Why are we doing that? How data is informing our decision making.

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.

Some companies tout they are “data-driven.” I prefer the term “data-informed.” Knowing what people are doing helps us in answering the next question, which is “Why are they doing that?” But if we only look at the data, sometimes we neglect to ask the bigger question of “Why?”

For instance, in 2012 the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate conducted a survey of Catholics regarding how they got information about the Church. The number one source was their parish bulletin; 41% of respondents said they used the bulletin at least once a month. All other sources were far below, with diocesan newspaper/magazine next at 17%, and the parish website in a distant third, at nine percent. You can read the whole report on that from the USCCB here.

Catholic companies producing printed and online bulletins have used that data point to promote their services, suggesting parishes should really focus on the parish bulletin as the way to reach people. But let’s stop and consider why people might indicate the bulletin is how they get information on what is happening in the parish. Is it the ONLY way someone can find out what is happening at your parish? For many parishes, the answer is yes.

If that’s the case, some other data should inform our decisions in what to do about that.

First, if your parish only provides a printed bulletin, we should consider the fact that Mass attendance has declined by 27% since 2001 in our diocese, despite the Catholic population remaining relatively stable. Nationally, surveys indicate on any given Sunday, one quarter to one-third of Catholics attend Mass. We’re actually a little better than that, even with the dramatic slide, in that about 43% of our folks on average are at Sunday Mass.

But, if we are just giving parish information to that 43% of people, it means more than half of our Catholics aren’t getting our news.

Secondly, in a diocesan survey conducted last year, using a database of Catholics who had given their email address to the Chancery, all respondents, regardless of their age, indicated they preferred to get information via email, over all other methods (see graph below). It’s true, even us grandmothers are digital these days!

While some parishes are posting their bulletins on their websites, which was also a preferred means of receiving information, all of us should consider what opportunities we are missing by not communicating with people on a regular basis via email and social media.

Finally, regardless of whether the information is given to people in printed bulletins, online bulletins, via email or social media, remember having a strong identity (brand) is also important. This allows our brains to quickly identify the source of the information, so those who are interested can prioritize the content. (“This is from St. Mary’s! I need to read it now!”) And having a visually attractive identity and presentation encourages those who may be marginally interested to look twice and perhaps even read the content! (“Wait, what is this from the church?”)

Being data-informed allows us to make smart decisions to make the faith more attractive and more relevant. To implement those smart decisions, our parishes can utilize the resources we are gathering, under the creative talent of our Director of Parish Communications, Ashley Wiskirchen. We are better together!

Helen Osman
Director of Communications
Diocese of Jefferson City
Office: 573.635.9127