Keeping parish communities dynamic during the COVID-19
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.
1. Find out about your people
Like onions, our parishes consist of ‘layers’ of people:
- leadership: parish priests, staff, key volunteers
- congregation: Masses and groups
- households: families, young adults, older adults.
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.
2. Aim for engagement
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:
- Share your vision for your parish during this time. What are you doing? Who are you reaching? How can people connect?
- Communicate frequently, over a number of channels (website, Facebook, email, bulletins, mail) about what the parish is doing during the pandemic. Even people who are regulars may be unaware of what is happening.
- Provide details (both phone and digital) for people to make contact with you across all your channels.
- Capture email addresses and follow up regularly with invitations to engage more deeply.
- Ask your viewers to leave prayer requests on your site before and during the Mass.
- Have your team available before, during and after Mass to respond to comments and pray with people.
- During your homily, ask a question for your viewers to engage with on the ‘chat’ function on YouTube or Facebook—for example, ‘What is Jesus calling you to do this week?’ Then:
- follow your Mass with a time of online comments and responses to the question
- have the priest come back onto the live-stream after Mass to facilitate discussion and greet people who are using the chat.
See an example here of a Mass with an active chat feed on the side, slides of all prayers on screen during Mass, and the celebrating priest remaining afterwards to engage. (It’s messy, but real.)