Last week I had the pleasure of facilitating a focus group set up by my pastor with five other pastors from the Diocese of Cleveland. They are committed to the New Evangelization and want to see how their parish web presence can support that mission. Each of the pastors had completed a survey that I had sent ahead of time. They represented suburban parishes of 1800 to more than 3000 families. All of their parishes had websites and most of them were on Facebook.
We discussed the challenges of commitment to the New Evangelization which calls active Catholics to reach out and welcome back inactive members. The biggest challenge is that most Church goers do not understand that this outreach is part of their faith commitment. And that welcoming and incorporating new comers into the community is also part of their responsibility.
We talked about Pope Francis’ insight that our social media presence should be less about telling and more about listening, engaging, and encouraging. How can we do that when we have so much to say? Listening and engaging represent a different mindset. We need to explore how to take it on.
Most of their websites are directly serving their Church-going members. We discussed the importance of including visitors, new comers, and inactive Catholics in our intended audience and providing not only a welcome to them, but also information that would serve their needs.
We discussed the relative importance of websites and social media to their role as pastor. What turned out to be most important to them was email. One sends electronic newsletters to parishioners a few times a year, another sends a bulk email message on Saturday mornings with a preview of the Gospel message for the weekend.
Some are already blogging; others have considered it, but are afraid to start.
When we discussed web presence and engagement, some were worried about allowing comments and then dealing with negative and abusive posts. My response to that was that most comments do not need a response (although responding is a good idea when possible) and negative comments can be instructive. One should always require that comments be moderated by the administrator before they are posted. Abusive posts can be left unapproved or deleted. Legitimate questions, however, need to be answered.
I was delighted with the energy and engagement of these pastors around the topics. I told them that they were exceptional and pioneers. It will be up to pastors like them to explore the possibilities, to test them out, learn from them and create models of web presence and engagement for others to follow.
What would you have said to these pastors?