Okay, now that I have lured you in with a click-bait title I can actually get on with it.
I had been at All Saints’ Cathedral from when I started attending Anglican services in March 2008, went briefly to Good Shepherd Church the first half of 2014 as part of my discernment process, and instead of going back to the Cathedral I started attending St. Stephen the Martyr’s at the end of August 2014. I have loved, truly loved, each of these parishes I have been at. Each has been very different how they operate: one is a Cathedral located in a downtown core, another is an Evangelical leaning Parish, and the other is decidedly Anglo-Catholic.
When I came to St. Stephen’s in 2014 the Parish has a stop-gap website without a lot of information, it had no Facebook Page, no Twitter account, no social media advertisement and an average Sunday attendance of around 40. I’d like to say that I came in, set up the website, did a little work and the parish was bursting at the seems. Truthful, it didn’t help us a lot, but it was a good start.
I work full-time, and part-time (being the the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves), I am a father, and also a part time student.
I don’t have a lot of free time.
And the ads felt like a waste of money at a parish that didn’t have a lot of money to waste.
Last year, after realizing I did not have the time needed to do as much as should be getting done for social media I decided to reach out to other members of the Parish for assistance… and I am slowly getting it.
I have always felt that Social Media needs to be a vibrant part of Parish life. It helps connect parishioners, it can help draw people in. And, for an Anglo-Catholic Parish like my current one helping to stand out is very important.
For a few years I have wanted to do a blog post on this, and I only today decided to have the courage to say it: Social Media in Ministry needs to be a full time gig.
Now, before anyone goes “Maple, that’s insane. You’d have to be a Parish with major funds like Trinity Wall Street, St. Martin’s Houston, or St. Paul’s Bloor Street to be able to justify having someone whose full time job was doing Ministry via Social Media”.
Firstly, I am not saying that every Parish needs a full time employee handling their Social Media. Yes, if you are a really, really rich parish go ahead and hire someone. For the 99% that doesn’t apply.
What I am saying it that pooled resources among several parishes can make a difference.
Now, I did compile a list so the click-bait title wasn’t a complete lie. Here it goes.
1. Dioceses Should Operate a Social Media Crew for their Parishes
Rather than have one or two members of a congregation be trying to take on the monumental task of:
- Updating the Website,
- Sending out Tweets,
- Setting up Events on Facebook,
- Adjusting Ads,
It may make more sense for a Diocese (depending on their size) to have a crew that helps front requests for the Parishes from either a coordinator at the Parish, or from their Rector. They could make request by phone call, or email. They could even be their to make suggestions.
2. Dioceses Should Hold Bulk Web Hosting for Their Parishes
With the exception of the Church of Ireland the general standard is that each parish is on their own when it comes to web hosting. It is up to some Parishioner to build the website from scratch and maintain it, or the Parish spends a tonne of money having someone else do it for them.
In view this as Economies of Scale it makes much, much more sense to have a Diocese have a central Web Hosting solution, either with their own servers, or wit a bulk account with a hosting provider. As various contracts the parishes are in come up their move their hosting to be under the diocese, including their domain name.
To top it off a designated person or team at the Diocese is the one with Root/Admin privileges for everything, handing out accesses to authorized users at individual parishes when they need it.
If a Parishioner who was the Website Administrator dies, moves, or suddenly decides to leave the parish in a huff then the Parish is less likely in a lurch.
Smaller Parishes would know that they have access to have a pro do all their work for them. Medium to Larger Parishes would know they have a back up at the Diocese and a way to get access if they need it.
And, yes, I recognize the obvious chance a Bishop or other Diocesan Staff might get on a power trip. However, I think the savings in time, energy and resources would offset that.
3. Dioceses Should Be Encouraging and Enabling Their Parishes to Use Social Media
Every single year in my Diocese the Rector or Incumbent Priest is required to file a slew of paperwork with the Synod Office. This is everything from who was elected and appointed to positions in the Parish at the AGM, to mission plans.
Dioceses should be encouraging and Enabling their parishes to use social media, and actually ask each Parish “What are you doing? What would you like to do? If you need it how can we help you do that?”
4. Dioceses Must Encourage Parishes to Use Their Resources Wisely
Print is Dead.
Actually, that is a lie.
Print isn’t dead yet, but it is in the Hospice … and will soon go the way of video rental stores.
About five years ago I got into a discussion with an Elderly parishioner who was very insistent that the Parish needed to put more ads in the two main newspapers for Edmonton. I regret being as blunt with him as I was, however, the truth of the matter is that Newspapers are a dying industry. You might be able to attract the attention of someone middle age and older with a newspaper ad to your Church, but most of those people already have a Church and are set in their ways.
Newspaper ads do almost nothing to attract Millennials, or teenagers.
Do not waste your Parish’s money on Newspaper Ads.
This is probably the best example I have of money being wasted. There are other ways, and Dioceses should be a driving force behind getting their Parishes to spend their funds wisely.
Last but least
5. Bishops Need to be Visible on Social Media
Before I go any further I want to say this comment is not pointed on any one Bishop or Diocese in particular. So, if you are reading this, and you are a Bishop, this is not aimed at you.
Bishops are supposed to be the Chief Pastors of their Diocese. The very nature of Episcopal polity has in it that Parishes, and each of the faithful, has a relationship with their Bishop.
Is your Bishop on Twitter, or Facebook? They don’t have to be, but are they? If so, how often do they post something? Did they post something they did last time they visited your Parish? Do you know what was the last parish they visited? Do you know when the last time was they were at a House of Bishops meeting, were involved in a local community project, or were at an Ecumenical service with local clergy of another denomination?
Bishops should be very visible on Social Media. I would not dare suggest they should try becoming Social Media Celebrities, however, Bishops should carry a vibrant profile on Social Media.
Visiting a Parish to do Confirmations? Do a post a few days before you show up. Post a picture with yourself with the Confirmands et al on Facebook/Twitter. Tag the parish you visited, and possibly anyone else you interacted with.
Heading to a meeting with the House of Bishops? Post about how you “Look Forward to seeing my fellow Bishops” beforehand, or on your way to the airport. Get a few pictures with yourself and a few of them and post them. Mention some of the stuff you have done, or some of the talks that have occurred.
It doesn’t have to be a lot, however, it should be enough so that you are seen as being more “out and about” then some strange who works in an office and occasional comes to peoples Churches to Confirm their kids, and shake their hands.
Oh, and if by some chance you are a Metropolitan or a Primate reading this it goes double for you.
At the same time you should be encouraging, but certainly not forcing, the clergy of your diocese to be more active. Don’t get after them if they don’t feel comfortable.
The internet, and social media, can be a wonderful way of connecting to people. Using it ineffectively might be very costly in people’s time, and parish funds.