some volunteers are required to follow. These are in place for your protection. It’s always best to check with the communications office at your local diocese for information on establishing a presence on social media. They also might be able to provide some best practices. Why reinvent the wheel?
3. Send out Email Newsletters to parishioners each week.
According to a 2012 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), “more than eight in ten Catholics (83 percent) send email at least occasionally.” Email is, by far, still the most preferred method of communication. With this in mind, parishes should be utilizing this important medium to reach out to and engage with parishioners.
When collecting information on a parish registration form, be sure to include a space for a family email address. A parish might also consider conducting a census once every few years to gather the most current information for all parish families.
Parishes should very much consider investing in online email marketing systems. These services help make designing and sending emails to parishioners relatively simple. Import your parish’s logo, add information, and send—it really is that easy. Services like Flock Note, MailChimp, and Constant Contact provide additional services that may also be useful to the parish. The rates for these services vary and depend on the number of email addresses the parish imports. Parishes can also link social media accounts to these services; this then allows the emails to be shared across all your social networks.
4. Develop a routine of issuing Press Releases.
Often times, people within the larger community are provided very little information about upcoming events at your parish. In order to increase exposure for events, it should be common practice to send out press releases to your local papers, television stations, and radio stations.
Most media outlets have community calendar sections that allow organizations to submit press releases with information on upcoming events. Find the contact and deadline information for submitting details. Compile that information into a document for future usage.
Depending on the submission deadlines for the different media outlets, parishes may need to submit press releases a couple of weeks in advance. If that’s the case, looking ahead and determining a schedule for press releases is crucial. You do not want to be late in advertising for an event.
Press releases should generally be sent out by one person in the parish office. This will help prevent confusion and allow for control of the message coming out from the parish. Be sure to reiterate to the ministries and groups active within your parish that this service is available to them. Encourage them to go through the office when submitting information on events to local papers. Many times, newspaper editors are more inclined to place information in their next issues if that information is coming from the parish itself.
5. Develop a Communications Plan.
One of the most important documents a parish will produce is a communications plan. This plan should include demographic information about the parish and about the surrounding community in order to assist the pastor and the parish staff in developing strategies for communications. It’s important to examine the parish’s current communication efforts and consider some ways where improvements can be made.
After conducting some initial research, develop some communications goals and objectives for the parish for the year. Then, develop some key strategies that will help the parish achieve the desired outcomes.
The communications plan should also include information on branding for the parish. Information about official organization logos—color, typeface, etc.—should be included. If the official logo is to be utilized by various ministries associated with the parish, details should be provided about how to adjust the logo for each ministry.
The communications plan is also a good place to include diocesan policies for social media usage for parish employees and volunteers. It might also be beneficial for parishes to include an acknowledgement form for employees and volunteers to sign, which basically states they agree to follow the guidelines included in the parish communications plan.
I hope these five suggestions are helpful. I, by no means, claim to have all of the answers for communications at the parish level. These are just some of the observations I have made along the way. If you want to add anything, feel free to comment below. I’m always open to suggestions. If there is something mentioned above that you would like more information on, please do not hesitate to comment below or email me: [email protected]