Effective high tech? Personal connections

| Julie Craven | November 21, 2019 | 0 Comments


In the second half of my corporate career, I had responsibilities for communications. It was all about key messages, platforms and measurement. I served as spokesperson, worked with media and targeted audiences. My husband, Doug, and I retired, relocated to downtown Minneapolis, and began attending Our Lady of Lourdes a few years ago. When we joined our downtown parish, I volunteered to serve as a eucharistic minister. Father Dan Griffith, after asking me a few questions about my experience, commented, “Oh, I have something else in mind for you.” Providence. I am now the director of communications and strategic initiatives at the parish.

Some things are much the same in corporate and parish communications. The speed with which digital communications change (some of us remember computer labs in schools; good grief, some of us remember punch cards!) is at the top of the list. In the span of a decade, communicators had to re-tool, well, everything! Websites replaced bulletin boards, e-newsletters replaced print editions, and online forms replaced hard copy options. Because young people don’t know a world that didn’t include these tools, we could assume that digital “comms” are the answer for reaching young adults.

I would disagree with that assumption based on the initiatives I see working to reach young adults in our area. The common thread is not Facebook posts or blogs. It’s not a communications plan or a schedule on HootSuite. What they all have in common is the way they help create space for personal connections. This will appear to be a disparate list, so stay with me:

  • Vespers at Lourdes is “A substantial encounter with the Living God.” It is a parish/archdiocesan blend of devotions and signature cocktails, held monthly at Our Lady of Lourdes. When Isaac Huss and his friends proposed the idea of a regular evening of prayer and fellowship to Father Griffith, Isaac said his preaching had resonated with them, and they thought he would “give them the space to do their own thing.”
  • In a behind-the-scenes and critical way, the good work being done by Nicole Mamura and Michael Pytleski from the Communications Department at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Nicole is liaison extraordinaire between parish communicators and the archdiocese, constantly connecting people and events. Michael takes The Catholic Spirit content and deftly tailors stories in different ways, on different platforms, for different audiences.
  • MSP Catholic. Tim Cahill and his colleagues have built a digital hub that offers up multichannel, ”local Catholic Content,” featuring events, blogs and parishes. Wonder where the next Catholic Beer Club meeting is or when to sign up for broomball with the Basilica Young Adults? It’s all there.
  • The most established parts of an organization can be the most challenging to adapt. James Ondrey at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul has done a great job of using old and new comms tools to get the word out about young adult events like Theology on Tap and the Catholic Softball group.
  • The Northeast Catholic Collective group, with Father Spencer Howe and Father Byron Hagan, is intriguing. They’ve tapped into the heart and soul of Northeast Minneapolis to create comms, events and programs that reflect this unique neighborhood.
  • The Catholic Communicators group was the brainchild of Melissa Nault at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie. She and Meghan Hathaway at St. Hubert in Chanhassen make these roundtable meetings for communicators happen. Although not exclusively about young adult evangelization, that topic comes up every month in these best-practice discussions.

This commentary would not be complete without at least some nerdy digital recommendations. Here are six:

  • First, get your website right. A high functioning website, with navigation appropriate for your audience, is table stakes. The “hub and spoke” model — social media posts need a home for the rest of the story.
  • Word of mouth is still No. 1. In the digital world we call them “likes” and “retweets.” In Marketing 101 it was “word of mouth” ­— hearing it from a friend.
  • Facebook is not dead. (If you want proof of that, try changing a Mass time and neglecting to post it on Facebook!) Yes, Instagram is more mobile-friendly and is trending up with young adults, but Facebook’s lead position, its shear numbers and the way it has become part of our lives underscores its important position.
  • But Instagram is pretty sweet. A social media platform focused on images? Emotions, faces, the beauty of Catholic art, sacraments and sacramentals? Perfect. You could even say heaven sent.
  • Monitor and adjust. The beauty of digital is how quickly it gets out there, and how quickly you can edit and respond if needed.
  • Informal doesn’t mean irreverent. Every area, business, profession, has its own language, its own shorthand. Nowhere perhaps is that more true than in the Catholic Church (where sometimes, it actually IS a foreign language!). A conversational tone is more accessible. Descriptors are helpful if the term is something a new Catholic or non-Catholic would not know. The message works best when it is in the crisp language of social media.

Recently our newly assigned parochial vicar at Lourdes, Father Bryce Evans, met with young adults to get their ideas. We called it “Last Chance Mass + The Sonder Shaker” in our parish comms — he celebrated the 7 p.m. Mass on a Sunday and folks were invited to walk next door to The Sonder Shaker restaurant for fellowship. I asked him about his takeaway from the conversations and he said, “Small groups. They want to explore small groups of young adults that meet.”

So although we have amazing tools right in our hands (did you know your mobile device has more computing power than NASA had when they landed a man on the moon?!) it is the personal connections we make that bring us closer to the person of Christ. Pope Francis talks about how “spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God.” Our social media tools should be the equal of the best digital comms in the secular space, but they are secondary, simply tools, in our work to make Jesus known in this world. Thanks and go #spreadtheWord.

Craven is a communications and marketing professional. She can be reached at julie.craven@ourladyoflourdesmn.com.

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Category: The Local Church