by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven
OLATHE — When Father Andrew Strobl was named pastor of St. John Paul II Parish in southern Olathe, he knew he had his work cut out for him.
Like many pastors before him, he would have to take area Catholics he inherited from the redrawing of parish boundaries and somehow forge them into a cohesive community.
But unlike pastors before him, Father Strobl has some tools at his disposal that make that just a little bit easier.
The staff of the newest parish in the archdiocese, Saint John Paul II, decided to start considering their approach from the perspective of the people in the pews.
Who were they? What did they want? How could they be reached? And finally, what would connect them to others?
These were the questions at the top of their list, said parish secretary Jenna Wombwell — and they all had a single answer: social media. It would be readily available, interactive and shareable.
In the very early days of the parish, the staff set up a website and a Facebook page in order to let people know the church was there. Basic information, Mass times and upcoming events were shared, and online registration began.
More traditional modes of communication were also utilized through mailings and door-to-door visits. Word spread, and the parish began to grow.
But Father Strobl knew that printed materials were only reaching the registered parishioners and the Catholics living within the new parish’s boundaries. So he began to post pictures, messages and important information on Snapchat and Instagram.
People liked what they saw and read and shared it with others. The parish continued to grow.
The parish rectory became the hub for staff meetings, baptism classes and choir practice. But social media remained the most effective way for getting the word out to the people.
Daily announcements, weekly newsletters, homilies streamed live, pictures, videos and digital evangelization were added. Spotify was used to provide a playlist of Mass songs — both new and familiar.
And the username for all was spread far and wide: jp2kc. Sometimes even farther than expected.
Cindy Quirk, parish director, said she recently met a family from Colorado at a St. John Paul II Mass. Family members had been following Father Strobl’s homilies on Facebook and came on a Sunday to hear him in person.
One recent post reached over 42,000 people, was watched by over 18,000, and was shared over 90 times.
Posts are frequent and interactions are closely monitored by the parish staff. With approximately 95 percent of the parish connecting and sharing through one or more of these channels, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Mikey Needleman, parish director of evangelization and worship, said reaching out to the parish through social media has helped the new parish to reach the unchurched as well.
One photo shared with thousands becomes a new connection point — a connection with a church that is alive and growing.
“We are rooted in prayer and are spreading that prayer through social media,” he said.
Communication, connection and conversion — it’s how social media is used to build an online community.
Instead, St. John Paul II Church has used it to grow a community of believers.