This guide was adapted from the community guidelines of Prince of Peace Church in Taylors. Many thanks to Kylee Jean Heap!
Below are a few ways to reach out to our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The communication volume online is high, to the point that it’s difficult to get elbow room. People who were consistently on social media are now needing to take a step back, so your online presence can be a welcome respite.
Look at what makes your church unique to your parishioners. People can “attend church” anywhere in the world that has a livestream now. Identify what makes your parish special to your community, then continue to give parishioners that feeling of “home” online.
- Where do you feel the most enthusiasm in your parish?
- What do new parishioners say brings them to join you?
- How does your priest best connect with the individual?
Once you know what you’re going to communicate, decide how. Here are a few tips:
- The emphasis always needs to be on brief, simple communication.
- Certain communications shine best on particular platforms. Are you hoping to showcase what’s happening? Consider Instagram and Facebook.
- Use an email distribution service like MailChimp. You can build an audience (even create a signup form for news from your parish) and also track how many people opened and clicked the information to help you plan your emails more effectively.
- Once you know who isn’t opening emails, or who doesn’t have one, you can physically mail information out to them.
- Create a calling campaign to let your parishioners know what you’re doing online, especially since nearly every parish is struggling to keep offertory up.
- Assemble a committee of personable people, provide a script, give them a little training on how to answer frequently asked questions, and make sure that it’s communicated to every parishioner how much they are missed and cared about.
- Consider “personable” to be about their phone communication style: are they never at a loss for words, do they smile when they speak, are they informed, will they communicate empathy, are they personally in a “good place” to be speaking to others?
- Consider new content that’s especially for the current crisis: e.g. launching a men’s group on building the domestic church.
TIPS: 1) Not everyone agrees on what’s funny, especially right now. Your online audience will let you know soon enough what is and is not acceptable to them. 2) Balance out your communications between original and shared content. 3) LIVE is not necessary for everything. A pre-recorded video can be “premiered” on Facebook, which will notify your followers.
Look over your parish’s schedule. Take note of a few favorite activities of a typical week in the life of your parish. How can you bring these to your parishioners online?
- Mass is the number one thing to provide if you can, especially during Easter and leading up to Pentecost. If you can’t, pick another local parish or the diocesan livestream to which you can direct people.
- Does the pastor post homilies online? Now’s the time to start. Keep putting out a digital bulletin, even if it’s substantially smaller, there are resources you can provide your Catholic community.
- Consider educational opportunities like a women’s Skype meeting, RCIA or Bible studies.
- Have your pastor record a message to your school children, or whichever group needs encouragement most.
- People are built for relationship in a period that calls for isolation. Host a holy hour and other devotions with your pastor, or even a live chat.
- People will suffer emotionally and spiritually during this crisis, especially those already inclined toward mental illness. Encourage your Catholic community to check on each other and to contact the parish when it’s important for the pastor to follow up.
Where your parishioners are online matters.
- If the majority of your parish is younger families, you need to be a heavy presence on Instagram. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: share from @DioceseChas, @the.catholic.miscellany, plus @ChurchPop, @Catholiclink_en/@Catholiclink_es, @BishopBarron, @WordonFire_CatholicMinistries, @USCCB. There are lots of authentic, Catholic resources.
- If your audience is older, Facebook is where most of them will be. Again, you can share from facebook.com/DioceseChas and other local parishes and schools who are creating content, if you do not have the ability to create your own.
- Consider creating groups on Facebook for specific groups and interests: e.g. a parish & school group, Moms group, foster family group, and others that apply to your parish community and its needs.
- Are you on social media as a parish or as the individual pastor? Being online as your parish is preferred so that you can be found more easily, and you build something that lasts beyond your tenure.
TIP: Consider internet prowess of your community when creating things — please don’t assume an elderly community can or will learn Snapchat because it’s the preference of the office staff!
A great many of the elderly are not online, and rural communities may have very limited connectivity.
- Don’t neglect phone calls and physical mail as an important communications stream.
- Think about who is missing in the communication streams you are managing during COVID-19: How will you serve them?
Consistency is key. This may mean posting at the same time of day, using the same general email for communications, or updating the same link rather than posting a new one. Try to keep some version of your bulletin going, especially if that’s the only source of the state of your offertory. If the bar is high for a parishioner to find and retrieve the information they’re seeking, they may not make the effort.
Time is precious and some parishioners have more than ever, and others less. Try a few things and whittle down your content and process to what serves your community, without having a damaging effect yourself and your mental health in the process.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- If you have no budget for communications, you may have parishioners who are passionate about supporting it. Support might take the shape of loaning equipment, hosting “watch parties,” sharing your posts on social media, or donating to the effort.
- Your parish is made up of talented people who are willing to serve, especially due to job displacement in COVID-19. Send out requests and give your parish community the tools necessary to serve.
- Be sure you’re an admin and have current passwords to all of your platforms. Establish norms and expectations with volunteers speaking on behalf of your parish. Stay on top of what’s being communicated by setting up notifications to your personal account (or phone) for every post.
- If the pastor or parish priest does not understand social media, advanced approval of content should be in place.
- Watching a private Mass is not for everyone during COVID-19. Families wrangling young children to watch a private Mass on TV may be even harder than in the pews.
- To serve those families, you can create (or share) educational and catechetical content for distribution on Facebook, IGTV (Instagram video), and YouTube platforms.
- Have your principal, teachers, or pastor read stories to kids each week — maybe even kids’ Bible stories for Sundays.
- We’re living in historic times! Snap photos. Save letters. Get parishioners to send in photos of their families watching Mass and living their domestic church.
Email Anne Clark: email@example.com.