I was recently asked by a colleague to help put together a list of some resources for lay leaders in the Church. What I put together is by no means complete, but it does include a number of resources that I have found extremely helpful in the six years I have served as a catechetical leader in our diocese.
In the interest of sharing, here’s the list I supplied:
Today at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership convention in St. Louis I am offering a breakout session demonstrating three methods for holding online meetings. Below are my slides, notes, and additional resources for those who may be interested.
Today at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership convention in St. Louis I am offering a breakout session on holiness and management. Below are my slides, notes, and additional resources for those who may be interested in living out their vocation as a catechetical leader.
The book is based on interviews Rainer conducted with representatives from 12 closed churches. Through these interviews he identified various patterns and symptoms of dying churches: lack of evangelization, a failure to budget for mission, no communal prayer, etc.
Rainer’s purpose is not just to depress us, though. As he states in the outset, his hope is that this “autopsy” will help others to identify symptoms of an unhealthy church before it becomes a crisis. To that end he includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter to help church leaders discern the “vital signs” of their communities.
The book ends with suggestions for churches in various stages of decline. Rainer does not mince words. He advocates for drastic changes in drastic circumstances, something many communities will resist. But Rainer is not concerned with comfort; he is concerned with churches communicating the Gospel effectively.
A quick note to Catholic readers: while Rainer is Baptist and some of the examples in the book have a decidedly Protestant bent, the symptoms and suggestions identified by him are just as applicable to Catholic parishes. Any diocesan or parish leader interested in healthy parish communities would do well to read and reflect on Rainer’s work.
Last week, at our diocese’s annual Principals’ Leadership Conference, Kathie Sass, our soon-to-be-retired diocesan spokesperson, gave a wonderful presentation on the 10 steps leaders should take to anticipate and react to crises in their ministries. The talk was based on the work of Jonathan Bernstein.
First, Kathie outlined the steps organizations should take before a crisis to ensure they are ready should a crisis occur:
Anticipate crises and put written policies in place on how to avoid and deal with specific types of crises.
Identify a crisis communications team. The team should include whoever is the head of the organization, legal council, and someone on staff with expertise in the crisis area.
Appoint an official spokesperson. You don’t want media calling teachers, parents, etc. Appoint someone who is well-spoken, not just the person in charge.
Train your spokesperson!
Establish notification and monitoring systems. This includes both old media (television, radio, and newspapers) as well as new media (text messages, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.).
Identify and know your stakeholders. Communicate with them and let them know who to refer media inquiries to.
Develop holding statements. Don’t say “No comment”; at the very least express sympathy, offer prayers, and say that a statement will come later. Crisis communications team should review these holding statements regularly to ensure that they are well crafted, easily understood, and truthful!
Kathie then gave guidance on how to respond should a crisis occur:
At the outset of a crisis, assess the situation. Make sure you know the specifics before acting or making a statement. Reacting before you have all the information can result in bad decisions or hasty statements that must later be retracted. (This is where those holding statements come in handy!)
Finalize and adapt your key messages; continue to communicate these messages to your key stakeholders. Don’t automatically act on a lawyer’s advice to say nothing! Transparency can mitigate bad feelings and avoid the appearance of a cover up.
Do a post-crisis analysis. Detail what you did well, what you failed to anticipate, and how you could improve. Update your policies and procedures as needed.
All of us hope that we can avoid crises in our ministries, but the past few decades have shown that we all need to be prepared to act should the unthinkable happen.
As I mentioned on Twitter the other day my conference season is just around the corner. This year I’m attending both the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) conventions. After five years I think I’m finally getting the hang of attending a conference and getting the most out of it; here are a few tips if you’ll be attending these or one of the other fine conferences coming up!
Pack light… Don’t try to take everything and the kitchen sink, especially if you’re flying. Take the bare necessities. This will both lighten your load and make it easier to spend several days on your feet. I was able to attend my first NCCL conference — five days — with just a back pack. (The secret: rolling your clothes.)
…and leave room for goodies. The downside of that first NCCL conference was that I didn’t have any room for the free books, materials, and assorted goodies I got from various publishers and vendors. Fortunately my associate director drove to the conference, so I was able to give them to her to take back to Illinois. If not for her I might have had to explain to my wife why I left some shirts and pants behind.
Make the most of your time between sessions. Don’t get me wrong: I love attending breakout sessions, whether to hear a new speaker or find out how other dioceses are approaching particular challenges. But the real value of a conference is the connections made with other people. Don’t be afraid to approach a speaker or other attendee and engage with them; they are great resources that can be tapped after the conference is over! (Three years ago I even created an “audio postcard” by recording interviews with attendees at NCCL!)
Volunteer. Conferences are always in need of people to help with registrations, plan liturgies, escort speakers, hang signage, or just act as gofers. Volunteering is a great way to network and meet other dedicated catechists.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Did you go to a breakout speaker only to discover that the topic was vastly different from what you expected? Feel free to walk out and go to a different session. After all, your time is valuable and there is no sense in attending a session that you find uninteresting or unhelpful. Personally I operate on a five minute rule: if a breakout speaker or session hasn’t grabbed my attention within five minutes, I’ll generally try to find another to attend.
Stop by the exhibitors. If the conference you’re attending has an exhibitor’s hall, make sure to walk through it at least once. Lots of publishers have demos of new programs, special rates for attendees, and other “perks” that make it worth while. Perusing their booths also helps the conference: organizers rely on exhibitors purchasing booth space to cover some of the costs of the conference, but exhibitors won’t return if attendees don’t stop by.
Participate in the back channel. Twitter is one of the greatest conference attendance tools I know of. Through the use of hashtags it’s easy to find other attendees and have a conversation about what you’re seeing and hearing — even if they are sitting on the other side of a 1000-person ballroom!Even if you can’t attend a conference, following hashtags can give you a virtual convention experience. (The hashtags to follow for NCEA and NCCL are #NCEA14 and #NCCL2014, respectively.)
What advice do you have for people attending a conference this year?
Here are five suggestions for improving your leadership in 2014:
Hone Your Leadership Skills While many of us have degrees in theology, religious studies, and education, these degrees don’t always prepare us for the day-to-day work of leadership and management. You might pick up a good book (I’ve set up a list of some of my favorite leadership books), listen to a podcast like Manager Tools, or even try to take a course at a local college; regardless, make a commitment to learn more about how to be an effective leader in your parish or diocese!
Make Something… Too often in catechesis we look for a canned program instead of creating something that will meet the specific needs of our parishes and schools. This year, try creating something yourself! It doesn’t have to be grand. A short study guide, a reflection booklet, a prayer card; just flex your creativity for the glory of God!
…And Share It With the World If you have something you’ve made that you’re particularly happy with, share it! Send copies to your diocesan office to distribute, put it online, or just email it to someone. Share your blessings with others so that the great work you do isn’t just confined to your local area. You might even consider releasing your creation under a Creative Commons license.
Pray For Success Above all else, commit yourself to praying more for the success of your ministry. As I’ve mentioned before, our diocesan offices have been praying the Rosary weekly with a special intention for an increase in faith and discipleship in our parishes. Choose a special intention centered on your efforts and pray constantly for it!
What resolutions are you making regarding your ministry this year?
A few times a year I get manila envelopes in the mail from other diocesan catechetical offices. Every time I wonder “What is this?” And then it dawns on me: it’s another paper office newsletter.
I’m a bit bewildered why, in 2013, catechetical offices are still mailing physical newsletters. Part of that is my own history in diocesan work. In fact, in many ways I was fortunate: when I joined our diocese the catechetical office didn’t have a newsletter so when I instituted one it was simple to just go digital from the start. Still, there are some good reasons to make the move from a “dead tree edition” to an electronic newsletter.
Stewardship Diocesan offices are the beneficiaries of the generosity of our parishioners and donors. It behooves us to do as much as possible with these gifts by exercising good stewardship. Moving to an electronic newsletter cuts down on production costs by eliminating printing needs (including paper and ink) and postage charges. It also reduces our impact on the environment by keeping newsletters out of landfills.
Increased Production Values The paper newsletter I get are simple black-and-white affairs. By contrast moving to an online newsletter frees office from the constraints of ink costs and allows for the full use of color, photography, layout, typography, and design.
Utilizing Connectivity It can be hard to direct readers to the many wonderful online resources. By switching to an online newsletter it’s a simple matter of embedding a link into the document. This reduces the “friction” (resistance to movement) of getting people to a given resource by eliminating the process of manually retyping the URL in a browser. (And be honest — how often do you do that?)
Better Tracking Metrics How many people read your dead tree newsletter? That’s hard to tell since we don’t know how many wind up in the waste bin. Electronic newsletters, on the other hand, allow administrators to track the number of times the link opening the newsletter has been clicked. While this still isn’t a perfect metric it’s a lot better than the “shot in the dark” of a piece of mail sent into the world.
There are plenty of ways to go about producing an online newsletter. Our office uploads a PDF document to a free Issuu accountand emails the link to our email list; we include a link to the raw PDF so that recipients can print out a copy if they desire. Services like MailChimp and FlockNote create attractive email newsletters that are easy to set up and maintain.
For those of you worried that your parish catechetical leaders “of a certain age” still want to read your newsletter on dead trees, you can always maintain a separate list of people who opt-in to receive a physical copy of the newsletter. This will still cut down on the amount of paper and postage while getting them your information.
Use of electronic newsletters will surely grow in coming years. Starting sooner rather than later will help diocesan offices grow more comfortable with the technology and use it in the most effective ways.