Even when parishes work hard at good communication - someone can find a reason to complain. "I wasn't informed!" "When did that happen?" Nonetheless we've also noticed that when parishes do work hard at communication, particularly harnessing the rapid delivery and low cost of email or other electronic channels, many people notice and appreciate it. The benefits:
- A sense of energy is conveyed.
- The church feels less fossilized. Particularly to teens, 20 somethings -- and older.
- A link to absent parishioners is maintained.
- The parish and its mission is not forgotten between Sundays/weekends.
- Complex topics can be explained and communicated clearly and consistently. And reinforced.
- And, communication complaints drop. Not disappear --but drop!
Examples of E-Mail Use in Parishes
So how do parishes use email? The following summarizes how six OCA parishes use email -- and their variations in frequency, content, tone and author. Many of these ideas can work for Facebook or other social media approaches as well. (We'll specifically look at Facebook in a future Parish Pulse.)
Perhaps a more active email communication ministry will require the parish to equip the priest or others with new equipment. Send your Apple IIe to the graveyard!
Parish 1: Keep it Simple
This parish's relatively basic Sunday bulletin is emailed on Saturday as an attached pdf file. Simple right? You can do this.
Parish 2: What is Happening Tomorrow
Formatted text of the parish's extensive bulletin is pasted into an email and sent every Saturday AM. (No need to click on attachments.) Parishioners --regular and infrequent -- are reminded of tomorrow's Gospel/epistle, commitments for readers, greeters, prosphora, coffee hour and weekly class content. Also included are 2-3 topical, brief articles --often quotes from the Church Fathers, updates on planned use of the parish charities fund and occasionally a brief summary of Parish council meetings. The priest writes a blog (usually 3-4 blog posts per week) and links to the blog posts are included.
This parish sends out 5-10 emails per month. These emails almost always aggregate "news items" (service schedule, special note about..., meetings, classes, progress on special projects, deaths, births, illness and always some "thank you's".) Often the emails come out on Monday. Occasionally photos of new families are shared with permission. A copy of the previous day's bulletin is attached as a .pdf -- usually with some elaboration.
The Parish Communication Ministry? Parishes are learning that most parishioners use email
The emphasis is on community, engagement, encouragement and easy readability.
In this parish the priest has responsibilities outside the parish so a lay person prepares and sends a mid-week email. It includes bulletin announcements, calendar items, events at nearby parishes, a few timely links, monthly financial data, a prayer list and more. This ministry conveys a sense of delegation and broad participation. A parish Facebook page helps keep announcements and schedules readily available and archived.
Parish 5: Daily Bread
Parishioners in this parish receive an email from the rector every morning. It includes the chapter/verse of the day's epistle and gospel along with a brief (1-3 sentence) explanation of a key point. Sometimes these messages answer a faith question from a parishioner. ("Why do we...") The answer is always clear and concise -- yet complete. Slowly the questions get better! A very active Facebook page encourages parishioners to share Q/A's and announcements with 'friends'.
Parish 6 Active Electronic Teaching Ministry
This parish has a highly active email based communication approach including:
- A layperson manages a prayer list --receiving and forwarding prayer requests.
- A Monday email from the priest reinforces, often in great depth, key points from the previous day's sermon, gospel or feast.
- The priest sends 1-2 informational/ announcement emails per week. (Events, reminders of midweek services, "don't forget tonight's class on...")
- One or more emails per week exploring a topic of theological or moral significance to the Church or society are written and shared with the parish.
Often twenty or more emails per month are received by parishioners. Does everyone read every email? Probably not-- but their faith is regularly explained and continually emphasized in their daily routine. And they certainly know -- their parish has not forgotten them.
Churches need to continually work to engage people in the work of Christ through the parish -- and keep them engaged. We believe one of the above approaches - or a variant -- can be used in any parish. The secret, as we see it, is consistency. Teach people to expect to hear from their parish more than Sunday --and then deliver!
Questions? Concerns? Let us hear from you.Do you have a different approach? Share it with us