Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
The Coronavirus pandemic is fundamentally changing Catholic life with the closure of public Mass. And in order to carry out their mission, Catholic parishes and dioceses all over the globe are realizing they need to get online to weather the storm.
I am recommending the following products to parishes, and even dioceses, because I have actually used them and they can be done by volunteers. I have a full-time job at the Register, and so I serve in an unpaid volunteer capacity for my church, St. Alban’s Catholic Church. I don’t have the luxury of time to fuss around with tools that aren’t friendly to the user. Time is of the essence, and I can guarantee you that once I’m done with work today, I will start updating my parish’s website for broadcasting Masses on Sunday.
So, parishes and dioceses: if you want the TL;DR recommendation from me for what you need: (1) get an eCatholic website; (2) get eCatholic payments (you can look at other services such as ParishSoft or Tithe.ly to supplement text-to-give); (3) get Flocknote email/text service for churches. Flocknote also integrates perfectly with an eCatholic website.
Are there other options out there? Yes, there are. But given time is of the essence, and I’ve actually used these products (except text-to-give), this is what I recommend.
PARISH / DIOCESAN WEBSITE: Get eCatholic. In my book, eCatholic wins hands down as a site that is truly built for Catholic parishes and organizations. The eCatholic website is designed to work for desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. ECatholic’s tools make it superbly easy for parish volunteers. They have beautiful templates that are always being updated (the most recent will help you broadcast video or livestream of your Mass). The tools that eCatholic gives you make it easy for a volunteer to design the site within those templates, but also to update and maintain it. And it looks engaging and fresh.
My advice for parish websites: you only need the essentials. Less is more. People want to get to essential information quickly. You do not need to throw the entire kitchen sink at the website, and if you’re behind the 8-ball, start with the eCatholic basic package and then only upgrade if you absolutely have no more room and need to.
For pastors that want people to go to the website for Mass, you have two options with ECatholic: prerecord and upload your Mass on YouTube or Vimeo and then have the Mass broadcast as the featured video on your website. That’s the free option.
If you want to livestream your Masses, eCatholic has a livestream feature that costs extra, but which integrates with your website.
Also, I have to say that eCatholic’s customer service has always been top-notch, and enormously helpful and responsive.
You can choose another website option, but you have to select something that is mobile-responsive, one that your volunteers can easily manage, update, and which integrates with an online payment option. And you need to make a decision fast.
Cost: eCatholic basic package (up to 25 pages): $20 / month. Essential package (up to 50 pages): $35/month. Premium package (unlimited pages): $50/ month.
eCatholic livestream packages: Lite (up to 100 viewers): $79/month. Pro (up to 500 viewers): $149/month. Premiere (up to 1000 viewers): $249/month.
ONLINE PAYMENT: If you have an eCatholic website, I recommend eCatholic Payments, which easily integrates with the website. You can also restrict the settings so only the parish’s authorized finance personnel can access and manage the donor portal, while your web administer can have authority to set up the portals. So this way donor information is kept absolutely confidential.
Here’s the thing: giving online to the parish needs to be as easy and painless as shopping on Amazon. ECatholic Payments does that. And they have excellent support to guide you through this.
Can you choose a different payment provider than eCatholic Payments that will work with an eCatholic website? Yes. Absolutely. If you want to choose a different payment system, eCatholic will work with that too. It’s just that with time being of the essence, you have to make a choice now.
It is absolutely critical to get your parish members giving online. They need to make a family decision what portion of their net income they will give to the support of their parish. In general, I recommend tithing 10% of your net income: in my case, half goes to our parish, and the other half goes to support various Catholic charities and missionary activity. Families however will need to take the principle of sacrificial giving, and adapt to their own particular circumstances.
And honestly, parishes and dioceses: you have a moral obligation to your parish and your employees to aggressively make these changes before you start cutting employees who are part of your church family. Please make every effort to get this done!
ECatholic Payments: Monthly fee: $20/mo. Transaction fees: Bank Account Transfers (ACH): 1% + 35 cents per transaction; Debit Card: 1.7% + 30 cents per transaction; Credit Card: 3.1% + 20 cents per transaction.
TEXT-TO-GIVE (Option): I certainly would have this option in a parish’s arsenal, but only after you’ve set up online giving portal and asked your parishes to set up giving that way. In a normal scenario, text-to-give is a good option when you’re having Mass and you want to ask people to give to the offertory. We were already starting to live in a pretty cashless society, and I expect that we will be using cash far less on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
Also, let’s be clear: you are exposing your parishioners to an enormous cache of germs by giving cash and checks. Somebody has to handle that cash and checks.
What are some of your other options to look into? Here are some examples that come to mind, although there are others. ParishSoft has a text-to-give option, and some parishes could get this from their diocesan ParishSoft suites. Tithe.ly is another option designed for Christian churches. And there’s also Venmo, which some churches have set up.
I have not used these products for my church, and so can’t recommend them. But I do recommend looking into them and setting them up when you’ve put in place the essential pieces.
EMAIL/TEXT SERVICE for Parishes/Dioceses: Get Flocknote. The parish needs to stay in contact with each other, and pastors must be present to their flocks during this time. Sheep need to see the shepherd in a time of crisis. Flocknote provides an excellent way to reach your people directly via text message and email. Text is extremely important for sharing vital messages directly, like that Mass is canceled, or that Mass will be livestreamed or broadcast on your website, where you’re having drive-through confessions, your virtual Bible study, or just inviting people to prayer. Use the email feature for longer messages (and which do not require immediate attention) to keep in regular contact with your flock, and provide them opportunities to stay connected as a digital parish.
You can also break down the groups: so you can send messages to everyone in the parish down to small groups, such as prayer groups, Bible studies, etc. The dashboards are very easy to navigate for super-admins or group-admins. Again, this is critical for volunteers: they need to be able to get the job done quickly and smoothly without a steep learning curve.
For parishes wondering how they’ll link up all their parishioners with online giving, I would get Flocknote and send out a text with the web address of your online giving portal. Then send a Flocknote email that explains how to sign up so you make sure all your bases are covered.
And as I mentioned before, Flocknote integrates with your website. So you can sign people up who visit your website and want to be connected with your parish.
I would recommend that every diocese hooks themselves and their parishes up with Flocknote immediately. If parishes send the diocese their ParishSoft emails and phone numbers, this enables the bishop to communicate directly with the local church. This way, every bishop and every pastor can be present to his flock amid the storm, and directly communicate updates.
But at the very least, I would recommend your parish sign up for Flocknote so your pastor can keep the flock feeling close to each other and Jesus Christ.
Cost: Flocknote pricing is variable: 101-200 members is $31/month; 201-400 members is $43/month; 401 – 600 members is $55/month; 601-900 members is $67/month; 901-1250 members is $79/month. Check out Flocknote pricing for other specifications below and above the figures given here.