Saturday, August 25, 2012

Importance of Websites as a Key Method of Communication
A few years ago, Dr. Charles Zech, Executive Director of the Villanova University Center for the Study of Church Management, completed a survey for the International Catholic Stewardship Council (ICSC). The survey looked at best practices in parish stewardship. What worked and what didn't?

Dr. Zech found that parishes using five or more methods of communication to teach stewardship experienced significant increases in critical areas of parish life: 14% increase in treasure, 19% increase in volunteer time, 10% increase in spiritual time, and a 30% increase in outreach time. That's amazing! The study also found that the majority of parishes relied on the bulletin for stewardship communications (93% of parishes surveyed), while only 41% employed a website containing similar messages. Websites and newsletters were the most effective ways to communicate stewardship.

According to a survey released on May 30, 2012 by GreyMatter Research Consulting on church websites (, there are three types of visitors to church websites. In the 30 days before the survey, those who:
1. Regularly attend that particular church looked at the church website. (64% of visitors)
2. Attend another church regularly looked at another church's website. (31% of visitors)
3. Do not attend any church regularly looked at a church website. (5% of visitors)

Pages commonly visited on church websites are times of services, activities offered, map/directions to the church, available videos, audio clips and those defining the churches' beliefs. What is your church's web address? Does your church offer these services on it's website? How easy are they to find for someone who has never visited or heard of your church? Enlist someone unfamiliar with your church to analyze the website for you to give you ideas for improvement.

My next post will look at ideas and sample websites for drawing new visitors into the website. Check back soon!

Blessings, Julie

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

To Post or Not to Post...

More Catholic parishes are embracing the internet and digital communications as another form of communicating with parishioners, anyone interested in the Catholic faith, and those who might be "church shopping" in the area. Whether a parish is revamping their website, starting a Facebook page, blogging, and/or tweeting, social media has become something parishes find critical, especially when trying to reach youth and young adults.

Our Sunday Visitor recently held a webinar called Social Media for Pastors and Parishes: More Than Friends, Creating Meaningful Relationships, and it was one of the best attended yet. Our speaker, Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., Creative Director for Pilot Media Group with the Archdiocese of Boston, answered several questions from participants about security, guidelines, protecting the parish from liability issues, and more. Those are questions Our Sunday Visitor frequently hears as well when we work with parishes to launch new websites .

For those wanting some guidance on terminology, setting appropriate boundaries, dealing with difficult "fans", examples of codes of conduct, and other helpful tips, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Communications issued a document called Social Media Guidelines. It was published in 2010, and is full of good information.

For those reading this who are located outside the States, check to see if your Bishops have issued a similar set of guidelines. If not, there are certainly some good rules to follow at the link above.

Over the next couple of posts, I'll pass along some links to great parish websites, Facebook pages, other social media examples, and good resources for accomplishing this in the limited time of a parish staff person. I also address why a parish should incorporate multiple media forms in their communication plan.
Stay tuned...I'm heading back to the vineyard. See you there!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

100 Years Old...A Milestone for a Church Tradition

Greetings, Friends. Our Sunday Visitor has turned 100 years old! May 5, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the first edition of Our Sunday Visitor weekly newspaper, and we celebrated by hosting an Open House here in Huntington, IN. For those of you who could attend, we're so glad you stopped by. We estimate between 700 and 1,000 people came through our doors that day to take a plant tour, have a hot dog, get a balloon animal, and/or eat birthday cake. We were privileged to have Redeemer Radio, our local Catholic radio station, broadcasting live for the entire two hours so those who couldn't physically be here, could listen in to our merriment. We  have other exciting events planned throughout 2012, including several events on Friday, September 28, including a "Continuing the Legacy Symposium" featuring Cardinal George, Helen Alvare and Scott Hahn followed by a Mass of Thanksgiving and Re- dedication at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and then a dinner for our guests. I've included a link to the press release for anyone interested in reading more about Our Sunday Visitor's mission and history. If you read it, I guarantee that you'll learn something!  I feel so blessed to serve the Church using my talents here at Our Sunday Visitor.

Our Sunday Visitor has been in the vineyard for a Century...that's our mission. Hope to see you there too.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Heading West and A Stewardship Resource

I hope this post finds you all doing well. I'm preparing to leave for the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress this weekend. If you've never been, you really need to make a plan and go some year. Over 30,000 Catholics of all nationalities and ages from parishes all over the world, in one place. It's so uplifting! The workshops enlightening, Liturgies amazing and I'm energized for days. It's something I look forward to every year. It's a great networking place too!
Our Sunday Visitor will be there in full. This is the biggest show for our Curriculum Division, and our Publishing crew does well also. Offertory Solutions will be there this year (after a brief reprieve) with a kiosk demonstrating easy parish websites through our new web tools.
Before I left for the West Coast though, I wanted to let you all know about a website and resource that's been published for some time by the Stewardship and Development Office in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Mr. Mark Blanchard. They produce a monthly e-letter called "Stewardship Today" that I really like. The site is There's a monthly devotion, and stories of prayer, ministry and finance, along with other monthly tidbits. Check it out and let me know if you like it.
Take good care of the vineyard you're entrusted with! Bye for now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Just Starting Stewardship?

Last week I was helping facilitate the ICSC/OSV Stewardship Institute in San Antonio. Our two organizations partner to bring this vital stewardship educational experience to parishes across the country. Normally we get between 20 and 30 students attending this blend of retreat and "stewardship immersion" over a few days. This was our first one in Texas, and I've heard they do everything "bigger", but we were blown away by the response. We had 53 attendees from about 40 parishes and 9 states! Everyone was engaged from the start and anxious to learn and share.

I frequently get the question from parishes about what they should do first if they are just starting to teach stewardship. Actually, I've not heard of a parish that isn't "doing" stewardship in some form already, they just needed to identify, organize and strategize their efforts! This was true of the parishes at our Stewardship Institute as well. I sure hope I gave them even half of the ideas I learned from them.

Take for example, Frances from St. Joseph Church in Spring Branch, TX. She is a wonderful woman and their parish is doing something interesting with evangelization in the local neighborhoods. I urge you to look at their website, and check back frequently as their new program takes place called Neighborhood Net. Their address is They even have a quick link on the right that contains a funeral planning guide which I thought was well thought out.

If you think your parish is "just starting" stewardship, take an inventory of the efforts you have underway in the areas of 1) personal or lay witness, 2) commitment from parish leadership, 3) hospitality/evangelization and outreach, 4) communication and education, 5) time and talent recognition, recruiting and training, 6) stewardship of treasure, and 7) accountability. These are the 7 Steps to Success as outlined in Appendix IV of the Bishop's Pastoral Letter on stewardship. After you've done your inventory, then give me a call, or send me a comment through the blog and we can discuss your "next steps"! I'd love to hear from you.

Back to the vineyard. Take good care.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Importance of Personal Witness


Did you think I'd forgotten about you? Never. Just running behind my friends.

I did a workshop for a local parish on Saturday, and a topic that seemed to strike a cord with them was lay witnesses, and not just having them (parishes definitely on), but when, where, and who should do the presentations.

In Best Practices in Parish Stewardship (Zech, Our Sunday Visitor, 2008), Dr. Charles Zech reports that parishes utilizing lay witnesses experience 11% more treasure, 9% more volunteer time, 11% more time spent on spiritual activities, and 17% more time spent in outreach than parishes who do not use lay witnesses! In fact, the biggest increases were experienced by parishes scheduling testimonials at times other than at Mass. (That doesn't mean you shouldn't do lay witness presentations at the appropriate times at Mass, it means you shouldn't ONLY do them at Mass.)

You might be thinking to yourself, "What other opportunities are there?" Certainly putting witness stories and quotes in the parish newsletter, annual report, or ministry booklets, video-taping those involved in ministries and uploading to the website, and/or showing before parish or school meetings. You might even think about having someone talk during the parish festival or picnic!

Many non-profit organizations are familiar with the success of lay witnesses and include such testimonials in their end-of-the-year appeals for financial gifts. People want their money to make a difference, and will give where they recognize lives are changed. Certainly lives are changed in our parishes!

The best stories are those of current disciples serving in parish ministries. You know them...they're the passionate, prayerful ones who other folks seem to respect and listen to. Don't overlook children or young adults as they can be effective and inspirational. Consider all ages and races of parishioners. Talks can be given on financial giving, serving, spirituality, and inviting among other topics. Be sure to have the witness share a bit of their struggle to prioritize their finances and/or time in order to make their sacrifices work, and how rewarding it is for them emotionally and spiritually.

Definitely preview the talks beforehand to ensure there isn't an underlying theme of "giving in order to receive more" as we all know God's rewards are not always financial! Below are some links to diocesan websites with resources for lay witness presentations including some in Spanish. - Diocese of Orange - Diocese of Cleveland - Diocese of Oakland

And pages 42-51 of the entire stewardship manual of the Diocese of Charlotte at

Please share with us some of your parish lay witness best practices by commenting on this post for all to see! I'd love to hear from you.

Back to the vineyard. Please, you go, too!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Steward Leaders Among Parishes

Parishes just getting started in stewardship, and even those further along, need good examples and ideas from other parishes who have worn their shoes. Every year at the International Catholic Stewardship Council's (ICSC) annual conference, the Archbishop Thomas J Murphy award is presented to a parish for its outstanding work in Christian stewardship formation. The criteria on which parishes are judged is stringent, and their hefty award application submissions (large binders containing samples of what they've accomplished) have been known to give hernias if not lifted properly.

An Archbishop Murphy award designation is a goal worth striving for because of the results these parishes experience in the life of their communities. I've listed the past winners below, along with their websites. Each has something to offer those who are seeking, and many contain bilingual resources.

1. St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Wichita, KS -
2. St. Joseph, Downingtown, PA -
3. St. Charles Borromeo, Boardman, OH -
4. St. Matthias, Somerset, NJ -
5. St. Anne, Columbus, GA -
6. St. Luke the Evangelist, Houston, TX -
7. St. Michaels, Olympia, WA -
8. Blessed Trinity, Ocala, GA -
9. St. Thomas More, Centennial, CO -
10. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Cincinnati, OH -
11. St. Pius the Tenth, Greensboro, NC -
12. Queen of Peace, Gainesville, FL -
13. La Purisma, Orange, CA -

For more information on the Archbishop Murphy and other ICSC awards, including criteria and applications, visit their website at .

It is quite busy in the vineyard as we prepare for the coming of our King! Why don't you go too?