Key takeaways for parishes joining us on the website development journey

This post is part of a weekly series exploring the “Better Together Branding Initiative” a diocesan-wide project helping parishes refresh their brands and digital presence.

Casting a vision that includes, well, you!

Let me apologize – your regular Wednesday post was delayed last week, thankfully for a great reason. For the past several business days I’ve been able to sit in on fruitful, constructive meetings pertaining directly to parish branding and website development efforts.

Last Wednesday a small collection of parish representatives and Chancery staff were able to sit down with representatives from Blackbaud, the developer of our parish websites and facilitators of the long-term vision for a more technically literate and efficient diocese.

Our Bishop’s clear vision for unity among our diocese is fuel for stepping forward together to explore how technology can better serve our ministry as a whole diocese. There is great momentum in the Chancery offices on this front, but I am mindful progress can be hard to measure and communicate. I’d like to provide here some insight I’ve gleaned from these meetings, and how those insights translate to progress on our projects.

Systems should be designed to work for us, not against us.

I was encouraged by our Bernard Novit, the Strategic Account Executive in their Faith-Focused Solutions division we’re working with at Blackbaud, to hear him explain the focus of their development is around a central idea: “How can we remove the hurdles we encounter to our ministries?”

Many times, when we inventory the “how” behind our processes we come to understand we’ve done it this way because we had to conform to some sort of system that managed our tasks. For example, sharing meetings on a calendar with others should be simple, an easy way to coordinate schedules, reserve space, etc. MANY apps on the market seek to be the “ultimate solution” to scheduling processes, right? But often times we encounter technology as a hurdle to our productivity, instead of a helper.

Once we have finally achieved the great task of getting the technology “out of the way” of our ministries, we have the room and attention to dream bigger. Now that our staff is efficient, our technology easy-to-use, how can we use it to enhance our service to others? Dreaming big has been a challenge up to this point, a facet of ministry that wrestling with technology does not allow to thrive. But I see a turning point ahead of us, where we dream a big idea and see the technology meet us to carry out that vision.

Our timeline is focused on the adoption and implementation of our plans.

Developing, testing and refining our infrastructure is actually very easy, in the grand scheme of things. What’s more challenging is how we take these beautiful systems we are developing (websites, databases, etc.) and use them well.

How we collect, improve and move our data into any new system is the focus of our timeline. That Is to say, we are invested in meeting each parish where they are, and want to provide services that serve parish staff and parishioners. We desire not only to hand over high-quality deliverables, but also to train, adopt and implement those programs to their fullest potential.

I understand it’s hard to trust that. Because this is new, we wonder if it will be useful, and stand the test of time. I’m sure we could find several “other ways and many workarounds” to implement our plans, but I am glad to know Blackbaud’s focus is not simply delivering the technology, but teaching us how to use it well.

My Office is here to serve you.

As we walk this path together, the Chancery Communications office is positioning itself to be capable of supporting parish staff, initiatives and implementation of these new ideas. We know what we’re trying to accomplish here is no small feat.

By pruning away multiple systems and work-arounds, we are able to learn one system fully – providing us with a breadth and depth of understanding we weren’t capable of previously. As we look ahead, we see the Chancery offices as being capable of supporting parish efforts. When we understand a system very well, we’re able to offer help and best practices to others who adopt that system, and as more parishes come online to that system, the support net widens.

What can parishes do to prepare?

Many have asked me what their parish can do to prepare for changes ahead. I want to first provide some comfort to those who are very worried about transitioning too soon – we are working one-on-one with parishes to ensure our services and timelines meet yours. Some parishes are ready to tackle the changes, others need time to put things in order. I am very excited to move forward, and want to reiterate the recognition these changes aren’t happening overnight.

While the developers work on infrastructure, and my office continues to develop workflows that allow us to scale our work across the many needs of our individual parishes, parishes can also begin preparing their databases and records for transition in the upcoming months.

  • Parish staff can begin inventorying your parish communication systems and processes, ministry systems, communication plans, etc. If your parish relies on volunteers to run ministry programs, you might survey them to see how they are currently communicating with parishioners. What kind of social media, digital systems and software do they use to communicate? Facebook? E-mail? Something else? What works well and what doesn’t? And why?
  • Parishes can update the contact information for parishioners in your database management system, and ensure that records as accurately and descriptively as possible.
  • Parishes should confirm that VIRTUS records are up-to-date and accurate.

While I hope to deliver more concrete progress in the next week and coming posts (Praise God for the many pastors and parish staff who are hungry for their new websites!) it has become very clear to me others are not ready yet. That’s alright! We are moving forward on a journey together; and I appreciate your kindness and patience as we sometimes slowly, but surely, take steps together in the right direction.