Category Archives: Communication & Evangelism

Around the Fireplace – May 2017

When Hospitality Transforms Lives

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook have already heard a shorter version of this story. But, I wanted to flesh out this tale a bit because it is more fully a tale about church hospitality. It is a story about how easily our simple and genuine hospitality can be transformational in people’s lives, even when you may least expect it.

A man with a slightly familiar face came up to me last Friday at a dinner and said, “You’re Kathy, right?” He went on to say he just wanted to stop by and thank me for changing his life. Wow—what?!

It turned out that I had a random conversation with him and his wife in June of last year—an encounter I barely remembered at first—but he went on to describe how my welcome and our conversation that afternoon set into place a major transformation in his life and put he and his wife on a positive new path.

The situation was this. I was sitting on the front steps of one of our churches, waiting for someone who was bringing me a document from the church office. (The parish shall go unnamed to protect the couple’s privacy.) He and his wife were strolling down the sidewalk. I smiled at them and said a simple hello. They smiled back and mumbled a greeting in return. I said something about how it sure was a hot day and I was glad to be going into an air conditioned church. They stopped and he said, “You know, I’ve always passed by this church and wondered about it. It looks very old.” I said, “Actually, it is very historic. Would you like to come in and take a look around?” He and his wife glanced at each other and nodded in the affirmative.

They came inside and, at first, were obviously interested in history. I began with that, providing some simple historical facts I happened to know about the building and then sharing some words and examples about how the very architecture of the church imparted a story and a theme of journey. It was a pretty quick leap from there to a bunch of questions about what different objects in the church were and how Episcopalians worship, what they generally believe. I quickly discerned from the nature of his questions that he and his wife were on a bit of a journey, struggling and seeking. So, I went a little deeper. We took a look at the Book of Common Prayer, at a couple of the hymnals the parish was using, and even at a church bulletin from the previous Sunday. I told them a personal story about how and why I became an Episcopalian. And, I invited them. I gave them a couple of names of folks at the church I knew they would likely love meeting (including the clergy) and I thanked them for stopping by, wishing them well. The whole encounter was maybe 15-20 minutes.

So—to segue to last week’s encounter. He told me that, while our conversation may have seemed pretty simple, he and his wife were really dealing with some things that day and it had put them on a new path. They did decide to visit this church the following Sunday and meet some of the people I had suggested. They came back the following week and then every week after that over the next year. They became a part of this church and it became a part of them. And, as he put it, he and his wife had both been “positively transformed” and are still being transformed. He saw me across the room and just wanted to share where our simple conversation led and offer thanks. What a joyous encounter!

When I talk with parishes about evangelism, one of the things I often say is that, when you personally attune yourself to being truly open to listening and encountering others, in random situations, opportunities for “evangelism” will seem to fall right out of the sky. Maybe in line at the grocery store… on the bleachers at a track meet… or maybe just out on the sidewalk. And, it isn’t so much about bringing newcomers into your church as it is about nourishing the love of God in their own lives. A growing, vibrant parish is just another blessed outcome.

Who will you meet this week? Who can you encourage? If you experience a random encounter that leads to an important faith conversation, tell us about it! Until next month….
Kathy

Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism
Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis
502-345-6406
KathyCopas@aol.com
Communication@indydio.org

Around the Fireplace – April 2017

Broadening Your Reach With News Media

Spring is a time when a lot of us host some fantastic parish events. From strawberry festivals to ice cream socials to parades, these events are a great way for us to get out there in our community, meet some new people, and help others discover the amazing love of God and our wonderful holy hospitality.

News media can play a big role in the success of parish events. In my home parish, St. Paul’s New Albany, we host an annual art fair that now attracts thousands each year. It is a unique and very high-quality event that has grown for a lot of reasons but the participation of news media has been an incredibly important part of that growth and development. Each year, we get tons of free media coverage, to the point that other festivals have asked us how we do it. Here are just a few things we do that may help you in thinking about your own parish event.

  1. Put somebody in charge of it who doesn’t already have a thousand other responsibilities for your event. It should be considered a major, time-consuming responsibility associated with your event. Let someone focus just on media. Don’t make it an afterthought for an already burdened person on your committee.
  2. Start early and have a plan. Our parish art fair is an annual event so we basically start on the following year as soon as the current year’s festival is done. Even months before our festival, we’re getting ourselves on digital media and local magazine calendars and mentioning it to producers of local TV talk and public affairs shows. We chart out a plan month by month and even week by week as the time draws closer.
  3. Spend a lot of time cultivating contacts. The diocesan communication office can help you get off the ground with this one. We maintain a very up-to-date database of media all over our diocese and beyond. For example, if you are having an event in Evansville, we can hook you up with Owensboro media right across the river. If you’re in Lawrenceburg, we maintain contacts for Cincinnati-area media, as well. A lot of this is about knowing who to write or call. Once you have a good list of names, you can also do some asking around in your congregation about who has media contacts in your community. You may be surprised who among you is related to (or friends with) a reporter, producer, or editor.
  4. Hone your message and figure out how you can make your event very visual. For our art fair, we pitch stories or live interview slots with our artists demonstrating how they are creating their art. We also pitch musical groups for tv slots, particularly early morning variety shows. We sometimes offer bits on children’s activities or the preparation of food that will be served at our event. If you aren’t sure what you could do that would be visually attractive to media, let our diocesan communication office brainstorm with you! It is all about being creative and sometimes putting a different but simple spin on things.
  5. Prepare a news release or media advisory. If you don’t feel comfortable writing one, the diocesan communication office can help. Send your release to multiple contacts at the media outlets in your community generally about a month prior to your event. (Don’t assume they will share among themselves!) Think about who among you would be effective and comfortable spokespersons for your event.
  6. Be sure to take special care with your Facebook page and/or website during this time. When media get a release from you one of the first things they will do is search out your digital presence and decide if they are interested from that.
  7. Do really good follow up. Make calls, be kind and helpful but not overbearing. Say you were calling to see if they had any questions or needed anything from you.
  8. Be reliable. They need to know you will do what you say you are going to do. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. And, always show up when and where you say you will be present. Always deliver what you promised. This will help your parish build a solid reputation that you are a source they can truly rely on.
  9. Always be accessible and ready to respond quickly and calmly to changes. Don’t freak out if they have to change dates or times for interviews or photo shoots. News happens. Plans change. Things move fast in the world of media. Be easy to work with and go with the flow.
  10. Thank them for their good coverage. Handwritten notes are best but emails will suffice. Again, it is all about building relationships. Another tip—compliment them for their other stories during the year that have nothing to do with your event. Remember—everyone likes to receive sincere affirmation for their work.

Strategic use of media can help your parish raise more friends and funds than you ever imagined possible, taking your events to the next level. Want some help or want to know more? Please get in touch!

Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism
Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis
502-345-6406
KathyCopas@aol.com
Communication@indydio.org

Personalized for Your Parish Web Videos for Lent, Triduum, and Easter available free upon request.

Watch our Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis Facebook Page or the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis Facebook Group for samples. Contact Kathycopas@aol.com or communication@indydio.org to place your order. Include your parish name and contact info you would like to highlight, as well as your service times for Lent, Triduum, and Easter.

 

New Service for Parishes: Digital Sleuth

So, here’s the idea. An Episcopalian from a city/state outside of our diocese receives a parish’s name and the name of that parish’s city or town here in the Diocese of Indianapolis. From there, the skilled, trained Digital Sleuth goes to work, with the assignment of figuring out what your parish is really like simply from your digital imprint.

The Digital Sleuth writes a report to share with your parish leadership about what he or she has learned about you, making a guess about what your parish is really like without ever having visited you. You get to compare what you ARE like with what the Digital Sleuth THINKS you are like and perhaps work to reconcile that in your future approach to electronic communication.

The ground rules for this program are the same as for our popular Mystery Guest program. The service is free on a first-come, first- served basis. Requests must be made by clergy or with the permission of clergy. Want to know more or get on the Digital Sleuth’s schedule? Contact KathyCopas@aol.com or communication@indydio.org.

Around the Fireplace: Keeping Facebook Fresh

Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism

It was great to see everyone who stopped by our Communication Corner at Vestry College this past weekend! One of the topics of discussion, proposed by two different parishes was, “So, how do we get more followers to our Facebook page or group?” Here are just a few simple ideas that may help.

1. Get a plan in place to keep content fresher. For one small parish in our diocese, we devised a plan for four different people in the congregation to each agree to take a different week of the month and post at least one thing as administrators of the parish page. It could be a photo of some outreach ministry, a video of some music or a sermon, even just groups of people at coffee hour or a church social event that you tag. (Lots of tagging is great!) If four people agree to do at least one post in a week, that is at least four things a month that get posted. And, that’s a start.

2. Send messages or notes to other churches and organizations in your community and invite them to like your page.

3. Ask your own parishioners to share some of your posts to their friends.

4. Rev up interest in your local neighborhood or community on Facebook “Throwback Thursdays” by posting and tagging businesses, people schools, churches, or the area with some of those old historic photos hanging around the church office.

5. Get out your local newspaper and read about the many awards, honors, and successes going on in your community, from winning sports teams to businesses expanding, to service clubs celebrating anniversaries to scout groups receiving recognition. Offer congratulations on your page from your congregation and tag them on your Facebook page.

6.. During announcement time at church, consider providing a moment to encourage parishioners to check in on Facebook and say a word about the lectionary message/theme, sermon, music, or even post a picture of something happening that day. 

7. Get some conversation going in the form of inviting comments or questions. Example: Lent is almost here. What does it mean to you, personally, to keep a holy Lent? Reply or react to the comments. 

8. Do a lot of linking back and forth to your website and any other social media that you do. 

9. Use Facebook Live or video messages as a tool for encouraging parishioners to share their personal stories about why their church and faith is personally important to them.

10. Experiment with paid posts. Facebook paid invitations to your next event or your parish in general can be quite affordable. You can focus your paid posts on very specific areas and to specific interests. Start small, review the Facebook analytics to determine who you have reached and connected with, and determine if paid posts are a worthwhile investment for your church.

11. Be creative with images and memes. Whenever possible, show it more than say it!

12. Connect with people via current events. If someone in your community is having a meeting on the opioid crisis or homelessness, use your page to promote these events. People who are interested in these issues will sometimes make a connection with you, particularly if they are thinking of seeking a church.

13. Offer a “share and post” contest, offering a drawing for a small prize, such as a scented candle or bouquet of flowers for all who will like and share your post.

These are just a few simple ideas. Feel free to submit your own, including what you have tried and how it worked! See you next month!

Kathy Copas
kathycopas@aol.com

Around the Fireplace: Strengthening Your Street Presence at Times When Your Church is Closed

Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism

Did you ever take a walk or a drive by your church when it is closed? What could someone learn about all of the great stuff that goes on inside your parish when seeing your closed building after hours?

Chances are, more people stroll past your building—or at least drive by—than you may imagine. As we prepare to move into warmer weather and later sunset times in a couple of months, this is a great time to develop a plan to generate greater interest in your parish at the times you are closed. Here are a few no or low-cost ideas to consider.

1. Take a tip from real estate agents. Place a weatherproof plastic box out in front of your church with a page of basic information.

  • Contact information including web and social media contacts.
  • Worship times and a calendar with times for other events, from Bible study to music or arts presentations.

Outdoor plastic information boxes can be purchased very inexpensively from “big box” office supply stores, such as Office Depot. Or, building a custom outdoor literature holder may be a nice project for someone in your parish who is handy with tools and materials.

2. Build or strengthen your after-hours sidewalk ministry. A few examples:

  • Some parishes have already adopted sidewalk lending library boxes, where passers-by can remove books from a simple wooden box, as well as contribute books.
  • A twist on this is a food box, where those who are hungry can remove whatever food they need and persons in your parish or community can contribute food to the box.
  • There are a lot of other variations on this idea, too. A baby box could offer diapers or other baby supplies to those who are in need. And, parish or community friends could help stock the box.
  • A school box could offer pencils, paper, or other simple school supplies.

Again, creating a box would be a great project for a woodworker in your parish. But, you could also ask your local newspaper to donate an old street side paper box you could repaint and re-purpose. Or, order a simple plastic box from a plastics specialty company such as Uline and customize it to your effort.

What else could you collect after hours in a box by your sidewalk or in your churchyard? Eyeglasses? Boxtops? Anything that could be leveraged for mission?

Whatever you do, be sure to include basic information about your church in anything you offer! And, don’t forget to publicize what you’re doing via local media and social media. I can help you with a list of media contact information for anything you want to publicize in your area.

3. Put up a banner or sign that imparts real information about what your parish does—something beyond your basic worship hours and contact information. Remember that each parish in this diocese is eligible for up to $250 per year from the diocese to use for signage. We can create a banner or sign for you or reimburse you for a banner or sign created by someone in your own community or online. So, figure out what you would like to tell your community about what you’re doing and just get in touch with me anytime to make a request!

Until next month,
Kathy Copas
kathycopas@aol.com

 

Around the Fireplace – September 2016

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Put it on your calendar for 2017!

Social Media Sunday a Big Success

Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism

Congratulations,Social Media Sunday participants! The hashtags you used aggregated approximately 10 million Episcopal impressions churchwide! Wow—imagine if we all did this every Sunday.

There were lots of creative initiatives in our parishes. Some of you went live on Facebook with your sermons or music. A couple of parishes made videos previewing their worship or providing a mini-tour of their church. Many others posted photos of people and activities on Sunday morning via various social media platforms. Lots of you checked in on Facebook from your church. Some parishes even encouraged congregants to stop and do that during announcement time.

Whatever you did, I hope it was a fun experiment and that you will continue to explore and try new social media tools in the days and weeks to come. Is Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram,or maybe even Snapchat something that could help your parish reach newcomers or share something new about your ministry?

Whatever you ended up trying or decide to try in the future, here’s hoping you’ll share with the rest of what happened and keep experimenting!

 

Around the Fireplace: Get Ready for Church Social Media Sunday #SMS16

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Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism

Sunday, September 25

One of the clergy in our diocese asked me a  few months ago if we would ever again have a churchwide Social Media Sunday.  I half-jokingly said, “Well, isn’t EVERY Sunday a church Social Media Sunday?!”  But, we do, indeed, have a designated Sundayrapidly approaching in which we are called as Episcopalians, churchwide, to give some special attention to how we engage the world via social media.  So, yet another clergyperson invited me in to brainstorm with him last week about some things he and his parish might do to more intentionally embrace social media, particularly Facebook.

Facebook has been around for a good long while now but continues to evolve. Paralleling the development of mobile technology, Facebook has emerged as a primary tool for church shoppers.  Research has shown that Facebook has become just as important, or even more important, than church websites when people are seeking basic information about a church these days.  Why?  One of the reasons is that people initially just want to get a quick and easy basic sweeping sense of what a church is doing in real time.  What are its members talking about and working on these days?  What do the photos and/or videos and conversation tell us about this church and how it may or may not be a good fit for us?  What have other guests experienced?  What events are coming up we may want to connect to?  Websites, even greatly mobile-optimized ones, are increasingly becoming more second-line resources, while Facebook pages and open groups have become more frontline first impression tools.

So, what are some things we can all consider about better using Facebook as—for starters—Social Media Sunday 2016 approaches?  Here are a few that have emerged over the past few weeks in discussions at various parishes.

  1. Have something—anything—relatively current posted on your Facebook page or group,  By relatively current, we’re talking at least within the past month, preferably the past couple of months.  Not last Easter or Christmas and definitely not in over a year!
  2. Always post a visual with any bit of news. This can be a photo, meme, infographic, or video.  Posts with visuals get lots more attention and, with a simple Google search, you can find many resources out there that will help you import or create simple visuals right on your phone. The more visuals and multimedia people can access on your page, the more your Facebook presence will reflect a real sense of what your parish is about.  And, while beautiful and general church memes can be effective, what always works best and appears most authentic is images of real people in your church engaged in ministry and interaction with one another.
  3. Use Facebook to increase your pastoral care potential. The general rule about Facebook is to use 20 percent of your time with it to share your own news and 80 percent to interact with your followers or friends.  It is a rich and very personal tool for offering care for those going through a life transition, experiencing illness, or even celebrating a birthday or anniversary.
  4. Use Facebook for starting conversations, posing questions, and generally keeping the dialogue going between Sundays. Talk about the lectionary coming up the following Sunday, what your midweek Bible study group has been discussing, how a mission project is going and what is needed to better support it….  The ideas are endless and newcomers can easily be invited and encouraged into your conversation.
  5. Learn a bit about Facebook metrics and “pushing” posts about your page, your church, or an upcoming activity or project.  For a very small amount of money—often as little as $10-$20, you can push your post onto Facebook news feeds that you select by variables such as geographic area, extending your reach dramatically.

One of Facebook’s best new tools is “Go Live” and we will be using/demonstrating that here in our diocese on Tuesday, August 23, 7 p.m. for our special Media Monday.  If you have joined our Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis page, all you have to do is go on Facebook at that time, where you will see a message “The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis is live.”  Just click it on and you can participate via comments and posts.  If you happen to miss it, you will be able to access it later. This tool holds much potential for any parish.  Using a smartphone, you can live broadcast on Facebook a sermon, music, or even your entire worship time or church school program.  How cool is that?!

So, hope to see you on August 23 as we learn together, and brainstorm together, how we can make Episcopal Social MediaSunday on September 25 the best ever and add new tools and possibilities to our longer-term social media profile!.

Around the Fireplace – July 2016

Success social media concept: arrows hitting the center of target, Red Community on wall background, 3d render

Cultivating Sunday Morning Church Guests through Community Recognition

by Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism

Last month, I covered a lot of simple ideas for getting newcomers in to your parish on Sunday mornings.  All of these ideas centered around the basic concept of nourishing recognition in your community.

To build on those ideas, here are just a few more that can deepen parish-community connection and get more people into your buildings on Sundays and at other times during the week.

Consider offering a form of Community Mission Minutes during your Sunday announcement time. Get out the calendar and look at all of your Sundays for a designated period of time. Advent or Lent may be an excellent time for you to experiment with the success of this.  Identify and invite one community organization or project in per Sunday.  Think broadly—-everything from an animal rescue to a service group like the Elks or Rotary Club to a local food pantry.  Offer these organizations three minutes during church announcement time to inform your congregation about what they do, who they serve, and how it impacts the life of your community.  Encourage them to bring multiple members of their organization and visuals demonstrating their work. Invite the groups to stay after church with a table of information during coffee hour time.

Even in a very small community, if you consider social service organizations, school and college groups, ecumenical partners, and offices and organizations related to local government, you can find an endless supply of groups to highlight. These invitations can bring a different group of newcomers into your church each week and also inspire your congregants to look beyond their own walls, learn, and explore your community’s needs much more intentionally. New, life-giving ministry may emerge from some of these presentations and connections.

Also consider asking community leaders and groups to teach and share skills in your parish. Most people love sharing what they are passionate about and inviting engagement.  Again, you could actually construct a series of two-minute teach and learn experiences during announcement time.  Examples—how to write a letter to your Congressional representatives on an important issue, how to prepare end-of-life directives, how to screen caregivers for family members, how to most effectively direct your personal gifts for the community’s homeless. These quick teaching/learning efforts again mean more new people experiencing worship and your church and getting to know people in your parish.  This can create a lot of synergy all-around!

It always amazes me how many parishes say they can no longer offer adult church school because no one will prepare and lead it each Sunday. The answer?  Focus on community needs and issues. Tap into your community resources for longer teaching experiences, as well as quick bits during announcement time.  Then, all you need is someone to introduce your guest/s, monitor time, and thank them.

Picking up on the idea of teaching and learning via community programs and leaders, you may also want to try getting this concept out of the realm of Sunday mornings and develop a weekly/weekday  experience where both parishioners and community residents can gather for a social and learning time from someone in the community.  Such experiences could also end with prayers and social time in the parish hall or at a nearby restaurant.  How might people in your small community view your parish hall if you renamed it the St. Swithen’s Community Center or Community Learning Center?  More food for thought!

More ideas next month…. So, what are you trying now that is already working in your parish?  Tell us here.

Until next time,

Kathy

Around the Fireplace: June 2016

Part One: How to Attract Multiple Guests to Your Church on Sunday Mornings with Minimal Effort or Expense

by Kathy Copas
Coordinator of Communication and Evangelism

Huh? Seriously? As a matter of fact, YES! It is actually much easier than you think. Over the summer months here in The Gathered Community, I’ll be offering some simple techniques that may work for you and your parish as you seek to create greater awareness and attract new energy and community connectedness to your own Sunday morning experience. All of these techniques have a common root—recognition. I would define recognition as discovering what small but important things are happening in your community and creatively exploring ways they can be integrated into the context of your Sunday morning worship experience.

Let’s say you just read on social media or in the newspaper that a local middle school band ensemble of 12 just won first place at a recent state music competition. This was actually a real-life scenario for one of our parishes I have worked with recently. Chances are these students, in the midst of feeling pretty good within their own circle of family and friends about what they have achieved, are feeling as though their achievement isn’t particularly important to the rest of the world.

What if you contacted their director and told them your parish had heard about their recent honor and wanted to invite them to perform one Sunday morning and receive a Community Spirit Award certificate from your church? The July 4 weekend is coming up. Perhaps that would be a great opportunity to have a school band group like that perform an arrangement of one of the national songs in our hymnal during Offertory?

Anyone can produce a nice certificate on their computer and print it on a piece of quality paper. Nice frames are available for as low as $1.00 at the Dollar Tree or Dollar General stores. You could present the award during church announcement time and take a pic and/or video, disseminating it on social media and submitting it to your hometown newspaper. It would also be great to video their performance and post it up on social media, as well. Maybe this would also be a great time to stream your worship service through Facebook’s new live tool. All of this positions your church as being very community-minded and as a place that values and celebrates the talents and contributions of local youth.

Best of all, think about the possibilities for what happens when 12 young people from a local middle school perform just a simple piece of music in your church? You get those young people there but also some of their friends, mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, school officials… you get the idea. In extending just a simple act of recognition and hospitality, you will be able to introduce many new people to your church, many of whom are likely unchurched or de-churched.

The possibilities for this strategy are endless. What if you committed to trying it once a month, recognizing the talents of different individuals or groups of achievers? Consider:

• Giving a lauded community theatre group an opportunity to interpret a Biblical story from the lectionary

• Inviting a winning dance school group to share through liturgical dance

• Encouraging local honored student painters or sculptors to listen to the lectionary and express it through their art as your worship proceeds

All you have to do, especially in a small community, is to scour through your local newspaper and social media to discover lots of possibilities and persons who could be recognized for their achievements. Good luck and let us know (thegatheredcommunity@gmail.com).what you tried and how it worked!

Until next month,

Kathy