Like in many parishes, the faith formation department at my parish is challenged to find enough catechists each year. We’ve held meetings and created a webpage with videos, job description, and links to useful resources. We’ve explained our need for catechists (and the benefits of being a catechist) in a family e-newsletter, the parish bulletin, and on Facebook. We’ve posted colorful flyers and asked for volunteers via the parish Twitter account. Whether we write long articles, post colorful photos, or tweet 140 characters, the results are the same: nothing. Our parishioners (especially parents) are reluctant to commit.
We have heard a lot of reasons: “I don’t have enough time.” “We’re too busy on Sunday mornings.” “I wouldn’t know what to teach.” “I’m not very crafty.” All these fears could be easily dispelled if only we could reach the parents.
Meet Them Where They Are
Then it hit us: We constantly say that Jesus meets us where we are. We can follow his example and meet parishioners (including parents) where they are. We won’t find them sitting in a meeting after a long day at work. We decided to reach them via a webinar. Parents and others interested in learning about becoming a catechist can attend a pressure-free, one-hour session in the comfort of their own home. We held our first one at 8 p.m. on a weeknight, hopefully after dinner was over and the kids were settled.
We created a short PowerPoint presentation. Our pastoral associate for faith formation, Judith, presented from her home. I was online at my house, serving as a moderator, monitoring the technical end, and taking questions via the chat feature. Because this was our first time using this technology, having two people was ideal. One person could focus on the presentation while the other could monitor the back end simultaneously.
We chose a free webinar platform, because we weren’t quite willing to pay for something when we didn’t know how well it would be received. For the first webinar, we practiced in advance. We practiced together in the same room; we also practiced remotely to troubleshoot anything that might go wrong. Judith did several dry runs by herself so she could get used to presenting to an audience she couldn’t see or hear.
The webinar covered very basic topics. It began with an introduction to our program, the qualities and expectations for catechists, and some basic nuts and bolts, including the resources available. We use Loyola Press’s Finding God program, and their website lets you page through sample textbooks. We linked directly from the presentation to show attendees how helpful the teacher manuals are.
Our first webinar had 11 attendees. Given that this was the first one, we were satisfied with the turnout, especially because everyone stayed on the call the whole time. Of that group, three people committed to becoming catechists. We plan to have a webinar each month during the summer.
Of course, a webinar will never be as personal as an in-person invitation, but it did give us a chance to explore a new way of reaching our audience. Attendees told us they appreciated the ease and flexibility it offered.
Plus, this exercise showed us that we could leverage this platform for other uses. We’re already planning webinars for topic-specific catechist training. This will enable us to delve into deeper topics during our meetings.
Tips for Hosting a Webinar
If you are interested in hosting your own webinar, here are some tips to help you get started. Let us know how your webinar goes!
- Promote your webinar in advance in a variety of ways.
- Practice with the actual equipment you’ll be using.
- Practice your presentation aloud several times.
- Use your slides as talking points only; don’t read them to the audience.
- Have an outline of what you want to cover on each slide; it’s too easy to digress.
- Invest in a good-quality headset to minimize background noise and enhance the speaker’s audio.
- Mute attendees during the presentation; unmute when you accept questions.
- Send a reminder e-mail with instructions on how to log on.
- Don’t be too business-like; bring faith into it.
- Leave time for questions at the end of the presentation.
- Assess strengths and weaknesses immediately afterward for next time.