Parish Engagement? There's an App for that.

Summer 2015

FAITH Catholic is committed to helping dioceses bring their parishes more fully into the digital world. To do this, FAITH has partnered with myParish App to offer an exclusive for FAITH Catholic clients — a free app for every parish. What makes this different from other free apps is the ability for dioceses to push content to users, plus custom parish-based marketing to drive users to the app, and ease-of-use for parish staff. Content Evangelist talked to myParish App designers Curt Ankin and Curtis Street to learn how this unique app helps parishes to evangelize.

What’s the goal of myParish App? 

When it gets down to it... our main goal is to help people hear the Good News. The Church has the greatest message to share with the world, and people get this message in many different places. Some people connect with the Church via the evening news, some via bulletins and some with the Web or other means.

But the biggest way people connect with information today is on their smart devices, and many parishes are absent from or lack a voice in this medium. So, understanding that, I guess you could say that our goal is to bring the Good News to the place where people today are listening most often – their mobile devices.

Why should parishes consider using an app to communicate with parishioners?

There are so many things to consider, this could be a long answer! Let's see if we can highlight some of the key pieces. 

First and foremost, it is important to understand how people use their phones and tablets. Studies have shown that most people open apps before their Web browser when using their phones. Apps are easier to use and read, and good apps are designed in a way that takes the user experience and the small screen into consideration. This makes communication via an app much more effective in such a small space.

It also is necessary to recognize that apps are different from all other forms of communication. There are so many ways that an app can use the technology found in your phone or tablet that a mobile website or social networking simply cannot. The app can tap into reminders, GPS, location services, calendars and notifications to provide parishioners with a more comprehensive, personal faith experience.

Do people report an increase in their faith life with the use of an app or other digital platforms regarding faith and religion?

Based on what we see and hear, we would say a definite, yes!

We continue to receive very positive feedback from parishioners that have started following the daily Mass readings or praying more regularly because of their ability to easily do these things through the myParish App. Even people that were skeptical of a parish app have been pleasantly surprised by the simple access to useful faith-building resources. We hear stories all the time about people using the app at various places throughout the week such as during breaks at work, picking kids up from school, waiting at the doctor’s office or in line at the bank. This is exactly what we designed the app for – to make it easy for parishioners to connect with the parish no matter where they are.

In addition to these wonderful personal testimonials, our usage statistics really paint the picture of how people are using the myParish App. 

Almost as a rule, all Catholic communications outlets see a similar engagement from their readers. They see a spike on Sunday, and then usage dips the rest of the week. This repeats week after week. We fully expected to see this same usage pattern with how people use the myParish App.

Never have we been so happy to be wrong!

With all the ways that the app makes it easy to set daily reminders, receive messages and share the content via social networks, that same ebb and flow does not exist. We are seeing that myParish App users are almost as active during the middle of the week as they are on Sunday. When we pair that with the fact that the daily readings and prayers are two of the most used areas of the app, it is easy to see that people are using the app to grow in their daily faith life.

Tell us about how myParish App has been implemented in the Diocese of Lansing.

This has been a very special relationship for us from the start. It has been wonderful partnering with Faith Catholic and the Diocese of Lansing. Our partnership has been built around the idea of strengthening communication not only on the parish-parishioner level, but also on the diocese-parishioner level. The goal is to give Bishop Boyea and the diocese more of a digital presence to Catholics throughout the diocese.

We also have been working one-on-one with each parish to set up their app and help them launch it to their parishioners. Parishes have been getting started at a time that works best in their parish schedule, with the goal of launching all the parishes over the course of about six months.

The Diocese of Lansing is doing great work and really are forward-thinking when it comes to evangelization and discipleship via Web, social and mobile. We are honored to be working with such great people at the diocese and look forward to creating new opportunities together for the Catholic Church.

What unique features have some parishes included to customize their apps (not just Lansing) and how have those benefited parishioners?

Parishes are able to include their weekly homilies and bulletins in the app. They also can offer easy access to their existing online giving portal. Many parishes love the ability to schedule messages with push notifications to go out during the week. We also have recently added the ability for a parish to merge news from their website directly into their app. This is great because it saves the parish time – they don’t have to double-post their news since they are already posting to their website. This allows for even more customization, but doesn't require any extra work for the parish staff.

Isn’t a parish app just one more thing that a small and limited parish staff will have to manage?

That is a good question. We do occasionally hear this concern and thankfully, managing the myParish App does not require a significant amount of time to manage.

We have learned a great deal working with Catholic churches over the last 60 years. We understand how overworked and understaffed many parishes are, and how difficult it is to effectively connect with parishioners. We have applied our knowledge and experience to simplify the management process, and have automated and streamlined every area of the app.

Simplicity aside, it really comes down to the fact that as parish communicators, we are struggling to communicate effectively where people are listening. Communication has changed so drastically over the last 5 to 10 years that we need to re-evaluate how we communicate, and determine where people are listening now and how to effectively reach them. That place is mobile, and the app is the best way to connect with them there.

Do you have testimonials from pastors? What have they said about the app and how are they using it?

We have had a lot of positive feedback, but a couple of specific pastors come to mind. 

Father Ingram from St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Grovetown, Georgia, initially thought phones weren't of much use beyond making and receiving calls. His staff eventually convinced him that they needed to get myParish App, and now he says that a day doesn't go by that they don't hear something positive about the app from parishioners.

The other one that comes to mind is Father Joe from St. Mary's Crescent Catholic Community in Waterford, New York. Father Joe has shared with us about how this technology is much needed and provides a great way for the parish to communicate with parishioners throughout the week. We continue to hear great things from pastors and parish administrators, as well as parishioners who are using the app. 

Do you think the app will actually help bring people back to the Church?

We do! Especially, knowing that this is where so many people now communicate. One of the beautiful things about apps is how easy it is to share parish news and events with friends and family across your social networks. Each parishioner is only one tap away from sharing the Good News and evangelizing for the parish. Only one tap away from connecting with lost Catholics or inviting friends to an event at the parish.  

We like to use the phrase, “Catholic Life Every Day.”

Every day when we sit down to work, we look at how to improve the app in ways that help each of us live a “Catholic Life Every Day.”

The better that we can all do that, the easier it will be for us to bring people back to the Church. 

And in the end, that’s a wonderful thing.