“Many potential candidates [to religious life], especially those who are younger, have had limited, if any, direct exposure to men and women religious. For some, a website will be their first introduction to a religious institute.” This statement is from the 2009 STUDY ON RECENT VOCATIONS TO RELIGIOUS LIFE, a study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) on behalf of the National Religious Vocation Conference. The statement has not been lost on vocation directors.
Catholic Web Solutions and Christian Brothers Services teamed up recently to poll vocation directors in religious institutes on their use of websites, social media and online promotions to support their ministries. Approximately 25% of the estimated 900 apostolic religious communities in the U.S. responded to the survey. Eighty-three percent of the respondents indicate they have a vocations website. More than half of these also post videos, engage in social media and have interactive elements on the sites.
Thirty-five percent of vocation directors are involved directly with their websites and 83% are involved with their social media offerings. This is a whole new area of vocations ministry and requires time, personnel and budgets that are always being stretched to do more.
The survey results were the subject of a webinar hosted by Christian Brothers Services on February 23. I gave an overview of the profile of the respondents, their communities and how they are using the Internet for vocations. I also offered my own observations on the results of the survey and the place of online connections in the whole process of vocation work. We had a very good Q and A session at the end of webinar.
All of us who have become active online as part of our ministries have learned a few things that I shared with the vocation directors:
- A website is not enough. We need a website that responds to and interacts with visitors
- A Facebook page is not enough. We need a Facebook page that stimulates response and compels sharing
- Online ads are not enough. We need ads that lead to action steps.
- One online channel is not enough. We need multiple channels of communication.
- Not only must we have multiple channels, we must be promoting them all.
Being on the Internet is not enough for any of us. We need to be there effectively and that takes time and a willingness to learn from others and from trial and error. For vocation directors as well as for many of us in ministry, the Internet is a “casting of the nets.” Whether we are looking for new members or ministry partners, the Internet connection is opening the door to relationships that need to be nurtured through multiple online and offline experiences. Unless we are online, we may never get the chance to have those ministry experiences with most of the younger generation—because online is where they look first. If we not there, it is unlikely that they will meet us any place else.