An online presence is only ministry if it leads to encounter, conversion, sacrament reception and transformed lives in the real world.
So all of a sudden you’re online like you’ve never been before. You are live-streaming or recording Masses, and/or you are providing links to other Masses and prayer resources for your parishioners. But there’s a long road ahead, and no one knows exactly where all of this might land when the pandemic is over. How can you optimise your digital engagement now and sow the seeds of a more intentional digital presence in the future?
Like a tin of paint, online presence is all about the application. Paint is not much use in the tin. Similarly, online initiatives are not much use if they stay there. Only when paint ends up on a wall does it fulfil its true purpose. An online presence is only ministry if it leads to encounter, conversion, sacrament reception and transformed lives in the real world.
Here are some pointers to help you be more intentional about engaging—and evangelising—in the midst of crisis.
Like onions, our parishes consist of ‘layers’ of people:
A large portion of the people in our middle ‘congregation’ layer are habitual Catholics who attend Mass most weeks and have little other engagement with parish life. As parish leadership, you will be missing interacting and living among this group, and you will be wondering, ‘Where are my people? Are they well? Are they engaging with us online? Are they praying, serving and connecting with each other?’ It’s hard to plan your engagement strategy if you don’t know what your parishioners are experiencing. Barna is a respected provider of tools for measuring parishioner engagement. During the pandemic, Barna have collaborated with the online platform Gloo to offer parishes a free measurement tool that allows you to poll your leaders and congregation in order to make more targeted pastoral decisions. You can access the free tool here. Or you could adapt this example of a congregational survey for your own parish and deliver it on a platform like Survey Monkey.
You’ve probably heard talk of ‘views’ of videos and live-stream Masses. Many parishes are seeing digital attendance numbers far higher than their usual physical attendance numbers. That’s amazing and very encouraging.
However, views are far less valuable than engagement. Viewers will eventually click away unless they begin to participate and become engagers. We need to intentionally move our online congregations from viewers to engagers, who are more likely to return and to dig deeper.
Here are some ideas to engage:
Your website, prayer and reflection resources, and online Masses are a front door—a big one—into your parish community. This is true, not just during this time of COVID-19, but in our whole twenty-first century life. Our church buildings, when open, house our people for just an hour or two a week. The online world connects people from their homes, workplaces and communities for a significant portion of the other 167 hours. Use your online presence to invite people through your front door and deeper into faith and the life of your community. To dig deeper:
It’s been a tough season for priests and their parishes as they try to help people struggling physically and financially, while observing gathering restrictions. Identify problems the pandemic is causing in your community and find ways to respond.
Some ways that parishes are serving their communities include:
The Gospel is not constrained by quarantine, because Jesus is bigger than the coronavirus! God can and is moving powerfully through this time; our challenge is to prayerfully discern where the Holy Spirit is moving and then go there and join in the work. The internet is the new parish front door—and it’s a big one. May we open this door wide as we seek to become disciples who make disciples!
The online world connects people from their homes, workplaces and communities for a significant portion of the other 167 hours. Use your online presence to invite people through your front door and deeper into faith and the life of your community.
The Archdiocesan Animation Team is available to discuss strategies with you and/or your team, and to facilitate sessions with your team (remotely) on many topics and issues. Just ask! Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123, or at email@example.com.
Melbourne Catholic03 December 2020
Melbourne Catholic27 November 2020