Katie Diller Knows the Key to Reaching College Kids

What is your role at St. Thomas Aquinas/St. John Church?

My role is Director of Student Outreach for St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. Like so many other churches today, we are part of a merged community of ministries. Our parish includes two churches and a large Catholic elementary school. Most of my work takes place at St. John Catholic Church & Student Center, which serves students, faculty and staff at Michigan State University. I run leadership and catechetical programs for undergraduates, coordinate eight alternative spring break mission trips, manage the budget, teach Bible studies, talk the Knights of Columbus into cooking pancake dinners during exam week … you name it, I do it! One of your tasks is to manage the use of social media for the parish.

Do you think digital and social media can help enrich people’s faith?

Absolutely. We have to meet people where they are, and a lot of our people are on their smartphones or laptops! There’s a ton of insightful, inspiring content out there. For example, one of Pope Francis’ recent tweets was about spending time before the Tabernacle. If we re-tweet that, then invite people to Holy Hour at the parish, they might be moved to give it a try.

Exactly how are you using digital and social media to communicate with students and young adults?

A huge portion of our advertising happens through Facebook events, Flocknote blasts, Twitter reminders and the occasional invitation to Mass on Yik Yak. We use Flocknote at the beginning of every fall semester to register new students as parishioners via cell phone text messages. Students RSVP for events online, register for retreats using Google Forms, and check in from mission trips on Twitter. Each year, we download a few thousand names of incoming freshmen from the Newman Connection website and welcome them through Facebook before they even arrive on campus. Upperclassmen invite the freshmen to walk to Mass or other events through a Facebook group before they even meet in person.

Are you using social media to evangelize as well as to simply communicate?

(For example, are you sending links to content that might interest Catholic Spartans?) If so, do you have a sense of how this kind of content evangelization is working? 

We share a lot of spiritual content via Twitter and Facebook, which we have linked for efficiency. Posts that include ideas for what to take up or give up for Lent are always very popular. We re-post blogs about faith and dating, the latest news from Pope Francis, book recommendations, tips for getting over “evangelization awkwardness,” articles from Catholic news outlets – anything that catches our eye. We can always tell which posts are popular by the amount of likes and re-shares. Practical articles or funny church memes are usually the favorites.

What tools work best to connect parishioners with the parish?  What do you wish you had that hasn’t been invented yet?

Facebook and Twitter are the current gold standard in social media, although new apps are released every day. Flocknote was created for churches and is a great tool for registering new parishioners, especially in big parishes with transient populations like our Catholic Student Center. Flocknote allows you to maintain separate lists for various ministries and send emails to the entire community or to smaller groups. Photos, video, event RSVP’s, files and survey questions can be embedded in the emails. Digital Evangelization Conference helps parishes get connected, spread the word FAITH Catholic hosted a Digital Evangelization Conference for the Diocese of Lansing in May, bringing together more than 150 parish and diocesan staff members and others in Catholic ministry to learn more about effectively using digital and social media to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Attendees heard from two special guest speakers, Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council on Social Communications, and Father Eric Sundrup, S.J., cofounder of The Jesuit Post, and reported they learned many new things about how to approach the use of digital and social communications. Topics ranged from the theoretical, reviewing the purpose and methods of using social media to evangelize, to the tactical -- some basic "nuts and bolts" of using various social platforms. “There was so much more that could have been presented,” said FAITH Catholic president and CEO Patrick M. O’Brien. “But we wanted to give parish staff a place to start because we know they are still trying to understand how best to use and manage social media and digital communications at the parish level.” FAITH Catholic anticipates more conferences across the nation as dioceses seek to equip their parishes for evangelization in the digital age. “We’re making our experts available because dioceses need resources for their parishes to learn not only the ‘how’ of digital and social media, but also the ‘why.’ Using these tools more strategically is the way to gain ground in evangelizing,” O’Brien said. Dioceses that want information about hosting a digital evangelization conference for their parishes should contact O’Brien at pobrien@faithcatholic.com.