(Part Deaux) What We Learned Using Social Media and Other Technologies

This is Part Two (or deaux as we say it in Louisiana) of the Final Report on the C3 San Fernando Pastoral Region Cluster Parish Technology Pilot By Charlotte McCorquodale, PhD, Pilot Project ConsultantSeptember 30, 2014. This blog outlines specific technology integration projects we did in the pilot and what we learned from those along with some closing thoughts and observation by me, the pilot technology integration consultant.

Part Two: C3 SFPR Cluster Parish Technology Priorities and Findings

Parish Priority
(parishes participating
in this priority*)
What happened? What did we learn? 
  1. Get additional training in Google Apps for parish staff and ministry leaders (OLL, MEL, STE).
This priority was accomplished in a joint effort with the other parishes. After the numbers surged beyond 30 people we added a second trainer to assist the group.We learned that the additional trainer was a good idea and that the parish and school staffs attended the training together. Attendance by both groups was especially helpful for the parishes/schools that have adopted Google as a primary platform.
2. Get additional training in Facebook and other social media apps for parish leaders to encourage their use by a variety of ministries within the parish (OLL, MEL, STE). Social media training took place for parish leaders with a social media expert presenting on social media tips and strategies on how to contribute to social media platforms in the parish.We learned that in addition to providing a general social media training, it is important that specific training on each of the various forms of social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. may be more important and a first step. OLL has offered a number of these specific trainings with great success and reception for anyone who wants to learn how to use that social media. One of the most successful elements of the training was looking at actual Facebook pages and posts of parishes and evaluating them. It helped those present see what they would want to do and not do in order to engage their communities.
3. Assess parishioners’ preferred methods of communication, i.e., social media, e-mail, texting, telephone, etc. in order to communicate about parish events, funerals, etc. (OLL, MEL, STE). This assessment was promoted on Device Sunday, March 2, 2014.We learned that even using QR Codes and multiple ways of promoting the survey it was hard to get a good sample size. However, multiple requests helped, and stopping to have people take the survey during device Sunday would have helped but couldn’t happen due to time constraints.
4. Test out a scheduling app, “MinistrE-Space” for reserving parish facilities (OLL). Staff utilized this app and generally had positive results.
5. Development of a parish social media group/committee to facilitate better use of website and parish social media sites, including products like Hootsuite, which enables updating of several social media sites with one data entry (OLL, MEL, STE). Each parish community identified a social media coordinator. In two cases, it is a staff member, and in the other, a school teacher from the parish volunteers in the role. The role of this coordinator in each parish involves publishing social media content generally and for various parish ministries.We learned that Hootsuite is a good tool to use in managing social media and for parishes that have done nothing in the area of social media having a social media coach to help get started is beneficial.
6. Begin process for sharing Sunday homilies online (OLL).­­­­ The process was tested in Advent when the pastor recorded homilies for each Sunday of Advent. The pastor used an iPad to do the recording and a staff member edited it and shared it via social media. Charlotte taught the staff member responsible for editing to use Audacity (a powerful and easy to use audio editor).We learned that training on simple audio editing is important and the parish will use Lynda.com get more training in using audio/media development software.
7. Explore using QR codes in the parish bulletin to communicate about various aspects of parish life, including liturgical minister schedules (OLL, MEL, STE). Participated in the training on October 22 led by Charlotte and the parish used QR codes on flyers and in the bulletin to advertise both the Advent and Lenten Social Media Faith Formation Options.We learned people are fascinated by QR codes. It was helpful to teach parishioners how to download and use a QR code reader to increase use. One good strategy used by one parish was to provide this training as parishioners were coming out of Mass on Device Sunday.
8. Develop an accessible parish database and shared ministry calendar with both the parish and school that can be updated by a variety of ministry leaders (OLL, MEL, STE). Professional development funding by the project helped each parish get additional training on their database software.We learned that all the parishes have invested in database software such as ParishSOFT but they all are considerably under-using them due to lack of training. Also, it seems that keeping these databases up-to-date was a challenge for one or more of the parishes.
9. Seek out ways to collaborate with other parishes in the cluster in reaching out to youth, young adults, and families via social media (OLL, MEL, STE). Three collaborative social media outreach efforts have been a part of this project: #AdventOn (during Advent), #40DaysCount (during Lent) and a new initiative to reach out to young people confirmed this year (fall). 

We learned that having one hashtag for the entire Lenten season (#40DaysCount) was more effective than the weekly hashtags used in the advent season. Also, it helped tremendously to have postcards of the #40DaysCount logo and explanation in the bulletins and back of church during the Lenten season. Having content uploaded to a Google Doc was both a good way to curate content collaboratively and share updated content each week. A sample of the form used to curate content for Lent can be found here: http://goo.gl/prZMf3

We also learned that before we could start using social media in a couple of the parishes the various Facebook pages that were associated with the parish community had to be identified since in some cases different volunteers had created pages for the parish and for specific ministries.

A blog about what we learned in our Advent social media effort #AdventOn can be found at: http://www.ministrytrainingsource.org/blog/2014/02/02/c3-what-did-we-learn-about-using-technology-in-adventon/

10. Develop a virtual tour of the church (OLL, STE). The parishes altered the priority to develop a welcome video instead of a church tour. The project supplied some funding to help get the project filmed and edited.
11. Inform and educate the parish and school communities of the opportunities to grow in faith via digital and mobile technology (OLL, MEL, STE). On March 2, three parishes in San Fernando Pastoral Region (St. Mel’s, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Euphrasia) celebrated Digital Device Sunday. After the closing prayer but prior to dismal, the pastor and the parish social media coordinator explained how the parish would share faith this Lent in various ways, including using social media or digital devices. Parishioners were encouraged to bring digital devices (tablets, smart phones, etc.) to church on March 2 and learn how those devices can be tools for growing in faith during Lent.We learned through the experience of Device Sunday that parish staff reported the experience to be a positive one for their parish community. The bishop’s video was very good and had a positive impact on helping people see that this is part of a bigger effort with support from the bishop and the pope. Blessing of devices and having the social media coordinator review options for growing spiritually during Lent using the device were also noted as positive. Having a hard copy flyer in the bulletin was support material for the experience especially for those who didn’t have devices with them.

Two blogs were written about Device Sunday that provide greater detail on what occurred and what we learned. They can be accessed using the links below

12. Explore online giving options (STE). This option was explored extensively and it was decided that the parish website could not support online giving.We learned the first step to doing online giving is the establishment of a strong parish website that can be the location for online giving so a new goal was added.
13. Develop an improved online presence for the parish by developing a new parish website (STE). STE added this goal once they realized they needed to update their site for online giving. After extensive planning with the parish staff on the content for the new site the parish decided to go with Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), because it integrated with other services OSV provided the parish and came with a lot of pre-developed content that gets updated regularly.We learned that taking time to plan a website is very important before looking at vendors and that parishes with smaller staffs really need the structure that a vendor like OSV can provide.
  1. Provide parents information and formation online so they can continue the forming their children before, during, and after a sacramental preparation class (STE, MEL).
The parishes adjusted the priority to enable catechetical ministry staff and leaders to become comfortable with online education before offering it to parents. Professional development funding provided catechist the opportunity to take University of Dayton online courses to get catechist exposure.We learned that still a number of people have not experienced online learning so providing experiences of these to ministry leaders is the first step before they can offer it for others.
  1. Identify and test technology solutions for scheduling volunteers for Sunday liturgy, such as lectors, extraordinary ministers, and ushers (STE).
After researching many options of software, the parish decided to use Rotunda Ministry Scheduling Pro software because it integrated with their database and it was highly recommended by a variety of sources.We learned that the having an up-to-date database is the first step in achieving this priority. In this case, the database from ParishSOFT that needed to be integrated into this software was out of date so to date the software hasn’t been implemented fully.
  1. Create a media explanation of ministries in parish in order to get more parishioners involved in the mission of the parish (MEL).
The parish has decided to focus specifically on the ministry that outreaches to those grieving.We learned even with support from someone from the outside to do filming it was difficult for the parish ministries to get organized and develop a script. Also, that it is a good strategy to start with a few ministries first to learn and then move it to a broader effort.
  1. Support the training of liturgical ministers by creating videos to be distributed online. (OLL, MEL, STE).
Early in the project a common goal that surfaced was the need for training ministerial leaders online. To that end the project developed a liturgical ministries video training series with a short intro to liturgical ministry in general, followed by four videos on ministries in the liturgy. The five segments of the series have been filmed and edited. The videos will be posted on the SFPR YouTube Channel. Each video provides a theological and theoretical foundation for that ministry with tips of best practices for engaging in the ministry. The intent is for parishes to refer those interested in volunteering for a liturgical ministry in one of the four areas to first watch the video, then attend an abbreviated training at the parish to cover the unique details and directions for individual parishes. Another option would be to use the videos to advertise for volunteers and to possibly show the video at the gathered training events.We learned that projects with this size and scope may need paid personnel vs. volunteers. Originally, we had a very small budget for the project with the intention of having volunteers from the SFPR Media Committee assists with the filming and editing. After completing two segments with volunteers it was clear we needed a budget for the project to pay in part for these services. C3 generously agreed to the additional funds.

The video series was a collaborative effort among the C3 project team, staff of the pastoral region, the SFPR Media Committee, and the Archdiocesan Office of Workshop. While working collaboratively was much more time intensive, it was worth the time and effort. The videos resulted in having the ability for local archdiocesan experts to provide consistent training without having to deal with the distance and traffic.

*OLL=Our Lady of Lourdes, Northridge; STE=St. Euphrasia, Granada Hills; MEL=St. Mel’s, Woodland Hills

Future Collaboration

There was shared interest in continuing to collaborate in the area of technology integration by parishes in the project, with a hope to include other parishes from the San Fernando Region. The following prioritized areas are those that the parishes would be most interested in continuing to collaborate around in the future:

  1. Coordinated social media campaigns such as #40DaysCount
  2. Curating content for distribution of via social media
  3. Sponsoring opportunities for networking and continued technology training with other parishes

The pilot project parishes would like to recommend to Bishop Wilkerson that this effort continue with two meetings for continued networking and collaboration to be held each year by the SFPR. The key to the success of this effort would be for the SFPR to take the lead in initiating the gathering and inviting parish leaders from throughout the region. It was also strongly believed that parish staff and leaders including pastors should participate in these biannual gatherings because it was the richness of the diversity of the project team that gave the pilot an opportunity to succeed.

Sharing the Lessons Learned from the Pilot: One of the goals of the pilot was to share what we learned, including, but not limited to, this report. Other ways that findings from the project have been or will be shared include:

  1. The project consultant will offer workshops for two of the regional congresses, including San Fernando, and at LA Congress, on best practices for technology integration into ministry based upon the activities of the cluster.
  2. Using a panel format the project team shared the findings of the project at the C3 technology conference. Here is a digital copy of the presentation: www.slideshare.net/charlottemccorquodale/c3-panel-workshop-on-cluster-project
  3. The project consultant will share findings of this pilot through various methods, including workshops, webinars, and blogs on technology integration into ministry.
  4. The cluster is willing to repeat the panel workshop at the first technology-networking gathering sponsored by the region to share findings and insights with other parishes in the region.

Closing Thoughts and Insights By Consultant

After working with these parishes and the San Fernando Pastoral Region for the past 18 months, three things have become very clear about technology integration into ministry settings. First, supportive leadership is critical. The leadership and direction provided by Bishop Wilkerson, his staff, and the pastors and their staffs was critical to the success this project achieved. It helped having the pastors and parish business administrators helping to set this as a priority for the parish communities by attending meetings and allocating staff time. Because technology can make things that once took a lot of time and effort happen easier and faster does not mean that it happens magically. Someone has to develop plans, test solutions, and implement action steps intentionally in order for progress to be made in technology integration. The commitment from the Archdiocesan C3 Work Group and the entire C3 Parish Pilot Project Team was very evident!

Second, training and continuing education must be done at the beginning, as well as often and throughout. At our first project team meeting, I told those gathered that the key to the success of this effort would be learning and that it would be at the center of all that we did because I knew that in any change process learning and adapting are critical. However, I did not realize that before we even took time to assess needs and set goals, we should have done some basic training to get everyone on the same page. The professional development funding came about halfway into our project, which means many of the educational opportunities and training programs did not take place until late in our efforts. While “better late than never” holds true in this situation, the entire project team believes our successes would have been multiplied by starting training for staff and ministry leaders much sooner.

Finally, at the heart of social media and the new digital technologies is the ability to communicate and collaborate more easily, which means it makes sense that parish communities with limited resources would benefit in collaborating in order to accomplish technology goals and priorities. While collaboration does take more time and effort because relationships must be built, trust established, and common goals identified, the benefits in this area truly exceed the effort required. Simple things like common hashtags for seasons of the liturgical year, curating content around common themes or needs, and sponsorship of efforts like Device Sunday are made easier and more of a priority by doing it across multiple parishes.  I think it is admirable that these parishes want to continue their collaboration and increase their networking opportunities by including other parishes in the San Fernando Pastoral Region.

With the continued explosion of social media and other apps, no one can ever be “the technology expert.” All of us need to learn from each other in order for the church to stay current in our efforts to integrate technology. Our joint effort is critical, as Pope Francis reminds us in his message for the 48th World Communication Day,

            “By means of the Internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the         earth” (Acts 1:8).  Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping     them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone…. today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ.”

Post Report Reflection

AMEN! I say to that message by Pope Francis because our experience in the pilot did indeed give us a peak into the potential that exisit if we work together to share the gospel  with everyone using social media and the “digital environment.” I would like to publically thank the pastors, parish staff, and ministry leaders, as well as the SFPR Staff and Bishop Wilkerson. It was a great learning experience working with all of you, thaks so much for your contribution of time and talent to the project! Like the children in this picture once the job is complete it is nice to step back reflect and maybe take a nap!

Christ the King Faith Formation

Christ the King Faith Formation

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