by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For parish social media coordinators in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, it’s not just about the “likes.”
“What we’re really after is engagement,” said Caleb Regan, director of parish advancement at Corpus Christi Parish in Lawrence.
“We want parishioners engaged in every single aspect [of parish life]: spirituality, our ministries, coming to Mass on a regular basis and attending the events we have around here,” he said.
“We want an engaged, active and thriving parish,” he continued. “And social media is one opportunity to be in front of people.”
Many parishes across the archdiocese have boasted a strong social media presence for years.
But they’ve stepped up in an even bigger way since March 2020, offering all sorts of content to keep parishioners connected and spiritually nourished — even from behind the screen.
Coming to the people
Jordan Schmitz, social media coordinator at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, works from home on a part-time basis, running the parish’s social media channels and helping with various graphic design projects.
For her, the work is rewarding.
“It’s awesome,” said Schmitz, “because so many times in the Bible we hear Jesus comes to the people — he meets the people where they’re at.
“These days, that place is social media.”
Managing each parish account is a natural fit for the young adult.
“I’m a millennial,” she said. “I’m on social media, so it’s really great to see the church being in a place where everyone is these days.”
Even so, her work became surprisingly complicated last March.
“Things that we normally would do in the community were stripped away,” said Schmitz. “All we had left was social media and connecting through that.
“It was kind of crazy. All of a sudden, everything had to be online. It was trial by fire for sure.”
The biggest problem Schmitz noticed was that Catholics suddenly had the opportunity to watch Mass online at churches around the world.
“There’s people that we usually have [a connection with] because they’re in our boundaries,” she said. “That didn’t necessarily mean that we had their attention anymore. That was hard on us.”
But it turned into an opportunity to reevaluate the parish.
“It made us think: What is Prince of Peace about? Who are we? Why do people want to be a part of our community even when they can’t physically be here right now?” said Schmitz.
For others like Gina Sallman, director of faith formation at Sacred Heart Church in Sabetha, St. Augustine Church in Fidelity and St. James Church in Wetmore, managing social media has always been a balancing act.
Although her primary role is to lead CCD faith formation for youth, Sallman also manages the parishes’ joint Facebook and Instagram accounts.
She said it’s important they have a social media presence, even though it can be a negative environment.
“I still see a great value in using social media for good,” said Sallman. “If people are already using it . . . and if we could use it for good and for inspiration and faith-building, I think that’s a good thing.”
Sallman tries to post daily — whether it’s a resource from a Catholic evangelist or a notice of a parish event.
“When COVID was really heightened and we were more isolated,” she said, “even the content that said, ‘We’re here. You’re not alone,’ and providing them with resources [was important].
“Even just a small thing that stirs that fire in their heart for the Lord, a yearning to be back in community, [has been helpful].”
All hands on deck
For Corpus Christi, creating online content is a team effort.
“Our whole parish staff contributes in one way or another to our social media presence,” said Regan, who also organizes the parish stewardship efforts and fundraising for the parish school.
“The approach we’ve taken is: the more communication, the better,” he said.
Resources like Catholic Current, a project of the USCCB, make keeping up with social media much less stressful, said Regan.
And although it’s a lot of work, he said being involved in helping the parish’s evangelization efforts is special.
“What made me get into this work was wanting to do something worthwhile and meaningful,” he said. “To be able to have interactions with folks as a part of our parish staff team is super meaningful and rewarding and what this is all about.”
Regan, Schmitz and Sallman are all grateful for the support of their fellow parishioners, and they hope the online Catholic community will continue to flourish.
“We’re all just learning together,” said Schmitz, “and we’re all still trying to grow in our faith.
“I think it’s been awesome to see the whole church grow in this way.”