In a recent homily, Pope Francis offered a caution for parishes turning to digital means of communication to do ministry. He said clearly that a church which exclusively operates online, without physical presence and celebration of the sacraments, would be at risk of becoming individualistic, insular, and detached from a living faith.
This caution comes at a turning point for many parishes around the world. Faced with lockdowns and occupancy limits, they have pivoted to digital communication such as online livestreams in place of public Mass. It’s an effective way to maintain connection with and spiritual support for their congregation. Obviously, they have no choice, though I am sure this experience will only increase our appreciation for celebrating the sacraments together when we are allowed to do so. The Catholic Church cannot be the Catholic Church unless we are gathering to celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
The Catholic Church cannot be the Catholic Church unless we are gathering to celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments.Tweet
I have been positive about the impact we think digital communication and technology will have, indeed does have at the local parish level. The sacramental presence of the Church does not end when your congregants head to the parking lot. Instead, the community grows and deepens, aggregating all of life into the reality of the Eucharist received at Mass. Each congregant leaves with a mission to bring Christ to where the unchurched are, and that’s online.
That’s why, as a parish, our new rally cry is:
Let’s be a mobile-first parish.
Mobile-first merely recognizes the first path by which people today are approaching the sacraments: by an initial, albeit imperfect, encounter mediated by a screen. This imperfect encounter can lead to church attendance and integration into the sacramental life of the parish. This type of encounter wasn’t born with the coronavirus, it has been the norm for most people since the dawn of smartphones and high-speed internet. Therefore, it won’t end when the world has forgotten about COVID-19.
Mobile-first merely recognizes the first path by which people today are approaching the sacraments: by an initial, albeit imperfect, encounter mediated by a screen.Tweet
Mobile first means…
1) Your website is your new front door.
Most people today would not consider stepping foot inside a restaurant until they had gone online to check reviews and see the menu. The decision to visit a local church likewise starts online. When newcomers Google your church, what will they find? Is your website filled with information for insiders or is it designed for newcomers?
2) Livestreaming is your new beginner’s experience.
Like your website, the unchurched will use your livestream to ask questions like: “would I feel comfortable in this environment” or “is the preaching applicable to my life?” If your church is just trying out livestreaming during the lockdown, by all means consider keeping up the practice. Livestreaming isn’t just for insiders who can’t leave their houses. It should primarily be for those who want to check out your church but aren’t comfortable coming in-person yet.
3) Electronic giving is your new offering basket.
It’s likely that even after the worst of the lockdowns are lifted, some practices will have to remain discontinued. Passing the basket will be one of them. We should prepare for this reality now by setting up easy-to-use channels of online giving. Select a provider that has multiple ways of giving like text-to-give.
It’s likely that even after the worst of the lockdowns are lifted, some practices will have to remain discontinued. Passing the basket will be one of them.Tweet
Mobile-first doesn’t mean online-only. It only means acknowledging that everyone we’re trying to reach is on-line. We need to be too.