My writing has been a bit sporadic, that I regret. But today I was truly inspired by a blog post I read by Seth Godin. This excerpt caught my attention. If readers follow my hap hazard posts it should be noted I love reading secular ideas and applying them to our faith. Some of the smartest ways to communicate our faith come from outside, not within our walls and here is what I gleaned this morning.
I called this post, "An end" as opposed to "the end." As always, we'll reinvent. We still need ideas, and ideas need containers. We've developed more and more ways for those ideas to travel and to have impact, and now it's up to us to figure out how to build an ecosystem around them.
This one sentence sums up perfectly the call to action we have in about every Catholic Parish I work with or have attended. "We still need ideas, and ideas need containers." While our doctrine and church teaching does not change, the vessel in which our parishioners receive it has. Take this example. We committed parishioners hear "We need more bible study". So we gin up a bible study, publish and market the heck out it. The first night of our rebranded bible study we know what happens, crickets chirping. That's right the same faces that show up to everything arrive. The vessel did not change but the audience we wanted did.
The second most important sentence that inspired me is this, "As always, we'll reinvent". This is so important. With no doubt the people that should attend our parishes, that need ministry are absent. To reinvent how we reach these people is the hope that Jesus inspires. Could rehashing an old system work? Perhaps. But clearly brand new ways of ministry are necessary. This will take real risk. The waters ahead are very much uncharted and we Catholics are not only resistant to change, it is not uncommon to shun the change makers to keep the status quo.
The stories in the bible are full of what I write about. Jesus was a change maker, he risked all, he was shunned. Being faithful to His call, doing things no one else would do created the faith we share today. Time to change containers.
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I am huge fan of using technology to make life easier. Hey, if we are going to live stewardship, then using available resources to make ministry easier, better, faster etc only makes sense. Fr. Wesley asked Jared Stremel, summer intern, and I if we could help him solve an interesting problem. He was seeking a solution to help him fill open positions at a special mass just for priests. What he wanted was a resource that would allow him to create an electronic form that would allow his brother priests to see what amount positions needed to be filled in real time. For example, Father Wesley wants 5 Eucharistic ministers. A web based product would be created to indicate he wants 5 volunteers. As Priests filled those positions the form would automatically calculate available spots so other priests could see what was left. And all this would be done automatically in a second. Plus, the form would be emailed or placed on his webpage.
The solution we found easily is Sign Up Genius www.signupgenius.com. This free solution allows Father Wesley to create a form that meets his needs as stated above. In addition, if Fr. Wesley wanted to, he could set up the form to automatically send out an email reminder to volunteers so they do not forget what they signed up for.
I have not tested this software myself and this is one of many solutions. So visit the site and see if this solution can benefit your ministry.
If readers see this solution as a benefit, please post comments in the comment box so others can see actual results from users in the diocese.
Good luck and have fun, Eric
Fr. Frank Barron contributed an article to Our Sunday Visitor and I found one part particularly interesting.
"In a now famous intervention made during the General Congregations held in advance of the conclave, Cardinal Bergoglio said that the Church was too inward-turned, too preoccupied with its own life. The purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, he continued, is to go out to the wider world, especially to those on the periphery. By this evocative term (periferia in Italian), he meant not only those who are economically deprived or marginalized, but those who find themselves spiritually on the outs"
The church was too inward-turned... Was? I think many Catholic Parishes can substitute "was" for "are". What I mean is, right now people, especially young people, are seeking organizations and activity that has a purpose larger than itself. True the Catholic Churches mission is bigger than itself but that is not the story told by the parish. Read darn any church bulletin and the words "we need" can be read each weekend multiple times in the same issue. Announcements, posters, parish website articles all follow a very similar pattern.."we need". Frankly that message is perfectly uninspiring. Frank Mercadante in his book Engaging a New Generation indicates that the next generation really don't care that a parish has to pay bills, cover health care for employees, or buy sacramental wine. What they do care about very much is that the parish is doing something beyond keeping the plant running. That poor are being fed, single moms are being tended, and any cadre of ministries about others outside of the church property. To that end, I would suggest anyone in Generation X (people in their 40s as of this writing) on down have a similar mindset.
What parishes too often fall into is the trap of "me". We have evolved into big organizations that take much over head and resources to keep going. That is not a bad thing. That is actually very good as each parish has much work to do for Jesus. But as we have evolved we lost our missionary spirit. That call to go out and do the work so desperately needs done. As a result of the "me" language (we church folks often criticize in culture) that is being used, our message is falling flat. Our parishes are being ignored and we often wonder why the young and middle aged folks have checked out and we struggle to....yup, pay the bills.
The remedy to what we currently work with and worship in, is to do as instructed "go out to the wider world". When we connect people in the pews to people not in the pews and use language filled with the love of Jesus, the life of our parish will change.
Two of my favorite authors, Chip and Dan Heath, released a brand new book titled Decisive. To my surprise they interviewed Father J. Brian Bransfield of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is an expert of Father Bransfield's remarks regarding how narrow we look when making decisions.
I don't watch much network TV, due to commercials mostly (hallelujah Netflix). But I found myself without much to do while waiting for my family and surfed the channels quick. That is when it hit me! On one channel the commercial was totally geared toward senior citizens and the web. That's right! The whole 30 or 60 seconds was 100% marketing to people +65 using the internet. What I believe to be true was just affirmed.
The reason this commercial spoke only to seasoned folks using the web is this:
EVERYONE ELSE THAT CAN USE THE WEB IS!!!!!!!!!!
This is the most dramatic piece of information I can share and perfectly shows that older people NOT using the web is a myth! More data you require? Our first Facebook fan on our Diocesan Page was a senior citizen in a small parish in Central Kansas. Helloooooo.
How many people can remember this flop? Coke changed the formula back in the 80s to "New" Coke, a sweeter version of the landmark product. How about the Pepsi Challenge? Remember, we would walk through a mall or store and take the blind taste test to see which we like better. With New Coke or the Pepsi Challenge clever marketers discerned that through live sip tests, face to face interviews, focus groups and the like, that one product rivaled the other. We know what happened with New Coke. Pepsi never really captured market share from sip tests either. Hmmmm.
Not the latest but certainly getting more attention are the terms "New Evangelization". For readers unfamiliar with the New Evangelization I direct you to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website. All the details are there. This writing concerns a question I was asked, "Eric, what do you think when you hear New Evangelization"? I answered honestly and I will share my answer here. My gut reaction is that the New Evangelization is new language to roll out old ideas to give our parishes a temporary increase of people and resources on Sunday. Then it will go away and something else will take its place. That is my gut talking. But what my heart feels is that the new evangelization is full of hope just and the USCCB says on their website. I think if we in church take this idea seriously we have an opportunity to honestly reach out to people. Not use the same tired ideas that do not work anymore or as well. But really act different.
"Seldom is the most effective most efficient way what you find in best practices." The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.
"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect." Mark Twain
These two quotes speak to me as our normal practice in church in solving problems is to put in place best practices. This is purely logical and what we learn from many great books, conferences and specialists telling us what to do. However, best practices can lead to "herd" thinking read; "we've always do it this way", "well, we used to....", you get the picture.
Now, we can reflect on Mark Twain, if the majority of people in our parish are saying X, now is the time to stop, pray, and ask Jesus if we are doing His work, or if best practices stifles our progress.
If any readers follow my work you know I love taking ideas from culture and applying to our faith. Ernesto Sirolli delivered this brilliant talk at a TED convention and his ideas for growing small business in Africa apply to our faith. Love to hear from you in the comment box. Do listen and respond. Thanks!
If our church leadership looks anything like this lady when technology is considered, QUIT IT! I do not care if it is a website, Facebook, Twitter, or any other type of technology. There is much wringing of hands and anxiety with this stuff and it is foolish. Real? Yes, but also foolish.
My advice, pick a technology then USE IT. In 2012 every parish should incorporate some type of technology period. Which type? Which ever type will get used. I see many parish websites and Facebook pages that are static with no life. That will simply not do. Whether a well administrated email list is incorporated or even a good text messaging system is chose, use the system. If not they are expensive and working for us.
So quit fretting over it. Make a decision then use the system. See, that was not so hard.
So I’ve been taken with the Mark 10: 46-52. A Priest pointed out something interesting I had not considered before. Bartimaeus was sitting along road crying out for Jesus. Bart was told to be quiet, shut up etc etc. But Jesus did not summon Bart right away. One could assume Jesus did not hear these cries but that is hard to imagine considering a woman touched Jesus’ cloak in a crowded area and Jesus knew she had. What I think happened is Jesus ignored Bart. A priest during a homily on this gospel said “Jesus wanted Bart to be persistent in prayer and did not answer right away”. That is a great observation for us.
Think about how many folks give up on Jesus and religion because we pray for something and that prayer goes unanswered. We like Bart need to be persistent in our prayer.
Holy cow I had an aha moment at church October 27, 2012. The Gospel reading was Mark 10: 46-52. Verse 49 kind of knocked me down. “Take courage get up Jesus is calling you”. I’m not sure what to make of it all frankly. On one hand, I feel confident in this scripture as it affirms that we (I) are (am) called to something magnificent for the Lord, even if it appears ordinary. But we have a calling period.
Next, take courage. These two words do not assume we have courage. I wonder if the writer knew that humans will take the easy way out when given a choice. My amygdale works usually wins most battles. But none of need to be born courageous per se. Courage is something we take. It is a choice we make. Hmmm.
“Get up”. I find my kids in front of screens unless Chris or I intervene and give them a no screen break. That means no TV or computer for an afternoon or some other amount of time. My mantra to them is “no life is lived well in front of screen”. Unless of course they are making a living off the web, then I change my statement but so far none of my kids have any Bill Gates in them. But quite simply, we have to get in the game. To pray without ceasing is a good thing, to pray without ceasing and not use the gifts Jesus gives us to be who he called us to be…..is stupid.
So join me today and each day forward.
There is the cliché “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’m beginning to call BS on that. I am not naïve, it exists but I think those days might be coming to close. Here is why, if a person follows the traditional model of American success you do the following: go to school get good grades, then graduate and go to a better school, get good grades, graduate, get a good job, buy a bunch of stuff encouraging the same person to work to top of various company ladders, retire. That is the usual model. Who we know and associations we make can be important.
It seems a recurring theme in my latest work is the desire among faithful Catholics for more fellowship, faith groups of men, women or both. Young groups, old groups, for the unchurched and the churched. More community within our communities. Also in my work a question has been posed about fond memories. As it goes the conversation takes a nostalgic walk through yesterday. Actually yester decade or two ago.
Two lessons are important to address the first paragraph.
One, think small. Small groups are the key, and not any small groups. Very specific and deliberate groups. For example, some people say “we want more bible study”. Awesome. That takes on a thousand meanings. So one group might read the bible together, another jogs through the letters from St. Paul. Another studies the old testament, another the new. Yet another uses a guide with reflection questions and on and on. One big group will affect no one. Small groups will find who needs fed.
Two, the old will not work anymore, but neither will the new all by itself. There should be old, new and mix of old and new together. Offer more choices and people will take them.
Incorporate these two ideas with love and the parish will change.
For those of us in Catholic Education or even some public institutions the idea of Scrip, Dillon's cards or gift cards is not an entirely new concept. However, what is new is an online company that now works in a similar fashion but allows the script idea to apply to online transactions. Plus, this is the BIG idea, an individual is allowed to choose among thousands of charities to give the proceeds to. This is HUGE! The company is social vest.
Here is how I just used social vest. First, I downloaded the social vest browser app. All that happened is now when I browse the internet, a small icon will appear at the top of my window showing which company gives back a percentage of my purchase to my social vest account. About 3 weeks ago I purchased some products off of Amazon.com (Amazon gives 4% back). I later received an email from social vest telling me I have $2.80 in my account.
So what you might ask? Now I can log onto my social vest account, browse thousands of charities and give the money to which ever one I choose. This is powerful and a boon for say... Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Dodge City which are all choices I can select.
This is important for schools in this diocese and social vest should be promoted. Especially to folks that do online shopping like I do. Check it out by clicking the icon below.
It happened again as it so often does. I read something and I get this funny thing feeling like my heart is about to jump out my chest I am so excited. I can see myself on a stage teaching a topic that can make a difference in another person’s life. This takes place in a few seconds but I can see it all so clearly. It is truly a great feeling. So this morning I read this from my sister:
“I am not particularly gifted or talented in photography. I know this. But, I book 90% of the peeps that walk through my door. I think it is because I am Aspen. I am passionate about making people happy.”
Kaitlyn Rawley has the best job title ever. She is the Happiness Engineer at Flocknote.com. What the heck is a Happiness Engineer? I don't know either but with a job title like that who cares. I doubt she is washing windows and using the plunger with any regularity. I imagine, and this is just guess, she and her boss Matt Warner some how determined she had skills that would make Flocknote a better business and the rest is history. I would reckon to she came up with the title.
I think the lesson in this story is that not every one could be a Happiness Engineer. It would take a person like Kaitlyn. A person with her gifts and talents to do that work. It reaffirms my belief that each person on earth can have great job title, but only if the job reflects who they are. And, what God put them on this earth to do.
I made a comment to my wife some time ago like this. “I look up and down our block and for the most part we are all the same. Go to work the same time, come home at the same time, haul kids around, indulge various hobbies, buy various trinkets to go in our homes, make payments, go to bed, do it over the next day. Sounds kind of… boring”. But today as I was reading a few pages of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, it occurred to me our churches do something very similar. People gather on Sunday, have Mass or a service of some fashion, tell the folks stuff, pay the bills, roll out a new program, do it all again next week. This type of routine is not the making a great story, at least in my mind.