A Better Back to School

Posted on August 12, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

back to schoolI am drawn to school supplies – I can’t help it. I love the little areas set aside at the local stores for parents and their progeny to sift through, mark off lists and look for just the right folders and notebooks.

I have no reason to be there, but I find myself looking at Sharpies and Mr. Sketch markers with excitement and locker decorations with nostalgia. While I peruse the aisles, I often notice my fellow shoppers and they are not shopping leisurely like me. They are harried, stressed, rushed and a little annoyed at those lists that get longer every year. I overheard one woman say, “ Seriously, three boxes of tissues? Who are these kids and why do they blow their noses so much? And a protractor…do these wear out or something? Why a new one? How new and improved could they be?” I am sure there is a really good reason those are on the lists, but in the midst of all the getting ready for the new school year the list is one more stressful thing.

An antidote to the rush and crush for families? A parish community that understands, supports, and knows just how to remedy the craziness of their families at this time of year. So I give you five ways to reach out to your families this fall to welcome and lead them gently and compassionately to Jesus who desires to be at the heart of every person and every family.

1. Host a Fun Family Night: Invite families to bring those “so last year” supplies that came home in a book bag last spring and share. That’s where we can recycle those protractors and compasses and perhaps find a plethora of the tiny pencils that go with them! The dinner should be a drop in or an open house – between 5 -7 pm with happy joyful parents and seasoned adults who made it to the other side and are offering support, laughter, mentorship and serving up a yummy, communal meal like a taco bar or baked potato bar.

2. Offer a Kid’s Only Event: Let parents get that shopping done or things organized at home or just relax and regroup. This event can be a resurrection of the best of VBS. Use the VBS games, crafts, snacks, catechesis, music, movies – whatever it takes to let the littles know they are loved. Have time set aside to talk with them about being like Jesus each day at school and how they can be kind, forgiving, and loving each day. Teach them a prayer or two to say each morning and evening. Give them a little gift – a saint medal to keep in their pocket or latched on to their backpack as a remind that they belong to a loving community!

3. Utilize Flocknote: If your families are connected to social media or technology, have them sign up for your Flocknote group. You can send them inspiration, affirmation, funny messages as well as keep them up to date on all things parish. Invite them to make weekend workshop a place to renew, tend their souls, strengthen their families and find support as parents. You can do all this on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter too. Just make everything beautiful and inviting, quick and easy.

4. Invite Families to a Special Blessing on Sunday: Sending children off to school be it preschool, high-school or college is a big deal. Parents and important adults are letting lots of other people influence their children and are trusting the world to be kind. Blessings are important. Have really fabulous intentional hospitality at the weekend Masses. Welcomers and greeters should be your very best and the coffee and donuts could be stepped up a bit, with no charge, fair trade coffee and fruit, gluten free treats and some lovely giveaways for families. Compile some how- to’s on blessing each other every morning before leaving the house, meal prayers and discussion questions that go beyond “how was your day?” Help parents meet other parents…they know how to do the rest.

5. Start a Prayer Intention day on Social Media. Invite people to send their intentions to you via email, Facebook or messenger, then ask the parish staff and pastor to take time to pray over these together. Offer affirmation, encouragement and kindness as well as a quote for the day from Pope Francis, a saint, parishioners and other ordinary disciples.

back to school Hospitality is not something that’s added on or like the icing on the cake. It is real, gritty, and must be consistent, joyful and authentic. Practicing hospitality creates community. And that is really what the Christian life is all about – a community of people who have encountered Jesus, follow Jesus, worship Jesus and want to share all of that with others. If your parish isn’t quite there yet with hospitality or welcoming, these are easy ways to start making a difference. A parish is a living thing – it is never the same community at any given time, so we can’t get lax or comfortable in who we are. May all your efforts to love and serve your families and lavish them with hospitality and welcome be a blessing to you, your parish and to our church!

5 Ways to Turn Youth Ministry On Its Head

Posted on August 5, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Where were you on 9/11? Most of us reading this can tell a vivid story our experience that tragic day. Ask a teenager that same question. Most of them won’t have an answer because they were far too young to remember or weren’t even born yet. From security to the way we consume media and information, there have been seismic shifts in the culture since most of us were teenagers. While the culture seems to change in dramatic ways every year, the way we minister to teens has changed very little. I had to humbly face the fact that I had been running the same youth group for eight years with only cosmetic changes. Worse, I was running the youth group I went to when I was in high school.

youth ministryIn the midst of identify this problem and my own soul searching and Google searching, I discovered YDisciple, an online platform designed to enable parishes to engage and train other adults in the parish to mentor small groups of teenagers with training, videos for discussion, well-crafted discussion questions, and more. Through five basic steps, God turned my entire paradigm of youth ministry on its head.

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Why You Don’t Need a Youth Minister

Posted on July 25, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

youth minister

This blog is Part One of two pieces. Part Two will post on Saturday.

Like many Youth Ministers, I was hired in my early twenties and fresh out of college. Zealous, energetic, and immature, I was handed a floundering youth ministry program in a parish with over 450 high school students on the books. After nine years in that same suburban parish cluster, I still I loved my job. I loved putting on my weekly youth group that we had grown to reach over 100 teens. I loved working with my Core Team of young adults. The mission trips, the World Youth Day pilgrimages, the retreats—I loved it all. But after nine years of watching the vast majority of even our most engaged teens go off to college and stop practicing the faith, I had to honestly ask myself: “Is my work as a Youth Minister effective?”

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4 Ways to Grow as a Family of Faith This Summer

Posted on July 22, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

summer family faithThe school year is filled with a predictable rhythm. It’s easy to settle into a routine, even when families are balancing multiple children and a diversity of activities. When summer hits, things can get a little disjointed, especially when it comes to the practice of faith. The family is the first place children experience the love of God and formation in the Christian life. Vacation Bible School is a great place to for children to grow, but what about when the week is over?

  1. Take a Family Pilgrimage

Looking for a day trip with a little more meaning? The United States is filled with unique shrines, basilicas, and historic religious sites. Check out this Top Ten list or search sites by state. If the location is a bit of a drive, cross-reference the location with campgrounds or state parks to experience the beauty of God’s creation along with the beauty of the Catholic faith!

  1. Make Mass a Priority

Every day in Catholic churches around the world, the same Mass is being celebrated. If you’re away from home on a Sunday, the Internet makes it easy to find a Mass near you. MassTimes.org has a helpful mapping feature. To ensure that the Mass times are accurate for the summer months, check out Parishes Online where you can find downloadable weekly bulletins.

  1. Get Creative with Crafts

Pinterest is a gold mine for ideas about faith crafts and Catholic activities for kids. The next rainy day, don’t break out the iPad or start streaming Doc McStuffins or Daniel Tiger. Give the time indoors a deeper meaning for young children.

    summer family faith
  1. Serve Together

There are clothes that need sorting, community gardens that need tending, and meals to be served. Many nonprofits have tasks for all ages or specifically designate a “family day” with age-appropriate responsibilities. Grow in giving by volunteering for a local nonprofit as a family. 

Though summer may be half gone, it’s not too late to inspire your family or your parishioners in faith!

Why Radical Hospitality Matters

Posted on July 15, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Hospitalitity I really love hospitality and try never to take it for granted. When someone takes time to create a beautiful environment or greets me with a warm welcome and a smile, I am hooked. My name is Jane Angha, Director of Ministry Blueprints, a little company all about radical hospitality and welcoming in faith communities.

Leading with Beauty 

People often think hospitality is a luxury or an option if you have time, money, and volunteers. Others think it is a waste of resources to fuss with hospitality and things such as décor, environment, food, and how the room looks for an event or gathering. They swear it doesn’t matter to most people and that no one will even notice. I beg to differ. Hospitality is an integral part of setting the stage for an encounter with Christ. Leading with beauty touches our hearts, minds, and souls.

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Sowing Mustard Seeds – Your Weekly Offertory and Leading People to Christ

Posted on June 14, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Mustard Seeds 1We assume that in order for our parish to build a new church building or even for our community to make the budget, it will require much more than we have to give. What is the true value of our treasure?

Jesus tells us in the parable of the mustard seed, that if we have “faith as small as a mustard seed”[Matthew 17:20], we could move mountains. In stewardship, we oftentimes neglect to see that amazing things can take place due to the generosity of even the smallest gifts.

Let’s Face Facts

True Stewardship extends to all forms of gifts and talents, but how we view and use our money can be a key indicator of how we practice stewardship in all aspects of our life. The typical Catholic household donates 1.1 to 1.2% of their income. 1 In 2013, 24% of all parishes in the US were operating at a loss. This begs the question, how can we effectively engage our faithful in this important discussion?

Most of the parishes LPi works with use Mass attendance and offertory as indicators of their overall health. Unfortunately, both of those occur too late in the process of the parishioner deciding how to practice their faith. If attendance and offertory are declining, the real damage has begun and your parish is behind the trend.

We Are Called to Mission

Mustard Seeds 2

When a parish can demonstrate to its members that it has a defined a clear mission that reflects the Kingdom of God, people don’t need to be repeatedly pressured to give. LPi began offering our Sustainable Offertory Program, a unique approach to increased offertory programs, to affect a sustainable change to parishioner giving habits and create within them new patterns of generosity. The feedback from our partner parishes demonstrates three aspects of successful programs.

Think Positive

When we begin discussing a future campaign, the conversation is always about the positive aspects of the parish and how parishioners can change the lives of the people the parish serves through investment in ministry. A diocesan leader that has worked with us likes to say, “No one wants to give to the Titanic!” With a focus on the positive and the understanding that God is still in control, the message in an LPi Sustainable Offertory Program creates a desire on the part of the parishioner to invest in something that makes a difference.

Articulate Your Long-term Vision

This desire to make a difference leads naturally to a focus on the vision and mission of the parish. Parishioners want to know that their parish community stands for something important, and that parish leadership is leading them on a mission to make a difference. At LPi, we are seeing the parishes growing and engaging their people most effectively are those that have a clear mission articulated and invite people to become a part of something greater than themselves.

The Mission is the Main Thing

Often, as soon as money is mentioned, people turn off their ability to listen. LPi offers several forms of stewardship coaching that influence our approach to working with a parish on a Sustainable Offertory Program. In fact, we have actually advised some parishes that a financial campaign was not in their best interest at the time. In those cases, we begin their journey with visioning exercises, basic stewardship catechesis, or honing another aspect of their mission before embarking on the actual Sustainable Offertory campaign.

From Seeds to Pearls
Mustard Seeds 3

In a Sustainable Offertory Program, you gain the advantage of asking your parishioners to sow mustard seeds. If a parish is at the average weekly giving level of 1.1% of parishioners’ incomes, then with simple mustard seeds we can make a tremendous difference. We begin with small seeds in the hopes that one day each of us can possess nothing and be possessed by nothing other than the love of Jesus Christ.

1 – Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century. Charles E. Zech, et al. Oxford University Press. 2017.

Can They Find Your Church Website Online?

Posted on May 31, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Some tips to make it easier to search for your church online

Find Your Church OnlinePeople rely on the Internet to search for and find information about their community. For your church, this can be the perfect opportunity to connect with and make a good impression on new members.

Typically, an Internet user searches for something online and looks at the first ten websites suggested. This is only one page of website suggestions offered. If your church website is not showing up in the first page or not at all, your potential parishioners or visitors may never even know you exist online. So how do you make sure they find you?

There are two practices you can try, SEO and SERP, to get started. Let’s break down each of these terms and review some tips and tricks you can try on your website to make it easier to find your church website online.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. A search engine is the place where you type in what you want to find online. The most common search engines include Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL. Optimization is the act of making something as effective as possible.

Simply put, SEO is the process of making your website as effective as possible so search engines find your website and list it in the results, making it more likely new members in your community will find your church website.

What is SERP?

SERP stands for Search Engine Result Page. It is a list of suggested websites. The websites are collected based on your keyword. Your keyword is the word or words you typed in to your search engine.

How do search engines get their results?

Google Yahoo Bing logosSearch engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL have all written a mathematical equation that looks at the following things in your website:

  • What words are in your website?
  • How often is your website updated?
  • What kind of images are on your website?
  • How fast does your website load?
  • How easy to read is your website?
  • How often is your website visited?
  • Are there other websites that link to your website?

Then it looks at the history of the person searching: where that person has been online, and where he or she is located in the world.

From there, the search engine compares your website to every other website that might relate the keyword that someone searched for. Then, it ranks those sites in order of relevance. Remember, it is very unlikely that someone will click past the first page, so it is important that your church is ranked within the top ten.

How do you make your website easier to find?

Make sure your church name, address, city, and state are all on the home page. Put your church name at the top of the website. This will make it the most important bit of text, and also be part of the title in the list of results. Then put your address with city and state in text on your website. Search engines look for this specifically, so where you put it is up to you. A good practice is to place it at the bottom of the page, in the footer. That way it shows up on every page of your website. Keep in mind, having your church name and address as an image does not help—search engines do not analyze PDFs or images for content.

Use keywords that people search for online in your text.

Don’t forget, a keyword is the word or words someone typed into a search engine to find something on the Internet. In order to pick out keywords that you think will help your site be found by search engines, first look at your church. What is your church about? What message do you want someone visiting your church website to take away? What words might you use to look for a church website if you were new to a community?

Now make a list of those words and type them into your search engine. See what the results are. Does your church fit into that list? Narrow your list down to two or three keywords. When you have decided what keywords you think are good for your church, use them in page titles or throughout the text on your website.

Find Your Church Online 2You can also check to make sure your chosen keywords are ones people actually use when they search online. There are websites that will let you test a keyword. For example, SERPs Keyword rank checker. On this website, you can type in any keyword and it will show the top ranked websites and an average number of times that keyword is used by searchers in search engines every month.

Use images to engage readers.

Search engines look for images. Images are more appealing and engaging to the reader on your website. This means people will spend a longer time on that page, which translates into the search engine ranking your website better than other websites that don’t have images. Note that if your website visitors land on your website and then click off right away, the search engine views the website as less trustworthy, which will cause your website to slowly move down the list.

Plus, visitors want images. When someone visits a webpage, they are more likely to continue reading and scroll to the bottom of the page if there is an image visible at all times. A good idea is to place your images every two to three paragraphs to keep a reader’s interest. The image needs to relate to the content on your page. When you load it into to your website, make sure to add a title and description. The title needs to have a keyword, and it needs to be honest. If your image title does not match the image and content, you will hurt your SEO.

Claim your online listings.

Search engines also look to see if your website links to other websites and if other websites link to your website. One easy and trusted source of links to your website are through things like Google My Places, Yahoo Local Listings, Bing Places, and YELP. You’ve seen these listings if you have searched for a business. They usually appear with an image, map, and often a description of that business with links to its website.

Your church may never have claimed these, but they probably already exist. Test it out in different search engines and see what shows up. If there isn’t a listing you can create one, and if there is, you need to make sure your church controls what is on there. If you don’t claim it, someone else can.

Giving Tuesday 2016—Help Us Help Others

Posted on November 16, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Giving Tuesday 2016 LogoGiving Tuesday is a global day of generosity and charity celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving that stands in contrast to days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The idea is simple—find a way to give back and share that idea with others on social media.

This Giving Tuesday, November 29, LPi will collect donations for various charities across the country and match each donation, dollar for dollar.

Your $5 donation becomes $10. Your $10 donation becomes $20. And so on.

Here are the organizations we’re supporting this year:

On Giving Tuesday, we will send an email with instructions on how to donate through our website, Facebook, or Twitter page. If you’re not currently on our email list you can sign up here or you can look for the post on our Facebook page.

It doesn’t matter what cause or charity you select, we encourage you to give from your heart to charities across the country or in your own community. Join us on Giving Tuesday to make a bigger difference to those in need.

 

10 Points on Good Stewardship for Students

Posted on August 17, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

The stewardship way of life is for everyone, even those who are young. As students go back to school as another summer has passed, it is a great time to reflect on how a student is called to live out his or her stewardship. Here are 10 things to focus on as the academic year begins.

    1. 10 Points on Good StewardshipGod has given you the gift of intellect and it should be used wisely.
      Do not try to just get by in your classes. Offer your best effort and cultivate your intellect so you can become the best student possible.
    2. The work you do in class is your gift to God.
      At this time in your life, you are called to be a student. What you do in class is your unique offering to God.
    3. Don’t waste the gift of time.
      For generations, students have put off studying or class projects until the last-minute. That is being a poor steward of one of God’s greatest gifts: time. Learn to manage this precious resource.
    4. CommunityAlways remember you are a part of a community, even if you don’t feel like it.
      Unless you are homeschooled, other students trying to make sense of growing up and the need for school surround you, and at that, even homeschoolers have communities that they see periodically. You are never alone in the jungle of school and there are peers, parents, and school staff that are willing to help you discern what is best for you.
    5. Be grateful for the chance to be in school.
      Millions of children all around the globe have had the chance to attend school taken from them. Their futures are severely compromised because they are missing the chance to learn basic knowledge that will allow them to prosper in the world. Never take your ability to attend school for granted.
    6. God is calling you today in your classroom.
      Perhaps it is through a classmate, a teacher, or a circumstance, but somehow God is asking something of you each day. Be aware and stay mindful of all those who cross your path each day. Something or someone very important might cross your path, never to return again.
    7. Cross Light BulbHold yourself accountable.
      Don’t fall into the temptation of slacking off, not doing your work, or even worse, cheating. Integrity is a precious gift that should never be tossed away. No one else is responsible for your actions except for YOU.
    8. Embrace the entirety of your life as a student.
      Growth in school is about more than books and subjects. God has filled this world with people to meet, sports to play, and moments to rejoice in life. Don’t let this time pass you by and get involved.
    9. Begin and end each school day with prayer.
      When you awake, offer the day and all your efforts of the day to God, and then when the day is over, spend time with God reflecting on how you succeeded and how you failed as a good steward and disciple of Jesus. Allow God to walk with you throughout your day by creating bookends of prayer for your day.
    10. Stay committed.
      The school year can be long. Make a commitment to stay focused and not fall behind. The good thing about the times we fail in that commitment is that we can recommit ourselves and begin again.

    Be sure to share with students, parents, teachers, and your parish family. Have an awesome school year and always keep God as the main thing.

    This list is also available as a downloadable PDF here.

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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