Maintaining engagement with your parish community during this time of social distancing is crucial because when you engage your parishioners, you draw them closer to your community, to your parish, to the Church, and of course to a relationship with the Lord.
That’s why we put on our webinar, ‘Parish Communications: Engaging Your Community During the Pandemic.’ This Playbook is designed to recap and build on the foundational strategies for parishes to engage their community during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
There are three main sections that discuss (1) why engaging your parish community during this time is so important, (2) strategies for engagement, (3) the tools we recommend for effective engagement.
If you have any questions, we encourage you to share them in the Encounter Grow Witness online community for parish leaders, or please feel free to reach out to Emily Mentock, Director of Creative and Marketing Services for the Archdiocese of Detroit, at [email protected] .
AN OPPORTUNITY LIKE NO OTHER (BY FR. STEVE PULLIS)
The Coronavirus presents innumerable challenges to our parishes, our work as priests, and the spiritual growth of our parishioners. In fact, this unprecedented pandemic could make many parishes shift into a kind of hibernation, expending a minimal amount of energy (and money!) while waiting to reemerge in better days before being “on mission.” It would be easy for any of us to take this attitude. But it would not be faithful to the Great Commission, the work of the generations of priests, religious, and lay faithful on whose shoulders we stand, or to the power of the Holy Spirit which lives in each of us through our sacred ordination.
The Lord chooses the times into which we are placed and he has seen fit to place us here and now. With a challenge like no other comes an opportunity like no other. Times of crisis and deprivation are ideal times to propose the One who gives a hope this world cannot snatch away or erode through suffering and confusion. Now is the ideal time for us to be on mission!
Many of our parishioners have time, opportunity, and the desire to know the Lord more fully during these days of quarantine. Families are now given the opportunity to live the domestic church like no other time. Individuals are sharing live-stream Masses, your homilies, and content from Unleash the Gospel and other reliable Catholic sources on levels never before seen. This means the opportunity is great for us not simply to provide what St. John Paul II called “pastoral care” but for us to be evangelists.
By an intentional plan – much like, I would think, the plan St. Paul had to devise for the growth of the churches he founded throughout Asia Minor – of regular engagement with your parishioners in the most personal and effective means available, you will equip your parishioners to be faithful to their call of sharing the Gospel in their familial lives and in their digital lives. Your parish can be the catalyst to many coming to know Jesus Christ and His Church during these days.
Be not afraid to open wide the digital doors, our parish contacts, parish websites, and all of your gifts and the gifts of your parish to Christ so that your parish can build a solid 21st century evangelization strategy during these days. Let us seize this opportunity like no other to evangelize, catechize, and offer pastoral care now and thereby to emerge from the quarantine even stronger and better able to unleash the Gospel (you had to know that was coming)! We were made for this. You were made for this.
“Many Catholics tend to think our goal is essentially to be good and make it to heaven. In fact, our goal is to extend the kingdom of God on earth by making the world a place where Christ is known and loved, so that as many people as possible are brought with us to eternal life” (Unleash the Gospel Pastoral Letter, Guidepost 9.1).
A parish’s content strategy should be totally oriented toward this mission. Here are some of the most essential strategies for doing that:
1. Think of your audience first
a. The best content you can share is content that addresses your audience’s most basic needs, pain points, answers their questions, and celebrates their interests.b. Consider: What are the biggest problems they are trying to solve? What do they need most? What information are they typically searching for? What trends and current events are influencing their personal faith journey?
2. Content that your parish is creating/sharing can be classified into three categories: Information, Community, Inspiration. The best way to build and maintain an engaged audience on your channels is to focus on creating and sharing content that is specific to your parish community.
a. Informational content helps your community stay in-the-know, like you would put in a bulletin. Focus on creating information specific to your parish (announcements/events), and curating/re-sharing more general information like updates from the archdiocese or other resources.b. Parishes with a balanced content strategy don’t just share information, they use their publishing channels to build community. You might consider: inviting your community leaders to write, soliciting input from parishioners, celebrating “wins” together, and lifting up people in their time of need.c. The most important “inspirational” content your parish shares should be specific to your community. For example, reflections from the pastor or other leaders. However, it is not advised that parishes create generic inspirational content like graphics about the Sunday Gospel or saint feast days. This kind of inspirational content should be sourced from other publishers (like Unleash the Gospel or Word on Fire) and thoughtfully re-shared on a parish’s channels when appropriate.
a. When thinking about crafting a message for your audience, think first about what you want them to learn and know from your content and make sure that message is clearly communicated. Keep things simple and focus on the one or two most important things your audience needs to know.b. Then, consider how you want the people who encounter your content to feel about the information you are communicating. How should the content be styled and where should it be shared to best support this feeling?c. Finally, identify what you want your target audience to do after they see/read your content. Is there a clear call to action or an identifiable next step?
“The Gospel is most effectively shared in person-to-person encounters,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote in Guidepost 6 of the Unleash the Gospel pastoral letter. Engagement can’t all be centralized and “from the parish.” Just like people belong to a parish for the community , and not just the pastor, we want to build community during the time of social distancing, too.
1. We strongly encourage pastors and parish staff or leadership team to call people in their community to check on them during this time of social distancing.
3. Ready to invite your community to support each other beyond phone calls? Here is a list of 8 works of mercy to support your community during social distancing
1. You’ve heard the effectiveness of using platforms like Zoom for meetings, but why stop there? Ministry leaders can use Zoom to continue existing Bible studies, small groups and other standing gatherings in the parish, or leadership can even start new groups as a way to encourage virtual fellowship and connection when we’re unable to experience it physically. These groups can be private or open to anyone, they can be large or small or they can focus on a specific ministry group.
a. Here is a great guide to setting up online groups and structuring meetings. It also includes a list of tools you can use, some for free.
What tools and strategies should you be deploying to stay in touch with your community during this time of social distancing and beyond?
When someone has a question about your parish, your website is almost always the first place they will look for an answer. If your parish doesn’t have a website — or doesn’t have
a good one — we invite you to consider upgrading to a beautiful, strategically organized website from eCatholic .
Ready for strategy?
A basic rule of digital engagement is that the longer a person clicks or scrolls through your site, the more committed they are. A person who is considering making an online donation or looking for live-streamed Mass information, might not be very committed to finding that information on your website.
You want your website to eliminate “friction” that might leave a visitor frustrated or confused by putting the most important information front and center.
Here are some basics to keep in mind when crafting your parish homepage:
1. Make the most important information the easiest to find both on a mobile device (more than half the web traffic comes from mobile) and desktop version. Here are the items that a visitor to your website shouldn’t have to click to find:
a. Mass times (or link to live-streamed Mass)b. COVID-19 updatesc. Announcements from the pastor
2. Include clear call-to-action links and buttons. Here are the items that a website visitor should only need to click once to access:
a. Watch livestreamb. Confessions (if available)c. Online givingd. Contact the parishe. A way to submit prayer intentions
In lieu of a weekly printed bulletin, an email newsletter is one of the most important ways to stay connected with your parishioners. Online bulletins can be a great resource for staying up to date, but even something as simple as looking up news on the parish website can be the extra step that acts as a barrier to keeping parishioners informed. The result is that many parishioners are unaware of events or happenings at the parish. Delivered right to their inbox, email newsletters can bridge the gap and keep everyone in the loop on important parish happenings and opportunities to be more engaged in parish life. (Read more: Reasons why your parish should have an e-newsletter ).
There are many email marketing tools. We recommend MailChimp but you can also find other tools. To complement your email efforts, you might consider a texting tool like Flocknote to send out announcements.
There are a lot of reasons to use either MailChimp, Flocknote, or both! Join the conversation about which tool might be the right fit for your parish in our online community for parish communications and marketing staff .
Ready for strategy?
Similar to your website, it takes commitment from your audience to open your newsletter, not to mention scrolling through it or clicking through to your website. So it’s important to be intentional about your subject line (get more creative than the date!) and the content you put at the top of your newsletter.
Here is what you should be including in your weekly newsletter:
1. Need-to-know information
a. COVID-19-related updates
b. Live streams
i. If your parish is not live streaming Mass, you can invite your parishioners to tune into Archbishop’s 12 pm Mass from the Cathedral , or find another Mass time listed on aod.org/livemasses
2. “Value-added” content
a. A short message from the pastor (encouragement, announcements)b. Recapping what you’ve been doing that week (calling parishioners, praying a devotion, etc)c. Faith formation contentd. Reflection or prayer for the times we’re in
i. Refer to Archbishop’s 10 Guideposts for inspiration and guidance
Social media done well can bring your parish exposure, build community beyond the walls of your church, and support effective evangelization.
Does your parish have a Facebook page? It’s easy to set one up in 5 simple steps . If you can only maintain one social media channel (and do it well) we recommend focusing on Facebook. If you feel like you can add a second, or if your parish has a community of young adults, the next social media channel we recommend you open is an Instagram account . If your parish is consistently creating original video content (minimum 2x/month), you might also consider launching a YouTube channel .
Ready for strategy?
Here’s what we recommend you do with your social media accounts page.
i. Just as not every parishioner attended Mass every Sunday before the coronavirus pandemic, not everyone is going to tune into live-streamed Mass. But it’s still important to engage them. Even your parishioners who attend Mass every Sunday need to be reached, inspired, and encouraged beyond Mass to be fully engaged.ii. Read more: Why you should be live-streaming more than Mass
a. Substance: What you’re going to publish.
b. Form: How you’re going to say/show it.i. Keep in mind the balance of the matrix and current events and trends that are relevant to the lives of your target audience.
i. Keep in mind your target audience and social media best practices to make your content appealing to your target audience.c. If you don’t have a designer on staff, these are easy-to-use, free resources for creating social-optimized graphics and posts.
i. Canvaii. Adobe Spark
3. Social media channels have a wider potential audience than your website and newsletter. You have the potential to not only reach your community, but also their friends and people with similar interests. Keep this wide and more diverse audience in mind when crafting your content schedule. Refer to the digital media matrix by Grotto Network .
4. Information/Inspiration/Community on social media
a. Up-to-date information
b. Build community
i. Spark conversations to fuel engagement in your community .ii. Ask parishioners to share photos of their home altar or prayer corner, or how they #PrayTogether and practice #SpiritualCloseness during social distancing.c. Inspirational content
i. Share resources from Unleash the Gospel and spiritualcloseness.orgii. Resources from the USCCB for Prayer and Engagement during Coronavirus
If you are ready for even more advanced social media strategy, please reach out to Emily Mentock at [email protected]
Every parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit now has access to online giving. Encouraging online giving in an engaging way is crucial for all parishes during the Mass suspension. Here are a few ways you can do that:
a. If your parish does not currently have online giving set up, you can direct parishioners to give.aod.org. On this website, people can select to make a gift to your parish and their gift will be credited and distributed directly to your parish.b. FAQs: Archdiocesan-Supported Online Giving
2. Lead with authentic engagement, follow up with asking for donations
EGW (ENCOUNTER + GROW + WITNESS) DIGITAL COMMUNITY
The goal of this group is to foster collaboration and support among parish leaders — pastors, staff, and volunteers — so they can lead their communities to encounter Jesus anew, to grow daily as his disciple, and to give witness to the power of his mercy .
On this platform, you will be able to:
1. Connect with people passionate about serving in their parish, just like you2. Share stories, experiences, and ideas3. Get answers to questions you can’t just Google4. Learn faster and apply best practices to your ministry5. Find inspiration from members with similar goals and who are working through similar challenges
Join our online community today!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out .