By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – In an increasingly mobile and digital world, Catholic parishes and other institutions are finding that the ubiquitous mobile app can work for them. In Mississippi, parishes in Tupelo and Greenwood have launched personalized apps to help keep their communities connected.
More parishes are going the app route, and more companies are tailoring their business for the church trade. Among the app developers are thechurchapp.org, churchapplady.com and Catholic Parish Apps.
Edmundo Reyes, founder and CEO of Catholic Parish Apps, the company that developed the Greenwood parishes’ app, told Catholic News Service that since his venture opened for business less than a year ago, he has gotten 65 parish apps off the ground, has another 75 or so in the works, and has secured contracts for the 70-parish Diocese of Orange, Calif., and the 213-parish Archdiocese of Detroit, where he doubles as director of institutional development for the archdiocese and its seminary.
“Not all of them are going to get the app, but a number of them will,” said Reyes, whose company’s site is parishapps.com.
“We wanted to found a company that would really be at the intersection of technology and ministry,” he added. “We want things for the parish to be easy to use. We want our app to be flexible. Each parish is different, each ministry is different.” According to Reyes, parishes are interested in at least one of three things, based on how the pastor perceives his ministry: communication, collaboration and evangelization.
He referred to a 2013 survey conducted by the Detroit Archdiocese that garnered 44,000 responses. When asked how they got connected to their parish or the diocese, “95 percent of the people said the bulletin. Below them was the vicariate newsletter, and the thing about it is that the newsletter is included in the parish bulletin,” Reyes said. “The parish website and parish email efforts were only 45 percent. Now that’s a big gap between 95 and 45 percent.”
“People aren’t using computers or even laptops anymore, they really are using their smartphones to communicate,” said Father Lincoln Dall, pastor at Tupelo St. James, who used the company myParish app for his parish. He said he has already used the app to notify parishioners about prayer requests, funerals and changes in liturgy schedules. Some parishioners even said they attended one fund-raiser because of a reminder sent through the app.
Father Gregory Plata said Catholic Parish Apps was able to work with him to include all four of his faith communities, three parishes, a mission and a school, in one app. This helped keep the cost reasonable and allows him to communicate with all four at one time. While all four parishes are on one app, each offers different options depending on the needs of that faith community.
One early adapter was Nativity Parish in Timonium, Maryland, a Baltimore suburb. “The app allows people to check out basic information about Nativity such as service times and where we are. It has a map so people can come and check us out that way,” Hamilton said. “There’s some more in-depth information about some programs like our kids and teen programs.”
Weekend Mass announcements are posted. “We also put our pastor’s messages on the app as well. We break down our messages in series so over the course of four or six weeks we can have a series of messages,” Hamilton said. Nativity has since taken to broadcasting its Masses for viewing via the app, which also links to the pastor’s blog.
Holy Spirit Parish in Dubuque, Iowa, after nearly eight months of development, unveiled its app on Easter, and got 119 people to download it right away.
“It’s a tool for collaboration in the parish and it’s a tool for the new evangelization,” said Brandon Kuboushek, a member of the parish evangelization committee. “We want people to use it to get more information, get questions answered about the parish. We also hope people walking down the street will download it and it’s a way to evangelize. People are being bombarded with media all the time. This is a way to use that new technology.”
Kuboushek spent more than 40 hours volunteering, working with members of the committee and parish officials to get the app off the ground.
“We did this based on how can we get the attention of younger people or anyone who has gone away from the church; (we thought) ‘what are some ways we can appeal to them?’” Leslie Foley, another member of the evangelization committee, told The Witness, Dubuque’s archdiocesan newspaper.
Then there’s iBreviary, replacing the hefty leather-bound volumes of the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s a must-have, Father Clements told The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix. A handful of priests from the Diocese of Jackson downloaded iBreviary when they attended a training session earlier this year. The app has settings to alert the user to prayer times and offers music and other prayer options.
(Contributing to this story were Dan Russo in Dubuque, Zita Taitano in Jonesboro, Dwain Hebda in Little Rock, Ambria Hammel in Phoenix and Maureen Smith in Jackson.)