Just as so many parishes had to reinvent how they ministered to parishioners amid a world-wide pandemic, they are now working hard to come up with a way to bring them back to the fold now that it’s safe to venture out. But rather than leave churches to figure out for themselves how to fill the pews, the Archdiocese of Detroit is spearheading a campaign designed to accompany parishes on the complicated process of reopening and reengaging members.
“I think that there’s been a recognition that it’s going to take effort and clear communication to help people feel safe at Mass and to help bring them back with a focus on the importance of the Eucharist,” said Emily Mentock, Associate Director of Strategy for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “This is why we launched our ‘Come Home to Hope’ campaign. It’s a sort of dual message of the importance of the Eucharist and the hope that comes with that. As we emerge from the pandemic — some of the darkest days many of us have experienced in our lifetime so far — and come back into full community with the Church, no doubt it’ll take some time to reach people where they are.”
“There is a recognition that it’s going to take effort to bring people back into full community with their home parish. Some of the ways that they’ve done that and how we’ve supported our churches in doing that, is by publishing a welcome back playbook for parishes that give them different strategies for both parish leaders and volunteers. It’s a great resource meant to help parishes greet people who are coming back and remind them of the safety guidelines still in place, or to be proactive and do outreach,” she continued. “We have scripts for calling parishioners to let them know about the particular dispensations, inviting them back to Mass, and asking if they have any questions, to alleviate any of those concerns about safety.”
The Archdiocese has also created ready-to-use templates for parishes to utilize, so all they need to do is supply an address and the rest is taken care of.
“We’ve also published sample welcome back letters that parishes can send to parishioners, and in partnership with LPi, we’ve created postcards that parishes can customize with messages to welcome people back and mail to their parishioners, to let them know what the safety guidelines are and what particular dispensations would remain in place for those who may still be concerned.”
Edmundo Reyes, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit, has also heard some concerns echoed throughout the Archdiocese about parishioners not coming back to Mass in-person for a variety of reasons. However, he is a firm believer that despite the ongoing impact of 2020, the Church’s mission remains the same.
“What we’ve heard throughout the Archdiocese is that the parishes that had vibrant communities before the pandemic are doing fine bringing people back. Aside from some capacity restrictions, some rows roped off and masks being required, they managed to keep parishioners engaged and growing in their relationship with Christ,” he explained, “But the parishes that weren’t necessarily thriving are the ones that are struggling a bit more so. Regardless of a pandemic, it is an ongoing problem that the Church has — creating and growing vibrant communities.”
Reyes believes that, like a lot of the societal issues we experienced in 2020 — childcare restrictions, job loss, work/life balances — parish attendance decline wasn’t something that was caused by the pandemic, but rather amplified the ongoing problem.
“The year that the pandemic hit, it accelerated the decline of some parishes, but it wasn’t necessarily the fault of the pandemic,” he said. “What we’ve seen here in the Archdiocese is that the parishes that were thriving before the pandemic, continue to thrive. But the parishes that were in decline beforehand, continue to decline today. In a sense, the pandemic has made things clearer to us what we as Church leaders must continue to work on.”
Mentock, a faithful member of St. Aloysius, Detroit, has not only seen the number of attendees at Mass come back to pre-pandemic attendance, but in fact grow as things slowly go back to normal.
“At my parish, we have seen an increase in the number of people coming back, as the dispensations have been lifted,” she said. “We’re a very small congregation, so it was easy to maintain social distancing in a church that could seat almost 2,000 people with three levels of seating. But as the general dispensation has been lifted, we have seen people come back more and more.
“Even this past weekend with some of the Mass guidelines changing, I think people are starting to have an awareness that we’re starting to get to a better place, in that I think there were close to twice as many people as there had been 6-to 8 weeks ago,” Mentock said. “Of course, as the guidelines are changing, people are realizing that they’re not changing without reason. They’re changing because things are getting safer.”
“It’s really encouraging to see the number of people in the pews go up these past few weeks,” she added. “I’m excited to see my parish — and others like it — continue to open their doors wide to welcome everyone back.”
Interested in seeing the Archdiocese of Detroit’s “Come Home to Hope” campaign? Visit www.aod.org/comehometohope to see resources for the lay faithful, and www.egwdetroit.org/come-home-to-hope to see resources for parish leaders.
In addition to the weekly bulletin, many parishes today are taking it one step further and communicating with members through a digital newsletter. Not only does it allow parishes to relay information that couldn’t fit in the bulletin, but it also allows for last-minute news, sudden announcements, additional events, and more to get in the hands of your members even after the bulletin has been printed for the week.
From items to always include to image best practices, here are four things to know that will make your parish newsletter worthy of reading!
Before you start laying out what goes where, make sure that you are working with an attractive newsletter template that clearly lays out everything you want to convey. A great way to do that is to “map” out what goes where and keep it consistent with each publication date.
Imagine that your parish is looking to share at least four articles in each newsletter, in addition to upcoming events, contact information, and a place that encourages parishioners to get in touch. Things that never change — such as the contact information and your “Get in Touch” call-out — can be easily copied over from the template, while the articles and event information will be copied and pasted into a block of copy. No need to shift where usual information goes, just keep it where parishioners can expect to find it and plan your articles and events around them.
Keep content clean and concise by sticking to a general word count and running it through an editing stage to catch any misspellings, incorrect use of grammar or information that isn’t correct. It’s usually better to have a separate set of eyes look it over, as the writer may overlook mistakes just because he or she has seen it too many times.
It’s natural to check in with Google when searching for specific images, but be careful that you don’t choose images with low resolution (which will become pixilated when stretched out to full length), or images that are copyrighted and not approved for use.
If you have yet to try it, WeCreate, our art and content platform, is specifically designed with churches in mind. Here you’ll find the latest in stock photography, church clip art, Catholic prayers, weekly Gospel reflections, and more to make your bulletin, digital newsletter, social media squares, and more engaging and relevant. And if you have a bulletin contract, access is FREE!
Spending time creating quality content is a waste if people aren’t reading it. Ensure that your hard work doesn’t go to waste by keeping a comprehensive list of email contacts. From actual parish members to those just looking for more information about your faith community, this is an easy and oftentimes free way to share all the ways your church is helping bring others to Christ.
If you have yet to do so, make sure that your parish is actively gathering all parishioner contact information, including email addresses. Not only does that help you save on postage for regular communication (such as end-of-year financial statements or requests for volunteers), but it also give the parish some important data that the post office CAN’T deliver, such as who opened your email, which links were clicked, and how many actually read your content.
So, you have emails, content, images, and a way to put it all together and deliver it to contacts … so what? Unless you present people with a clear call to action, it’s like throwing a dart at a moving target. You need to come up with an actionable step (or steps!) that your readers can easily follow.
What is the intended goal of your newsletter? To get members informed about your parish? Encourage them to share their time, talent, and treasure? To ask friends and family to come check out your church? As a staff, come together and make a list of end goals for your parish newsletter, and then make sure you are being clear with them. Easy to spot buttons, copy with clear and concise actions, and engaging images are all helpful when it comes to calls to action. Don’t hint at what you want them to do, be bold and tell them!
Looking for more ways to improve your parish communication? Check out WeCreate, our Art and Content Platform, for the latest in stock photography, church clip art, Catholic prayers, weekly Gospel reflections, and more.
As technology advances, and parishes become more and more reliant on electronic communications, it’s necessary to become more creative when writing and sending out important (and not-so-important!) emails to parishioners, visitors, and potential members. As firewalls become sturdier, and people become choosier in what kind of mail they want to receive, parishes need to convey that the messages that come from the office — whether that be from the pastor, deacon, leader of a ministry or the parish secretary — are important to receive.
According to the Radicati Group, the total number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day exceeded 293 billion in 2019 — and is only expected to grow. What does that mean for parishes that rely on email to get their message out? That they have a lot of competition. The next time you must send out an email to members, visitors, and prospective parishioners, consider using one of these unique subject lines to increase your open rate.
While definitely not going anywhere, the parish bulletin is no longer the only way to share news of your parish while also offering a teaching tool for members. Your website, social media channels, email blasts, and SMS messages are now fair game in the parish communication strategy.
To reach people, we need to meet them where they’re at. Some are all about messaging on the go, scrolling on their phones as they wait for doctor appointments or during a lunch break, while others prefer to pick up the Sunday bulletin and read it religiously (pun intended) each week. But while the ways to communicate with parishioners are plentiful, your staff time, unfortunately, is not. Luckily, there are ways you can utilize the content you have to reach its maximum potential in order to get it to the people who need to hear it.
When it comes to choosing ways to communicate with members, remember that there is no reason to reinvent the wheel when it comes to content. An easy way to begin this process is to start with the Sunday bulletin, and then segment/edit what you have and decide on digital ways to share it.
If your parish has a weekly digital newsletter, it’s easy to copy and paste with minimal editing involved. If you need more content and imagery to go along with it, look no further than WeCreate, LPi’s art and content platform. Available free for parishes with a bulletin contract or for a yearly subscription cost for those who don’t, WeCreate gives you 24/7 access to stock images, clip art, Sunday content, Gospel reflections, children’s Gospel activities, and more that will allow you to form and engage your faith community.
A bulletin and a digital newsletter are similar in design and content. But what about other means of communication expected these days, such as social media? Well, there’s a bit more to it, actually.
It might seem like sharing parish news across multiple channels would be easy, but if you truly want to reach people, you need to keep in mind that not all social media channels are equal. From Twitter’s character count of 280 max, to Instagram’s focus on quality images and multiple hashtags, users are on certain channels because they prefer the way the content is shared.
While you COULD add a whole Gospel reflection to an Instagram post, more likely people will scroll on by because Instagram is more of a visual platform. Or you could post nothing but a single image on Facebook, but without a caption, explanation or a link, followers might be confused on what to do with it. Make sure that with whatever channel you share your content on, you are mindful of the format and how best to get seen.
If you’re looking for an easy explanation about the differences between social media channels, the Pixel has a great infographic to check out. The main takeaway? Don’t overthink how your church can accommodate each social media channel by reinventing your content. Rather, consider ways that you can capture the attention of followers by using pieces and parts of your main content and segmenting it.
One goal for sharing your news is to help parishioners become familiar with who you are as a church. You’re not just a place to come to each week in obligation, but a community made in Christ — you need to nurture your relationship with parishioners.
In addition to, or in replacement of a digital newsletter, considering sending out a weekly email from the pastor, associate pastor, director of formation or other church leader. Not only do you help parishioners put a face to a name, but it helps make your parish news more personal when it comes from a persona instead of an entity. It doesn’t have to be 2,500 words of straight reflections or multiple invitations to upcoming events. Sometimes, all you need is a quick weekly check-in to remind them what your church is all about.
Quality images with a short sentence and a link to read your newsletter is a great way to share on Instagram. For Facebook, consider links to individual newsletter articles over a period of a few days, with a call to action to sign up for upcoming communication.
Dive deeper into the topic of social media and your church by checking out
“4 Social Media Trends to Watch In 2021” and
“Is A Social Media Management Platform Right for Your Parish?”
With WeCreate, you’ll find the latest in stock photography, clip art, prayers, Gospel reflections, children’s art and activities, and more! And whether you’re looking to customize an attractive flyer for the upcoming bake sale, or seasonal clip art for the weekly bulletin, our templates make it easy for you to make it your own.
LPi is dedicated to helping churches, dioceses, non-profits, and their business advertisers succeed with cutting edge communication and engagement solutions. Besides providing a purpose and a paycheck, we offer a comprehensive benefit and compensation package designed to help you balance life and work.
Take some time this summer to watch on demand recordings of past webinars featuring Tracy Earl Welliver! From our 12-part “Building a Vibrant Parish” to the 5-episodes of “Surviving or Thriving,” come away with ideas and tips to engage and grow your faith community.
It’s more than just fonts and images. A good brand invites parishioners and seekers into the mission of your church, helping everyone to grow in faith, live in hope, and reach out in the love of Jesus Christ. From logo, letterhead, bulletin design and more, we’ll create an authentic identity that will grow your faith community.