Florida Parish on the Cutting Edge of Digital Ministry

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10369114_937351006280632_1670269462773646082_nThis interview speaks for itself, but I want to thank Tom Lelyo, self appointed “media ninja” at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Sarasota, FL for generously sharing his time and energy to serve not only his parish, but our Church. By embracing the latest technology tools to share the Good News, we can carry our message to the ends of the earth. Be sure to read all the way through for some terrific and practical suggestions on using social media in your parish or ministry.

Q: Please briefly introduce yourself and your family to our readers.

My name is Tom Lelyo and I am a Catholic husband and father living in Southwest Florida. My wife’s name is Natalie and we have three boys: Tommy, Jonah, and Augustine, who we call “Gus”; and we are expecting our fourth child, a girl named Gemma, in November.

Q: Please tell us about your role in your parish. How did you become involved in the website and social media aspects of your parish’s communications?

I work at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Sarasota, FL as the youth minister, and media ninja – the latter is a self-proclaimed title because of my involvement in various aspects of media from sound engineering to photography, videography, graphic design, and web design.

I became involved in these various technological ventures because I have a passion for technology and learning how to use it to spread the gospel.

Parishioners interacting at "Download Sunday"

Parishioners interacting at “Download Sunday”

Q: I recently read about your app and watched your great “Download Sunday” event play out — tell us about this initiative.

For the past few years we our parish has been blessed to work with Diocesan and Trinity publications as our bulletin provider. About a year ago, they shared with us their plan to launch an app platform that they could share with parishes to help facilitate better communication. We immediately saw the opportunity and asked to be one of the first parishes to launch the app.

A few months ago, they told us they were ready for us and so we began to prepare for this launch. The app has a few key features that we saw valuable for our parish communications strategy:

  • It gives us the ability to let parishioners access the bulletin, homilies, and parish news directly from their smart phone all in one convenient place.
  • It also gives them access to our parish calendar, church prayers, and other useful resources to help them grow in their faith
  • And, one of the best feature is the ability to send parishioners push notifications! So far we have used it to announce special events like beach night, conduct polls, and solicit feedback for future parish new stories.

While “Download Sunday” (our official launch) resulted in almost 200 downloads, the coolest part has been how engaged the parish has become through the app. Parishioners are replying to push notifications that ask for their opinion and testimonials, they’re asking for prayer requests, and are generally pleased with using the app!

Irresistable approach to recruiting volunteers!!

Irresistable approach to recruiting volunteers!!

Q: You’re parish is very active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I particularly love your instagrams! What cool tools and apps do you use to create and edit your photos?

Social media is about telling stories, and the best way to tell stories is through pictures. So, the majority of our social media post begin with the Camera and photos apps on my iPhone.

Once I take a few photos, I usually upload them to a shared photo Stream using Apple’s photos share service. I then, will invite other people to the stream, so they can share their pictures as well.

Next, I open the Phonto app and choose a photo I want to post. This is where I can add text, filters & objects like circles or rectangles to the image. I put together a 3 minute demo of how I do this here: http://betterchurchmedia.tumblr.com/post/98802104681/how-to-use-phonto-for-smartphone-images-select then, I post the image on Instagram.

From there, we have an automation service called “if this then that” (ifttt.com) that will automatically post our Instagram photos to Twitter as a native photo post not just a link so you actually see the photo on Twitter as well. If I want to post to Facebook, I use ifttt.com again, and use a special hashtag which posts it on our Facebook page as a native post so you actually see the photo.

Q: How has your parish community responded to the move to a more digitally communicative parish?

Overall, I would say that our parish has responded pretty favorably to our digital initiatives. We haven’t really taken any thing away, we’ve just added more opportunities for people to connect with our parish community online. And that’s the real goal: connecting people.

Q: What lessons have you learned that you can share with other parishes?

I have learned a lot of lessons. In fact, I have started journaling the lessons that I have learned on my new blog: “Better Church Media”. It is my hope that the lessons I learned can help inspire others towards making better church media so parishioners can get the message.

3 Big lessons I’ve learned are:

  1. You can never over communicate something to people.
  2. The medium is the message. don’t let the medium suck. Think about this: the majority of our personal physical communication is not through our words, it’s through our bodies. So too, the majority of our digital/pring communication is not through the words, but through the design & images surrounding the words! If the design stinks, the message might as well not be communicate
  3. Standards, strategies, and systems are vitally important for effective parish communications. They support you when you have to make tough decisions and they give you a framework within which to be creative and consistent in your message.

Q: What are your goals for the future?

I’d like to see us use more digital resources to tell more stories in the parish. People connect to stories, and I would like to see us capitalize on this so that we can bring the committee close together by learning one another stories. Some ideas:

  • Weekly social media posts celebrating volunteers
  • Video interviews
  • Asking more people’s opinions and feedback for parish news stories

Q: Are there any additional thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

I’d like to challenge bulletin editors and communication directors to really examine their role in the church as communicators, storytellers, and “creatives.” (to use a trendy word) Jesus Christ was the word made flesh, so we have the challenge to make our words come to life so the people in the congregation “get the message.”

Also don’t feel like you’re in a bubble. Find people around you that share your passion for communicating and learn from one another. Find out who is doing it better than you, and try to learn from them. Never settle for the line “it is what it is.” Always think about what it can be and strive for that!

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Copyright 2014 Lisa M. Hendey

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

3 Comments

  1. Love this article and what Tom is doing for St. Thomas More. He does not mention it, but this approach to communication is critical to keeping youth engaged…the future of our church.

    • Agreed 100% Jeff! The Download Sunday concept of having them teach other parishioners shows how social media ministry can unite generations and provide our youth and young adults with unique service opportunities.

  2. Tom,
    Excellent job—-I say the Holy Spirit is working through you and with you.
    This is a new era for communicating and evangelizing — if this is the way to reach the youth and young adults, that don’t even want to step inside a church. GO FOR IT!
    God Bless you, You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.
    Sent with love,
    Alice

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