Stewards of Our Strengths at the 54th Annual ICSC Conference

Posted on July 25, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

When my parish first began its stewardship journey, it was not uncommon to have conversations that began like this: “I understand the need to be a good steward of my time. Each of us only has so many hours in a day, and we never know when our life will end. I ‘get’ that we need to be stewards of our treasure.

StewardshipEven though I always feel I need more money, I can learn to separate my wants from my needs. But stewards of our talents? What are our talents? What does it mean to be a steward of talent?” For many years, we searched for ways to help people become aware of and grow as stewards of their talents. That is one of the many reasons why we were so excited when we discovered StrengthsFinder .

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Taking Responsibility for Each Other

Posted on July 18, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, July 24, 2016, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mother Teresa quote and image taken from QuoteHD.com.

The turmoil of the past few weeks—another terrorist attack in France , police shootings, and the violent protests that followed—call to mind the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Our society has fractured into numerous factions.  Republican and Democrat, black and white, progressive and conservative are unable to talk to each other and quick to blame one another for whatever tragedies we suffer. In fact, we much sooner blame conservatives for gun violence and liberals for terrorist attacks than we do those who actually commit the atrocities.

Listening to all the rancor vulgarly displayed in the media makes one wonder if we should bring back the Old Testament practice of mourning in sackcloth and ashes. Perhaps as a country what we need more than anything else is a time of silence to grieve for all the lives lost and all the families affected by the violence of the past year. Maybe by closing our mouths and simply shedding tears together, we might be reminded that, despite our differences, we really do belong to each other.

In this Sunday’s first reading, we witness a beautiful example of one man showing mercy and love to others. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not Abraham’s kin. In fact, there can be little doubt that their reputed violence, inhospitality, and debauchery deeply offended him. It would be understandable for him to take pleasure in seeing God’s justice done. Yet Abraham begged God to have mercy on them. Though they were not his people, Abraham had a sense that he belonged to them and that they belonged to him. For that reason, he felt compelled to intercede for them and bargain for their lives.

In his recent encyclical on care for God’s creation, Laudato Si, Pope Francis remarks about Noah, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!” (LS 71). In Sodom and Gomorrah, as few as ten good people would have prevented the destruction of those cities. In our society today, it would not take many of us to turn the tide of destruction and avert further violence. All we need to do is put aside our agendas, drop whatever label we have chosen to hang around our neck, and listen to one another. No matter what our backgrounds, we have something to learn from each other. If we can stop calling each other names and raising suspicions about each other’s motives, we might actually come to understand that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us.

Once we understand that we belong to each other, we will not need political parties, social agendas, or race to define our identity. Seeing ourselves as children of God, we will come to understand that we are all brothers and sisters. Just as all the violence of the past year has begun with one person inflicting harm on another, just so this revolution of compassion can be initiated simply by one person deciding to listen to her neighbor without judging or condemning. Then we might experience healing, peace, and, finally, justice.

And, in case you are not convinced of the power of one simple gesture of love and compassion, consider the example of one young Portuguese soccer fan who consoled a crying French fan after his team lost the Euro 2016 championship. All of us should consider doing the same to someone who is hurting today.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,
we are all your children.
How quick we are to choose lesser identities.
How slow we are to see each other
as brothers and sisters.
How quick we are to speak
and how slow we are to listen.
How quick we are to judge
and how slow we are to understand.
Give us the spirit of Abraham to work for mercy
rather than for ruthless justice.
Give us a spirit of intercession
rather than of condemnation.
and give us peace.

We ask this in the name of the Prince of Peace,
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

Download PDF

Create a Dynamic Parish Facebook Page…in Just Ten Minutes a Day

Posted on June 27, 2016 by - Catholic Tech Talk

St. PaulSt. Paul the Apostle spent a lot of time in town squares, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ wherever he went. He spoke of becoming all things to all people, in order to win some to the cause of Christ. And as Catholics we are each called to do the same.

Imagine if you could regularly share the Gospel with those in your community who are feeling discouraged, disengaged, or even lost from the faith in just ten minutes a day. Facebook provides a digital place for you to do exactly that.

Think of Facebook as the new town square, with roughly 1.4 billion active users logging in every month. Your parishioners are here. People needing God are here. And your church needs to be here too.

Many parishes today have a basic Facebook page for their church. If you don’t have one, a good place to start is to share elements of your weekly bulletin and parish website, communicating the information in short segments that can be read quickly, responded to immediately, and shared exponentially.

To take your page to the next level you’ll need to find great content to share to increase your parishioner engagement. There are several simple steps you can take to move forward. With a little bit of planning, you can easily create a dynamic parish Facebook page in less than ten minutes a day.

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Three Reasons Every Parish Needs to Be on Facebook

Posted on June 27, 2016 by - Catholic Tech Talk

Churches on Facebook LogoFacebook allows you to engage your parishioners every single day
The Mass is the center of all things for the Church, bringing the sacrifice and love of Christ into the present moment. This is a message that can be (and should be) echoed throughout the rest of the week using your Facebook page.

Facebook allows you to share parish news, as it happens, not just on Sundays
Make Facebook your place to keep parishioners up-to-date with parish news and event information. By liking your page, they will receive up-to-the-minute notifications every single time you post.

Facebook gives you the tools to share the good news of Jesus Christ
Use Facebook to post content that speaks to the power of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then encourage your parishioners to share those posts with their friends to spread the Gospel.

Stewards Among Us

Posted on June 20, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Inspiring Discipleship One Story at a Time

Take a moment to think back to the days when you weren’t so engaged in parish life. Remember how it felt to show up for Sunday Mass without knowing a soul or feeling any connection to your parish?

Now recall the specific instance when you were invited to join in a particular parish ministry or group. Why did you say yes?

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Bring Your Bulletin To Life With Color

Posted on June 15, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, recently took advantage of the latest print technology offered by LPi and upgraded its entire bulletin to full color, transforming it into a beautiful, vibrant communications tool for the parish.

First, you need to know that LPi did not create this awesome bulletin transformation—the parish did. But you will never believe who on the parish staff created this engaging new design. It was Joe Kallenberger, Director of Administrative Services for the church. Joe started with a strong overall color palette and organized their content into different color blocks. With the use of such vibrant colors, the white space stands out in greater contrast and improves the visual flow for the reader.

We love that Our Lady of Lourdes uses its weekly bulletin less for dates and times and more for communicating the good news of Jesus Christ. To see the parish’s most recent color bulletins online visit its website at www.ololmke.org.

Here Are A Few Changes That Make This Bulletin Really Stand Out
Original Bulletin

The limited color palette makes it difficult to highlight the most important content, even with an effective use of white space.

 

Click here to download this article as a PDF

Video Ideas for Your Parish Website

Posted on May 3, 2016 by - Catholic Tech Talk

More and more parishes are starting to incorporate video on their website as a way to demonstrate what the church has to offer and to invite more people into the doors on Sunday.

There’s a lot of talk about the need for the Catholic Church to be “more engaging,” but we can’t engage people until they meet us at Mass!

Videos are a powerful way to urge potential or former parishioners to come to Mass, to communicate your church’s mission, and invite people to be more engaged members of your faith community.

To get started, seek out a volunteer in your parish or consider shooting video yourself using just your smartphone. Your videos should be short, around one to three minutes, and you will probably want to host them on a site like YouTube or Vimeo. If you have an idea that will take longer than a few minutes, consider developing it as a series.

Here are a few ideas for creating videos for your parish:
Welcome videos

Many parishes have a written “welcome message” from their priest on the front page of their website, but welcome videos can be even more inviting and show that you’re making an extra effort to reach people. Your pastor can explain the culture of the community, discuss the parish mission, and invite members and visitors to come celebrate Mass.

Here are two great examples. Not only do they show images of the community and feature testimonials and messages from the priest, but they also invites the viewer to “Come, Join Us.” These videos may have been professionally produced, but they offer a great outline of the message to convey.

Video testimonials

Video testimonials are an extremely powerful evangelization tool and are great for your website and social media channels. Record parishioners talking about their faith journey and how it led them to your church. Invite them to talk about how your parish has affected their family life and strengthened their relationship with God.

Here’s a great example from Catholics Come Home:

 

Question of the Month

Pick a different question each month and record parishioners after Mass answering it. Here are a few examples to get you started: What do you love about your church? What does faith mean to you?  Where do you find God in everyday life?

Get creative

When my parish experimented with video a few years ago, the video that received the greatest amount of views was one taken of our priest on Ash Wednesday where he decided to spontaneously offer “ashes to go” and a blessing for anyone who wanted them in the Starbucks parking lot across the street from the church between services. This simple act of showing our priest reaching out and engaging in the community resulted in twenty times the results of any other video on our parish website.

When you’re thinking of great video ideas, try to be as creative as possible. For example, you could hold a contest for your parishioners or school children to create a video about your parish. Parishioners could vote on their favorite and place the winning video on your website.

Here’s a creative Day in the Life of a Priest video from LifeTeen:

 

Other Sources

A number of dioceses and archdioceses have jumped on the video bandwagon, so if you don’t have the time to create a video right now, check those websites to see if there are any videos you can repurpose on your site. If your specific diocese has produced a stewardship appeal or special collection video, embedding them on your online giving page would be a great place to start.

Here are two great examples from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee:


For fun, educational, Catholic videos, check out Busted Halo. They have a huge collection of short videos that cover a wide variety of topics including the meaning of the sacraments and holy days. They may seem basic, but these videos are a great way to evangelize to the people who aren’t at Mass every Sunday.

Here’s a great video from Busted Halo about the Eucharist:

If your parish is currently looking for a website tool that makes uploading and using videos easy, click here to learn more about how our website tool WeConnect can help you build beautiful, engaging websites.

Ten Tips for Recording Video on Your Phone

Posted on May 3, 2016 by - Catholic Tech Talk

Videos are a great way to connect with visitors to your website and nearly everyone has a powerful video camera in their pocket–their smartphone.

With a little practice and these few tips you can create great footage for your website. In addition to livening up your website, videos are also a great way to connect to visitors on Facebook and YouTube.

Here are ten simple tips for recording videos on your phone

Video

1. Record outdoors whenever possible. Bright, natural light is always better, but stay out of direct sunlight.

2. If you have to record indoors, make sure there’s plenty of light. Just avoid windows or lighting directly behind your subject as it can wash them out.

3. Always turn your phone and shoot horizontally. If you don’t your videos will be sideways when you watch them on your computer or TV.

4. Keep the microphone as close to your subject as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask them to speak up.

5. Subjects should look just off camera and the camera should be at the same height as the person’s head. You don’t want to be looking up or down at them.

6. Be sure there is space above your subject’s head and in the direction they’re looking at.

7. Keep it steady. Phones are light and jump around. Brace your elbows at your side or on a table, or invest in a small tripod.

8. Watch your fingers. Don’t cover the microphone or the lens.

9. Don’t zoom in and out as it often results in poor image quality.

10. Avoid walking or moving shots as they can result in shaky, unstable footage.

 

These are our tips, what are yours? Share in the comments.

 

5 Tips for Spiritual Spring Cleaning

Posted on April 29, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Spring is a time to start fresh after months of cold weather and short days. And with spring comes the annual ritual of spring-cleaning our homes from top to bottom in order to start anew.

But while we spend so many tireless hours making sure our physical homes are in order, what are we doing about our spiritual homes? Spiritual spring-cleaning is a way for us to deepen our relationship with God, grow our faith, and connect with our church community.

Here are 5 tips to help you put your spiritual house in order this spring:

 

Step One: Renew Your Mind – Take Out the Trash

RenewMany of us struggle with negative thoughts, sinful behaviors, and animosity towards our fellow man. Cleaning out this area of our lives can be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding.

As negative thoughts flood in, make an effort to replace them with positive thoughts, prayers, or Scripture passages that speak against them.

As we are tempted to be dragged into sin, ask God for the strength to resist and be willing to say “no” to people in your life that are enabling your sin. And if you do sin, do not allow it to overwhelm you or distract you from Jesus. Simply give it over to Him and start over.

And as we feel animosity towards our fellow man, remember Jesus’ call for us to love one another as ourselves. One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with this struggle is to pray for the person right in the moment—if I am continually praying for God to bless someone and to encourage them, I often find that my negative feelings start to fade away over time.

Step Two: Forgive those who have wronged you

ForgiveUnforgiveness and bitterness can completely weigh us down, overwhelm us, and prevent us from living a strong spiritual life. Jesus went so far as to say that if you are at church offering a gift to God and remember someone you need to forgive, that you are to leave the church and be reconciled to them.

Forgiveness is an extremely difficult thing to do, but it is also an extremely Christian thing to do, as we worship a Savior who forgave even those who put him to death, and who forgives us our sins and shortcomings. So keep Christ in your mind and let go because harboring that bitterness is only hurting you.

Pray for the person who has wronged you. Forgive them directly in person or over the phone if it safe to do so, remembering that you are releasing yourself and connecting to God by doing as He would do.

 

Step Three: Dust off your Bible

BibleThe Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word of God, so what better place to encounter Him than in the pages of Scripture?

If you don’t regularly read your Bible, don’t allow guilt to stand in the way of getting started. Set small goals (like reading through the Gospel of John) and make new goals as you go along. Even if you can only spend a few minutes a day reading, God can redeem that time and use it to grow your faith

If you do read your Bible regularly already, set a goal to read a few more minutes a day or to read through the entire New Testament by the end of summer. Be intentional about what you read and always seek out new insights as God speaks to you through the Word.

 

Step Four: Connect with the Mass

MassThe Mass is the center of all things, bringing the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ into the present moment, connecting us with the eternal every single week. Many of us miss out on the beauty and holiness of the Mass and the depper meaning behind the structure, prayers, rituals, and readings.

Make an effort this spring to connect with the beauties of the Mass, whether through participating in an RCIA class, through books and resources, or by sitting down with a priest or deacon and ask them to share.

This is one step that I promise will help you have an entirely new appreciation for the Mass and will open your spiritual eyes to how God works through every moment.

 

Step Five: Let prayer cleanse you

PrayerThe idea that we can come before the throne of God in prayer is beyond incredible. Establishing a healthy prayer life can transform our lives and keep us spiritually fresh throughout the year.

One of the keys to incorporating prayer into your daily life is to start small, setting aside a few minutes each day where you can be alone with God. Over time you can then build on that foundation.

Prayer can also be done anywhere—during your morning commute, with family and friends, while taking walks, etc. Another great place to pray is right in the house of God, so consider arriving for Mass a few minutes early each week and spending those moments in communion with God.