Notes and Resources: Using New Media for Professional Development

Thank to everyone who participated in my webinar today on using new media for professional development in catechesis!

Here are my notes, a link to the opening prayer from the USCCB,  and some of the resources I mentioned during the webinar:

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4 Tips for Choosing a Parish Social Media Coordinator

In our diocese’s new social media policy we recommend that pastors delegate the day-to-day management of institutional social media accounts. This is both because a) pastors’ time is best spent on other aspects of their ministry, and b) most pastors are not interested in the day-to-day management of institutional social media accounts.

But how should they choose who to coordinate social media on their behalf? What characteristics make a person a suitable social media manager for a parish?

  1. Choose someone who uses social media. This should be self-evident, but I’ve learned not to take these things for granted. You don’t want a social media manager who will be doing all their learning “on the job.” Make sure that the person you choose has an interest in and some experience with social media — at the very least they should be on Facebook. Ideally they should have accounts on multiple sites and a good sense of what works on each.
  2. Choose someone with connections.  The hardest part of managing a social media account is finding out what’s going on that could be shared. Picking someone with strong connections around the parish increases the chances that they will hear about events and other content to share.
  3. Choose someone trustworthy.  Again, this probably goes without saying, but your social media coordinator will be speaking on behalf of your ministry, so you want to choose someone that is well spoken, a good writer, and who knows how your parish markets itself and communicates with both internal and external audiences. This will help ensure that what they put out on social media platforms is in line with your parish’s character, mission, and goals.
  4. Choose someone who isn’t scared of math.  To make the most of your social media accounts you’ll need to keep track of various statistics such as reach and interactions. The good news is that most social media platforms do a good job of tracking these for you. Of course, your manager will still need to check the stats from time to time to see what impact your social media outreach is making.

What other traits make for a good social media manager?

5 Things Your Parish Web Site Should Include

Recently I’ve had the privilege of judging contenders for Catholic Tech Talk‘s Parish Web Site of the Year award. Some of the entries have been outstanding; others demonstrate just how far Catholic parishes have to go in understanding the importance of a well crafted, professional-looking web site.

Still, looking at so many parish web sites has been instructive. In particular, I’ve been amazed at how many sites still lack some basic elements that would help them go from “poor” to “useable”:

  1. Contact information for parish staff and programs. Many of the sites I looked at had incomplete or even non-existent  contact information for parish staff. Your site should include a complete list of staff including name, title, phone number, and email address. The same should go for volunteers who serve specific programs! I’d love to come to your weekly bible study, but if I don’t know who to contact or how to get hold of them if I have a question, it’s less likely that I’ll make the effort. Speaking of which…
  2. Locations of regular events. Lots of parishes are doing lots of great work providing catechetical and social events.  Unfortunately, if I was  a parishioner, I’m not sure I would be able to find them! Remember, if I’m new to your parish I don’t know where meeting spaces are. If you have a regularly scheduled program or gathering, be sure to list exactly where it is held. If I’m on your site I don’t want to have to take the extra step of calling you just to get that information.
  3. Pictures! It’s disheartening how many parish web sites don’t incorporate graphics and pictures into their designs. One of the advantages of new media is their ability to incorporate text and images to tell a story and convey information in a meaningful way. Even if you just have a banner image on every page that incorporates a picture of your church, ditch the text-only look. (It’s so 1998).
  4. Easy to find Mass schedule. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of parishes that did do this, but I still can’t believe we have to talk about this in 2012. Put your Mass and Reconciliation times on the front page of your site. There: you just increased your site’s usability by 100%.
  5. A menu structure that makes sense. This one may warrant a post all it’s own, but just navigating the labyrinthine menu structures of some sites was a chore. From submenus that included 20(!) different items to indecipherable titles to drop-down menus that just plain didn’t work, many parishes seem to be working hard to ensure that their content is never read. Keep it simple, keep it intuitive; menus aren’t the place for creativity. Make sure that items are places under titles that will make sense to the average parishioner. This may mean cutting out some of the “church speak” we use, but web sites are tools — not theological treatises. It’s more important that people can find what they are looking for!

Image by Daniel*1977/flickrCC

Social Media Training Sessions – Diocese of Springfield in Illinois

Next month my office, in conjunction with our diocesan  Office for Information Technology, will be offering training on social media for ministry at locations around our diocese.

The training is designed for:

  • Pastors
  • DREs/CREs
  • Principals
  • Youth Ministers
  • and anyone interested in using social media on behalf of the  Church’s ministries.

The training will include information on the new diocesan social media policy as well as   œbest practices  for using social media.

Sessions will be held at these dates and places:

  • June 4, 6p-8p “ Catholic Pastoral Center (Springfield)
  • June 5, 6p-8p “ St. Anthony School (Effingham)
  • June 12, 6p-8p “ St. Ambrose (Godfrey)
  • June 14, 6p-8p “ St. Peter School (Quincy)
  • June 21, 6p-8p “ Immaculate Conception (Mattoon)

No registration is necessary for these sessions.

Online training will be available on June 7; to register,  use the URL following the training time:

Book Review: The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living

There’s a certain genre of Catholic writing that’s never particularly appealed to me. I’m not sure what to call it, but it encompasses parenting books and marriage advice, Catholic living and holiness “how-to”s.

The defining characteristic of these books tends to be a hoity-toity know-it-all attitude that exalts one way of parenting or spirituality as “the way” above all others, without regard to the rich diversity of the Church’s history and practice.

The Catholics Next Door is not that type of book.

In fact Greg and Jennifer Willits go out of their way to assure readers that they don’t have all the answers, that they are just like the rest of us poor schlubs trying to honor God while making a living, raising a family, and attending to the rest of life’s demands. But, as they point out, there is holiness in that imperfection. Call it a “spirituality of the screwups”:

In a way it helps to know we’re not the only screwups in this world. I suspect that many of the seemingly perfect parents sitting in the pew ahead of us at church, the ones with the angelic children, are screwups as well. I don’t know why that helps me, but it does.

It’s good to remind ourselves, especially when we’re ready to throttle a kid who just spray-painted a brand new set of golf clubs, that you were a screwup before your kid was. And you still are. But you’re getting better, with the help of God.

The Willits cover a wide range of topics in the book, from living with our neighbors to natural family planning, using technology for evangelization to the Eucharist. The connecting thread is a relentless focus on Christian living in the messiness and uncertainties of modern life. Jennifer and Greg take turns offering their own perspectives in short 2-3 page sections. This “he said, she said” style could have felt forced or trite, but the sections transition smoothly into each other and never feel jarring or forced. This is a testament both to their writing and to each author’s unique and engaging voice.

I especially appreciated their encouragement and advice on family prayer. They recount their own travails in praying with their five children (leading to the chapter’s title: “Family-Rosary Wrestling”) and, as with the rest of the book, assure parents that being a “work in progress” is nothing to be ashamed of: “There will be victories and head-smacking embarrassments. But as long as we maintain our focus on Christ, stay close to him in the  sacraments, and remain loyal to the teachings of our faith to the best of our abilities, we will be equipped to handle any  challenge  Gods wants to put before us.”

The Catholics Next Door  is a funny, inspiring, and down-to-earth book on Christian living. I recommend it to imperfect Christians everywhere.

The Grumpy Old Catechist on Social Media Advice Articles

Here’s a little secret: I don’t read a whole lot of “tech advice” pieces on the internet, especially those about social media with titles like “Using Facebook in the Classroom” or “Five Tips for Maximizing Twitter Engagement”

“But wait a minute.” I hear you saying. “You write about tech and catechesis; surely you find these things interesting?”

First of all, don’t call me Shirley.

Secondly, while many of these articles have good intentions, I don’t find many with good practical advice. Many are too general to be of much help, with “advice” like “be sure to check your privacy settings” and “stay up-to-date as the technology changes.” Unless the article includes step-by-step instructions on Facebook privacy settings or concrete examples of places to go for current information, it’s just giving more work to educators and catechists who already find social media and technology overwhelming and off-putting.

See, most of these articles are written by techies who don’t know how to write for non-techies. They don’t understand non-techies’ fears and trepidation about technology, so they breeze past it. But if we want the “average” teacher or catechist to adopt these amazing new technologies we have to take their fears seriously, address them, and show them how to mitigate the worst-case scenarioes that go through their heads every time we use the words “computer,” “Facebook,” and “privacy controls.”

So this is my plea: if you write about technology and pedagogy, take time every once in a while to address a real concern and move past platitudes to give concrete examples and instructions. I think it will go a long way towards helping everyone else see the great potential we do in technology.

Photo by e-magic/flickrCC

Things Heard and Done at #CNMC11

This past Saturday I attended the Catholic New Media Conference in Kansas City. I had a great time meeting some fellow Catholic new media enthusiasts, including lots of people I follow on Twitter and Google+. These were some of the highlights:

  1. I started the day with an unexpected Holy Hour, thanks to the fact that I wrote down the wrong start time for Mass. (Doh!)
  2. “What counts isn’t the numbers, but the presence of the Holy Spirit.” – St. Anne Flanagan, FSP
  3. ”  We need to do a better job of recruiting talent and leaders for  Catholic  New Media.” – Matt Warner
  4. I got my copy of The Church and New Media  signed by Brandon Vogt!
  5. “Why do Catholics have to pay someone to set them on fire?” – Devin Jones
  6. “A good book either offers a gift or solves a problem.” – Pat Gohn
  7. Enjoyed a great keynote by Sean Patrick Lovett, the Director of Vatican Radio.
  8. Got Lisa Hendey to sign a copy of  Handbook for Catholic Moms  for my wife.
  9. “You’re a diocesan beereaucrat!” – Pat Gohn (This will now be added to my fictional business cards (along with Professional Catholic and Theology Geek).
  10. Enjoyed great dinner conversation with Fr. Roderick Vonhögen, Marc Cardaronella, Helen Lee, and Pat Gohn.

I really enjoyed my first CNMC, and while I doubt I’ll be able to go every year, I certainly hope to get back again in the future!

Photo by Scott Maentz/FlickrCC

Experimenting with Prayer – Media Divina

I spent the last two days conducting a retreat/workshop on social media for the principals of the Diocese of Belleville. For the opening prayer on Wednesday I decided to experiment with a variation of lectio divina  that used the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:3-23) across various  media.

I began with reading the parable from Sacred Scripture, asking the participants to listen for a word or phrase that spoke to them. We meditated for a few minutes, then went around the room and shared our word or phrase.

Next I showed this video version of the parable:

I asked the participants to focus on a visual image from the video that spoke to them in a special way, or on how their understanding of the parable was deepened by the video. We again spent a few minutes in meditation and then shared.

Finally I played the song “Thistle & Weeds” by Mumford & Sons. (I also projected the lyrics so the group could follow along) and asked them to listen for God’s call or invitation to action. We again meditated on what we had heard and shared. We then closed with a short prayer.

I think this prayer experience was a success; the group seemed to appeciate the multi-sensory nature of the prayer and they did an excellent job of drawing out meaning from the text. (And most of them weren’t previosly familiar with lectio divina.) I will definitely be using this form of prayer for future events.

(I also put together a PowerPoint for praying the Angelus with the group; I’ve posted it on my Handouts page for anyone to use.)

Getting Our Knickers in Knots about Catechesis

Thinking aloud today:

In the middle of a conversation on journalistic standards during the latest episode of This Week in Tech, panelists John C. Dvorak, Leo Laporte, and Jeff Jarvis (whose blog post on the subject sparked the conversation) discussed the ideal of objectivity versus the reality of partisanship. I’ve edited out the relevant section here:

The part that struck me was Jarvis’ statement there at the end: “We in journalism get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is journalism?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s information? What do I need to know today?'”

Anyone who follows the media world knows that traditional news outlets are suffering. Newspaper  circulation  is waning; fewer people tune in to the evening news; and radio seems a quaint format. People don’t seem to care where their news comes from — they are more concerned about getting information that they need right now. Why else the rise of Google and Wikipedia? They allow us to have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips.

I wonder if there isn’t a parallel with catechesis, and adult faith formation in particular.

It’s no secret that catechesis of adults is a difficult ministry. No matter how many programs or classes we offer it seems like it’s the same people who come. They are eager and grateful, to be sure, but I’ve heard many catechetical leaders ask “Where is everyone else? Why aren’t they coming?”

Yet we’ve seen an explosion in recent years of Catholic blogs and podcasts seeking to promote and explain the Catholic viewpoint on a variety of issues. While I doubt that many of these bloggers would claim the label “catechist,” that is exactly what they are — they are, in their own way, evangelizing and catechizing to their readers and listeners.

These blogs and podcasts are obviously filling a need that our catechetical programs do not. Convenience may be one explanation — it’s  certainly  easier to read a blog post than get to the parish center for an evening — but I’m not sure that explains it all. I also wonder if bloggers and podcasters aren’t better at targeting the specific needs and questions of the faithful.

Take, for one example, Fr. Barron’s YouTube video series. Each video takes a single question, issue, or piece of media, and examines or explains it from a Catholic viewpoint. Many are questions that the faithful in the pew may have asked or heard from others: What is the Real Presence? Why do we celebrate the Ascension? What spiritual insights can we learn from The Dark Knight?

Those of us involved in the catechetical ministry may be tempted to worry and fret that, even for many engaged Catholics, their primary avenue for catechesis is what they get from such online venues: “But it’s not systematic! It’s too focused on popular theology! There’s no oversight or review of the content!”

To which we might respond:    “We in catechesis get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is catechesis?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s faith? What do I need to know today to be a better follower of Christ?'”