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Parish Communication: Problem and Solution

Parish Communication, Problem and Solution

Parish Communication: Problem and Solution

In every parish, the people’s faith and the celebration of sacraments are the soul of parish life. Suppose faith and sacramental life are the soul of the parish. In that case, communication is the heartbeat that circulates knowledge about parish life, keeps people connected, and reaches out to the broader community. Many parish pastors and staff think they are doing enough for communications. But are they? When was the last time you did a self-audit about your communications?

Here are some questions to think about. How much time and effort do you put into your parish bulletin? Is it refreshed periodically in its look and style? Is the information relevant and consistent? How many bulletins do you print or have printed each week? How many parishioners take a bulletin? How many read the bulletin? How many reviews are on the bulletin on any day other than Sunday?

Communication Audit

One pastor recently brought in a consultant to give him a report on those very questions. Here’s what he found out. The production of the bulletin required 20 hours of staff time per week. The bulletin company refreshed the bulletin covers according to the liturgical season, but the basic cover had stayed the same for years. The inner layout was always the same. Eight hundred bulletins were printed weekly. About 700 were distributed at masses because the ushers handed them out (and they were often used as fans in the hot months or had children’s drawings in crayons all over them). Over 200 were “cleaned up” each weekend after masses were over. About 50 were mailed to older parishioners who requested them. Eight parishioners reported reading the bulletin during the week. About two calls came into the parish office each week regarding something seen in the bulletin. No one who didn’t come to mass or had the bulletin mailed to them ever saw it, as far as they knew. 

The bulletin required lots of effort, but its effectiveness as the parish’s primary communication tool was suspect!

Website and Social media issues

The parish also had a website. The homepage was reasonably attractive but had not been updated in several years. Vital information, such as location and mass times, were on the homepage, but all other information required clicking into various layers of menus and sub-menus. For example, if someone wanted to donate to the parish, it needed to go through three clicks to get to the correct form. Or, if you wanted to email the pastor, religious education director, or parish secretary, you had to click through other layers to get there. The web page was rarely refreshed and had become a parking lot for old information. A website tracker found that the parish website had steadily declined in the number of new clicks over several years.

The parish website held vital information, but its effectiveness as one of the primary communication tools for the parish was also clearly suspect. The website, which could be a very effective tool for many parishioners and non-parishioners, was not close to its potential because of neglect.

The parish read its announcements after communion at mass, but the auditor found that nearly one-third of parishioners were leaving before the announcements were made.

The parish also had some social media like Facebook and Instagram. Still, they were coordinated by parish organizations, and there was no social media policy or plan, so the results of the effectiveness of these media were mixed.

The communication audit ended by telling the pastor that while some, especially older parishioners, read the bulletin, it was ineffective as a communication piece for the middle-aged and younger parishioners (except, perhaps, the children with crayons!)

The pastor began to understand that his parish’s communications were a major pastoral problem! No wonder so few volunteered for things when the call went out! No wonder the parish office received many phone calls asking for basic information! No wonder new parishioners were few and far between! The question was, what could be done about it?

Thinking about Solutions

Before deciding what to do about parish communications, it’s essential to know some recent information about effective communications in general. These lessons have been learned through for-profit marketing studies and the study of the most effective nonprofits and churches.

Over 90% of adult Americans now have a smartphone or a tablet, like an iPad. This is true of all groups, from teens through Baby Boomers! Americans, on average, check their phones for calls or messages 144 times per day. 89% of Americans check their messages within ten minutes of waking up. 75% of Americans will check their smartphone for a message within 5 minutes of being notified by a ding or buzz. Americans spend an average of 4 hours and 25 minutes daily on their phones for messages, emails, social media, and talking. 70% use their phone or tablet at work, during work. 98.1% of Americans with smartphones or tablets use them while watching TV at home. Even the bathroom could be more safe! 75% report checking their smartphone or tablet while in the powder room! Even the Baby Boomer generation, now in their 60s through 80s, report containing their mobile device for messages within 5 minutes! (This information was gathered by reviews.org for the year 2023!)

What we know nationally about church bulletins is that about 25% of your parishioners read them, most of them during mass. 37% of parishioners will go online to your website if it is kept fresh and up to date. Only 2% of your parishioners will review the bulletin Monday through Saturday.

Even for the oldest Americans, electronic communication has become the overwhelming choice for receiving and sending communications! The fastest-growing demographic for Facebook users in the U.S. is people over 50.

When considering solutions for your parish communication plan, your use of emails, text messages, and social media is becoming crucial! You are probably already doing some of these things, but not necessarily in a planned or coordinated way.

Recommendations and things to keep in mind

  1. See if your diocesan communications or development and stewardship office can help you audit your current work and offer you some direction. GiveCentral can also provide you with a basic communications audit.
  2. Your website should be attractive, practical, and changeable periodically! It should be a manageable information parking lot. You may have parishioners who are web page designers. Ask for their help, or get a website creator to help you update it.
  3. Don’t be afraid of text messaging your parishioners! You are not bothering them. 89% of your people get most of their daily personal information through text messages.
  4. Email your parishioners regularly. Most of them will look forward to hearing from their parish. It’s fast, and it’s simple to do.
  5. Direct mail through the Post Office is still effective periodically. For example, before the Christmas or Easter seasons, you can bulk-mail every household in your area. Also, contact your local realtor board. They know the addresses of every new family and business in your area. This is a great way to reach new people.
  6. Parish communications have become more complex over time, and it’s not a question of using only one means of communication. Bulletins still have value, and some parishioners will always prefer to have printed text. Don’t dump the bulletin! But realize that its days are numbered. You could do a parish survey and find out how many printed bulletins you need. Others may want the bulletin but prefer to have it by email!

Texts, emails, and social media are by far and away the most effective forms of communication these days for the vast majority of your people. Even for your oldest parishioners! Think about using ALL forms of communication, not just one.

 GiveCentral GC Smart Tools

If you are working with GiveCentral, you already have an array of GC SmartTools you can use to make your communications exceptionally effective! You can already text individuals, groups, or the whole parish if you want! Also, you can create and send emails to everyone on your list or even just one person if you choose! Additionally, you can make direct mail mailing lists quickly and easily with your GC SmartTools

Learning how to use them to their best advantage is a matter of learning. If it all seems overwhelming, don’t be afraid! Contact GiveCentral at implementation@givecentral.org and tell us you want to learn how to use the GC SmartTools. We’ll walk you through the process and help you anytime needed! 

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