Love Seeing This on a Parish Website

I was doing some scouting for an upcoming vacation and saw this on a parish webpage:

Whether you were raised CatholicProtestantatheistagnostic, or have never even considered church, religion, and spirituality, there is a place for you here.

Love it. Thanks Church of Saint Patrick!

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Can’t Imagine Parish Small Groups?

You know that connecting people to a group–a place to belong, a place that actually notices when you’re missing–is vitally important to the life of a Christian disciple.

Yet even though we know this, the reality of becoming a parish of small groups seems had to imagine. Just on the logistical and organizational levels alone.

For a dose of encouragement, check out some of the webpages from St. Anthony of Padua down in The Woodlands, TX that show how a parish can use technology to ease the logistical and organizational burdens of growing a network of groups:

  • Community Groups Landing Page with a short video trailer, longer message, and more
  • Recruiting and inviting group hosts
  • Custom search to find the right group options for you [seriously, I think this is my favorite part of the whole set-up]

So, time to share…how do you conquer the logistical challenges of boosting small/community group participation in your parish?

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Finding a Local Church to Call Home

From the Pew Research Center comes a new study ripe with implications for how we think about hospitality, evangelization, and growing disciples in our local churches.

Question #1: What to Americans look for in a new congregation? 

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Question #2: Why do Americans look for a new church home to begin with? 

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Let’s dig into each of these areas further to flesh out implications for how we share Jesus’ love with the world…

Becoming a Parish Ad Gentes

  1. For Americans with kids, 65% say that education/programs for children age greatly valued. How are your children/student programs? Do they run year round? Are they convenient? Are they high-quality enough that parents would choose to place their children there? Would they appeal to outsiders (not just those feeling an “obligation” to attend)? As the leaders of Church of the Nativity (Timonium, MD) often say “when you do something for my kids, you do something for me” is an important societal, parental value to respond to.
  2. When Americans go looking for a new church home, roughly half consider switching denominations (note: while this isn’t a term we use in Catholic theology, it’s common in vernacular conversation, so I use it in that sense here). This is a huge opportunity! Talk about opennessAs Catholic parishes we should ask ourselves, what kind of impression or perception would someone from a different faith background take away from setting foot on our campus or at our programs? 
  3. We may think that the unaffiliated don’t visit our parishes. But this would be a mistaken assumption. Almost “about three-in-ten current religious “nones” (29%) indicate they have searched for a new congregation at some point in their lives.” What’s for them at your parish? What would their experience be like? 
  4. How do typical Americans find a new church home? More than eight-in-ten adults who have ever looked for a new house of worship say they attended a service during their search (85%). And roughly seven-in-ten talked to members of the congregation (69%) or to friends or colleagues (68%) about the house of worship they were considering. What kind of recommendations or comments would your typical parishioners make about your parish? Would they be enthusiastic? Resigned? Unsure what to say? 
  5. Though it’s not the most important method for learning about potential local church homes, 59% of adults under 30 say they have incorporated online searches when looking for a new congregation. Your online presence matters. And, it should resonate with Millennials. 

Becoming a Parish for Catholic-Seekers

  1. What’s most important when choosing a new parish for Catholics? “nothing is more important than location. Fully three-quarters of Catholics who have looked for a new church (76%) say location was an important factor in their choice of parish.” Our first reaction might be to think (with relief or discouragement) there’s not much we can do then. But this misses something more significant–if Catholics are most likely to select a parish based on location, then it’s vitally important that every parish have a discipleship pathway, that every parish be intentional about ministering to people at every step of a disciple’s journey. We can’t be content to have some “powerhouse” parishes where intentional discipleship and fruits of the Holy Spirit are typical and then “maintenance” parishes for the rest. Taking this reality seriously might force us to think about collaborative organizational structures, networks or associations, and other ways to move more parishes from maintenance to mission. 
  2. Not convinced of the need for every parish to have pathways for intentional discipleship? Here’s another perspective: of affiliated Christians, Catholics are the least likely to ever look for a new congregation. Most Catholics will stay in the parish they’re at, unless the geography (location of household or parish) changes. What’s this mean? Our expectation must be that every parish be fully alive in the Holy Spirit, offering robust pathways for disciples to grow–otherwise, many Catholics will continue to exist in “maintenance” parishes.
  3. When Catholics are looking for a new parish, after location (76% rate as important), the next most important values are “feeling welcomed by leaders” (71%) and sermons (67%). This data supports the pitch made by Amazing ParishRebuilt, and Divine Renovation in recent years as to the importance of the “Sunday Experience.” Authentic welcome from leaders and good preaching aren’t accidents or “bonus” attributes of charismatic leaders–no, these are essential parts of ministry that must be planned, cultivated, and assessed for effectiveness.
  4. Though Catholics are less likely than other Christians to look for a new local congregation, when Catholics do go seeking, about one-in-three report exploring changing denominations or religions. This might come as a surprise to many of us–but it’s a reality we can’t ignore. The question becomes what’s going on in your parish, so that when parishioners do move or go looking for a new congregation, they seek out a Catholic one? 

Okay, so those are my takeaways from this study. What are yours? How might this data impact how you do ministry? 

Three Website Statements for Evangelization

Stumbled upon a (relatively) newly revised parish website from St. Adalbert and St. Casmir Parish in South Bend, IN. Now, the parish website hasn’t yet been fully built beyond the landing page–but I want to highlight the outstanding use of open and evangelizing statements right up front!

Here they are:

  1. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith.
  2. A place where unconditional love changes lives.
  3. Helping people find their way back to God.

These bold proclamations are hitting at many levels. #1 counters an awful lot of cultural baggage about works-based salvation, “Catholic guilt” about not being holy enough, and a lack of joyful confidence when it comes to our eternal salvation. #2 says “we’re open”–we want to love you unconditionally, no matter what. #3 says, “being away is okay”–we’re not going to be shocked by your journey.

Looking forward to seeing the rest of this website roll out. Blog readers, got any other great parish websites that are evangelizing? Share them below and point out the elements that are exceptionally well done!

 

It’s Annual Report Time! Does Your Parish Have One?

For many Catholic parishes, summertime means it is time to close the books on the fiscal year and compile an annual report. While this may seem like something of only passing interest to pastors, pastoral associates, or other ministry staff, it is an opportunity to grow in faith through both the process of preparing the report and the messages you choose to communicate. Now, you might be thinking that this is sheer nonsense. But, think of how much care our Gospel evangelists took in communicating Jesus’ teachings on money. Each knew that for his first century audience, money mattered—and it does just as much for those we minister to today. How then can we follow in their examples in our modern context?

  1. Money is the How, Not the What

Financial resources enable parishes and ministries to be Church—to do and embody the work of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. An annual report that conveys financial data without sharing what impact the financial resources made misses the point. As Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. recently challenged ministers, “material health means nothing for a Church, unless it sets the stage for something more important:  renewing the heart and spirit.” Now, it is a good starting point for parishioners to know if the parish came in over or under budget for the fiscal year. At a minimum, communicating financial status creates an atmosphere of trust in a culture where many do not trust the Church when it comes to money. Managing with excellence matters and impacts ability to meet financial goals:

However, a parish that finishes the year “in the black” and able to cover all expenses may be doing so without having the impact the Holy Spirit calls us to. An annual report is an opportunity to move from the (commendable!) starting point of offering transparent financial data (an outstanding example from the Archdiocese of Atlanta) to sharing God’s work among disciples.

  1. Don’t Just Tell About the Parish. Tell About the Impact of God’s Action.

            Hearing stories of God’s action in our world is a powerful means of conversion. Consider the Acts of the Apostles—episode after episode of vivid testimony to God intervening in the world to reconcile and transform. Imagine what the Acts of the Apostles would be like if its author, Luke the Evangelist, simply provided us quantitative data—that Paul made sixteen visits to synagogues, the Hellenist deacons delivered eight pounds of food, that Peter baptized twenty-five young adults, etc. [Note: these figures are completely hypothetical and do not reflect any Biblical analysis.] Yet in many annual reports, the story of God’s work in the parish is told quantitatively, without emphasis on impact and transformation. Or, it is told as a list of “what we did” (that is usually also available on the parish’s website by looking at ministry lists) rather than the more essential kernel of “what happened, what was the impact?” Reports of conversion and transformation in the Acts of the Apostles became models of God’s action for Christians in the first century through today. But, the power of the Holy Spirit is not contained by history. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thes. 5:11). It is hard to be a disciple of Jesus Christ while wondering about what God is doing in our present day, in one’s own community. Hearing stories and testimonies of God’s impact in the parish helps form the expectations of parishioners so that they too will be ready to look for the Holy Spirit intervening powerfully. Having examples of God’s impact in the annual report fosters common language and shared experience—suddenly, the victory is the entire parish’s, suddenly those who may be unsure of their faith or wonder how God works today might become curious, and all know that this parish is a place where (at least the ministerial staff) is ready to talk about such things.

  1. Introduce People.

Catholic parishes are big—according to a 2010 CARA study, the average U.S. parish includes 3,277 registered members. The annual report is a great opportunity to put faces, to names, to programs, and beyond. Instead of simply describing programs, introduce people. Include photographs of leaders, volunteers, and/or participants and share stories and testimonies. Think of the many individual encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John—the evangelist does not merely give us generic summaries, but gives us names and personal stories so that the power and work of Jesus is more truly communicated. The annual report is also an opportunity to share stories of what spiritual giving means for those in your parish. For many, the parish is just another charitable option—but this is contrary to how a disciple understands and stewards money. By focusing on how money has been a means of conversion in the lives of real people, you can help transform the conversation so that finances become a pathway to conversion.

Motivated to make a change or do more? Check out more detailed tips from: 26 Lessons from 15 Church Annual Reports | unSeminary

Example of Evangelizing Web Menu Headings

In designing a parish website, one of the organizational questions that inevitably arises is what to call our primary menu options? I’m going to go ahead and say it–in way too many parish websites the terms or phrases chosen aren’t cutting it. Usually the reason is simply too much “church language”–i.e. titles like Sacraments, Religious Education, RCIA, etc. This is insider language, and the most critical visitor to a parish website isn’t the regularly attending registered member who knows what RCIA is or stands for, but the future guest, the potential visitor who has only the vaguest sense of what “Sacraments” are much less, what an amazing and powerful gift sacraments are in the Church!

Here’s an example of a parish (Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, CA) that has struck a great combination in developing inspiring and descriptive names for the major areas of their website.

They use the headings:

  • Love in Action: Social Justice
  • Amazing Grace: Sacramental Life
  • Thanks and Praise: Liturgical Ministry
  • Called to Holiness: Your Spiritual Journey
  • A People Set Apart: Our Community Life
  • A City on a Hill: About Our Parish

I love the way catechetical and Biblical are allusions woven in. For a visitor or guest, the titles may intrigue or inspire–both good things! Having the extra “All Are Welcome” tag is a nice touch too. We as Catholics know this is the case, theologically. But, it’s certainly not the narrative many of our potential guests and visitors may pick up from popular news narratives–so it’s great to highlight this prominently as web hospitality can be the start of in-person hospitality.

While this isn’t a review of the entire parish website, the menu choices are especially well done and can help many of us to consider, what’s our site really communicating to a guest/visitor? Is it insider language or bland terms–or does it excite and pique curiosity?

Making the Ordinary Powerful: A Religious Education Website that Speaks!

Parish religious education websites can be pretty cut-and-dry. But I recently encountered one that speaks on so many levels. Check out this example of a First Grade catechesis page (all of the grades are similarly done).

What I love:

  • The descriptive language about the content and goals of that year of faith formation.
  • Promoting the use of weekly e-mails to parents, so that they can continue the faith formation at home.
  • A downloadable .pdf of the year-long schedule so parents can see the big picture of God’s story of salvation being told to their children! Seeing something like that might spur a parent to realize that he/she desires more faith formation themselves…
  • The invitation to “Please pray for the team members and the people they serve.” This makes the “ordinary” listing of volunteer/staff names an opportunity for prayer. And it demonstrates the reliance on prayer and divine guidance that is so essential to our humble service to our Lord as Christians!
  • The use of a “coordinator” for a larger number of single-grade level catechists…this shows the empowerment of leaders at every level, rather than a wheel-and-spokes model where a program revolves around a pastor or single lay leader. This speaks to the call for all of the baptized…it demonstrates what discipleship can be for those who are uncertain of their call.
  • Most striking, the descriptions of the catechists. These lovely descriptions accomplish a few things. #1 – they help parents see what catechists bring to their ministry…it shows these people are serious! (and it’s not just babysitting…). #2 – the descriptions are subtle recruitment for more catechists…the diversity of calls, motivations, and backgrounds shows that that modern day disciples come from as many walks of life as Jesus’ first disciples did 🙂

Thank you, Christ the King Parish in Ann Arbor, for this new website!