People keep usurping the word evangelization, and therefore make it more difficult for us to accomplish the primary mission of the RCIA—go and baptize. First it was the evangelicals, who used the word to identify a denomination of Christianity quite distinct from Catholicism. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with a denomination defining itself with the term evangelization. The difficulty for Catholics, however, has been our reluctance to speak and act as evangelists for fear of becoming identified with some of the more fundamentalist and flamboyant types of evangelicals.
Next it was businesses, especially in the tech industry. Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple employee originally responsible for marketing the Macintosh in 1984, initiated the idea of the evangelization of a product or business. His goal was to create passionate user-advocates for the Macintosh and the Apple brand. His goal was the same as ours, just translated to business. We strive to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. He was bringing what he saw as the good news about the Apple brand to the world.
Lately, there has been another shift. Individuals are now referring to the evanglization of themselves—their personal brand. Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, says the first step in promoting yourself is to find people who are willing to evangelize—about you.
Although you are the chief marketing officer for the brand called you, what others say about your brand (especially if they are respected and well-known) is more impactful than what you say about yourself. This means that you should try and find people who will help promote you when you aren’t even in the same room.
RCIA teams must “re-Catholicize” evangelization
So after about five minutes of pounding my fist on the desk and yelling at the computer screen, “Stop stealing our best stuff!”, I settled down to analyze what they’re doing. And I came up with a “reverse-steal.” These business and PR guys are great at getting the word out—the “good news—about their products and themselves. So why not take a page from their playbook to see if we can get better at getting our Word out? Here are seven personal branding strategies from Dan Schawbel, translated into ways we can spread the Good News.
The first step is evangelization itself. In the business-world, that means finding and nurturing advocates. We want to develop a network of people who will talk about us (that is, our parish or our faith) in a positive light when we are not around. This network doesn’t have to be Catholic. We just have to find other people in the community who think St. Aldegundis Parish is worth talking about. Which means we have become worth talking about. It’s slow work, developing such a network, and today is the best day to start.
2. Media coverage
Just in case you’ve been away at a hermitage for the last five years, the notion of “media” has changed forever. It’s no longer enough to get a couple of paragraphs in the diocesan paper. Even coverage in the city newspaper and local television network affiliate is no longer enough. People—especially those we want to evangelize—now get their news from places like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis, and text messages. Parishes that want to spread the good news have to get creative and intentional about being active in a wide variety of new media.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is a new public relations technique that involves tweaking your Web site in hundreds of large and small ways to make it easier for search engines like Google to find you. You don’t need to become an SEO expert to maximize the number-one rule of all optimization strategies: Make your Web site interesting. Almost every parish Web site I visit is so not.
Here are the things I look for on a parish Web site.
- What’s new this week? You wouldn’t believe the number of parish Web sites that haven’t been updated since Christmas. Or last Easter Vigil.
- Who prays here? What is the community like?
- If I wanted to know more about becoming Catholic, and I didn’t know what “RCIA” meant, would I be able to find interesting information on your Web site?
- Who works here? Who are the staff and key volunteers (with e-mail addresses!)?
- What are the central ministries? Listing every single thing the parish does on the home page doesn’t help me. What does the parish do best and most?
- How do I contact the parish? The home page should have the full phone number (I don’t know your area code if I don’t live in your town), e-mail address, mailing address, Facebook page, Twitter name, and instant message contact.
4. Attend events
This requires a little creative thinking. If you want to market the Apple brand or your own ability as a computer consultant, you would go to events sponsored by the computer industry. But if you want to market Jesus, you aren’t going to have much impact at Catholic events. Where are the people that you want to talk to? Almost anywhere except at the Catholic parish. So get off campus and be seen. I wonder, for example, why the Thursday night Bible study doesn’t meet at Starbucks or a local pub. Wouldn’t the altar society have more impact if they met at Denny’s? Is the parish represented at local street fairs and parades? Are parish evangelists showing up at museum openings and city council meetings?
5. Speak at events
This one might seem a little harder to translate from the business world. If you are tech entrepreneur, your goal is to get on stage and have the limelight shine down upon you. Most of us don’t have that gift, however. Nevertheless, you can still get some speaking time in. For example, send evangelists to free public lectures at local colleges or those sponsored by groups like the Commonwealth Club. When it is time for question and answer, get to the microphone and say something like, “I’m John Smith from St. Aldegundis Parish in Springfield. One point you raised that our parishioners are concerned about is _____. Can you explain a little more about what you meant by that?”
6. Create your own event
This is easy. Parishes are creating events all the time. The evangelization trick, however, is to make the event seem interesting to more than just the Catholics in town. Parish dinners and fundraisers are the most common. The usual marketing method for these is to send a flyer to all the neighboring parishes and a public service announcement to the local radio stations. What if the next time you had a bull roast, you invited people from the local homeless shelter to be your guests as well? And invite the city council members for free food and chance to mingle with constituents. Is your youth group going to Mexico to build a classroom this summer? Or, are you headed to the mountains for a ski trip? Why not partner with the local high school and invite the non-Catholic kids to join you?
7. Write articles
Every time you implement one of the strategies above, either journal about it, or assign another parish evangelist as a recorder. Then, use your journal to write an article for your local paper. And your parish blog. And any other related media you can think of. Be sure to always include a link to your parish Web site in anything you write.
An hour a day
Evangelization is not a dramatic, Bible-thumping rant on street corners or auditorium stages. It is a slow, consistent communications process that requires daily attention. What would happen if parishes across the country spent just an hour a day attending to some of these evangelization techniques? Do you think it would make a difference? Have you tried any of these? Do you have other strategies to suggest? What’s your story?