Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest—different platforms that present a variety of ways to engage parishioners and draw potential new members. Using social media as a part of your overall communications strategy for your parish is a smart move with lots of potential benefits. Many parishes initially see a decent amount of engagement in the first couple of weeks after establishing a Facebook page, but months later the page is languishing and as time goes by there is little to no interactivity taking place. What are some common reasons for this? Let’s look at three reasons why your parish may be struggling with social media.
1. No Overall Parish Communications Plan
Parishes often jump to create a Facebook page or Twitter account without thinking through an overall parish communications plan. Parishes employ a range of different methods to communicate with parishioners, including mailings, the parish bulletin, e-mail and text blasts, the website, and social media platforms. Consistency among different forms of communication is important, otherwise it becomes a hodge-podge of different elements, which leaves people confused about your parish identity and mission. Before you create a Facebook page or Twitter account for your parish, first establish an overall parish communications plan to ensure that your parish message and identity is consistent. The following questions are a helpful guide as you plan your communications approach: How do we use our communication tools to work together in our parish? How do we leverage our parish bulletin, parish website, and social media platforms to engage our current members and attract new members? What are our strengths as a parish in the area of communication? What are our weaknesses? How will social media function within our overall approach to outreach? What is our hope in using this platform? How will it help us to reach new members?
2. Image Versus Reality
The image of parish life presented on the website or on social media often does not match the reality. This is a common problem for parishes. If your website is languishing, it is a firm bet that your social media platforms will suffer too. Putting effort into ensuring that basic information such as contact details, Mass schedules, and events are up to date is a basic requirement. Maintaining your website and staying current should also be top of your list. You would be amazed at the number parish websites I visit where I have to click five or more times just to find the Mass times or contact information! Put this information upfront, and keep the website streamlined and simple. Check out your ratings online. What are people saying about your parish? You would be surprised at what people post about the parishes they visit. We live in a “world of mouth” where news travels fast and people rely heavily on the opinions of others. Ensuring that the core elements of your parish identity are readily identifiable with similar graphics, colors, and verbiage is helpful to ensure consistency.
3. Corporate Approach Versus Missionary Approach
Many parishes struggle with digital discipleship because they struggle with discipleship in the real world. Rare is the parish where there is an intentional vision for discipleship that is executed well and is the central hub in the wheel of parish life. Applying and overlaying business strategies in ministry when it comes to social media can be problematic. We are the Body of Christ, and a missionary approach where social media is used as the net to catch fish requires that we think differently than the corporate world. Yes, there are smart strategies that we can employ from other areas, but we must stop thinking of ourselves as a business and focus more on communicating who we are as the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. How can we bring Jesus alive to our members through our communications tools? How can we awaken curiosity in new members or those searching for a faith home? Spend some time thinking about these questions as you grapple with what a missionary-centered communications outreach looks like.
Think about these three pitfalls as you assess and reassess your parish’s social media efforts. Are there any other tips or suggestions you have found that are helpful for parishes to be aware of as they look at social media? If so, share them with us.
GREAT article. Thank you! #3 is right on the mark.
Great article. In my experience, your third point (Corporate Approach Versus Missionary Approach) is the most difficult shift to make. Most parish leaders simply disagree with it. They would not say they have a “corporate” approach. They call it “pastoral.” How will the lectors find their schedules or how will parishioners who missed Mass last week find the bulletin if we don’t have all of the parish business on the home page of the parish website on on the Facebook page?
I think your point that, “Many parishes struggle with digital discipleship because they struggle with discipleship in the real world” is spot on. Pope Francis cautions against staying walled up in our parishes. Digital walls can be as impermeable as physical walls. Until parishes become field hospitals, parish social media will only be electronic versions of the corporate newsletter.