Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why We Asked Our Parishioners to Bring Their Cell Phones To Mass

St. Mary's Catholic Center has noticed through the years the challenge of trying to get our student population to register with us. Thus, we rolled out an initiative last year which has never been tried at any other church - at least I have never heard of another church doing something even close. We stream-lined the process this year and made it even better.

As is the case with every church/parish, we all try to have those who attend church with us register as parishioners. Most parishes will put out cards and some even have on-line registration. Many people don't register, because they don't want to go through the trouble. Some don't do it because they don't want to be tied to a specific parish. Some have other reasons, but the net result is a large percentage of those who attend Mass at most parishes do not register. This is especially true of college students who have never registered growing up, because their parents did it. Additionally, we have a problem that is much bigger than most parishes registration problems. We have hundereds of students coming and going throughout the year. So, keeping track of their data is very difficult, esp. when it changes. Our registration has never gone well. So, we decided to wipe the board clean and start over last year.

Both last year and this year we told everyone (starting a week before) to bring their phones to mass this last weekend, but we didn't tell them why, because the intrigue is half the fun. After the homily, the priests have everyone pull out their phones and turn them on - the first time a priest has ever done this, to be sure. The priests then talk about how everyone at Mass is joined together in the Universal Chursh as well as in this parish, and we want to know who they are so that we can serve them better. Furthermore, everyone is invited to register with us by texting us their names, email, and phone #. We hold up signs with directions while the priest tells them what to do verbally as well. The whole process takes about 3 minutes.

Those who didn't bring their cell phones or who don't have a texting plan (which is a small number in a campus ministry parish like us) can fill out a traditional registration card, but one that only has name, email, and phone.

We use an aircard for the texting, which allows wireless access for a laptop anywhere via cell phone service, to download all registrations texted to us, import them into, then we send them a message to complete the registration process.

Tuesday I will will send them a message (from our pastor, Fr. David) and ask them to go to our website to finish the registration process. If they complete the process they are automatically signed up to win one of the following prizes:
  • An Apple Ipad
  • 5 students get to go to Lunch with the priests and head football coach Mike Sherman
  • 5 students get to go to Lunch with the priests and head basketball coach Mark Turgeon
  • One of 20 gift certificates
We have partnered with a great company called to do our online registration. Flocknote is an affordable and easy way for parishes to communicate with their parishioners in whatever way they choose. So, our parishioners and students can sign up to receive updates from St. Mary's (and the different groups at St. Mary's), via Flocknote, by email, texting, Twitter, or Facebook. Each individual chooses their way we communicate with them. The groups can also communicate with them when they sign up. Also, they are able to control their information, so if it changes, they can easily update it.

Please pray for success of our efforts. A short introductory video on's page gives you a nice quick way to understand their efforts. Also, I know that Flocknote is currently working on incorporating a 5-digit texting number into their website, so that other parishes can duplicate our efforts here at St. Mary's. So, it should be even easier to accomplish our goals next year.

Did I mention that the founders and owners of both Flocknote and eCatholicChurches (the company who hosts our website) are Aggie Catholics?

UPDATE (9/9/10): TX State has already followed suit and Yale is planning on doing so as well. Now, we need to get other parishes, ministries, and apostolates to follow suit.


Colin Kerr said...

Nice idea.

kkollwitz said...

This is terrific.

Marilyn Heller said...

The priest at our local parish had everyone turn their cell phones on during his homily. Then he gave everyone his cell phone # to program into their phones and said that he was available if anyone needed a priest and that they should call him. Very daring (and trusting that parishioners won't abuse it)!

Marilyn H

Immaculatae said...

Nice idea if it refers to updating address etc. If it leaves an individual free to decide that they are in a valid marriage or not, or to do name changes after a civil marriage which leave the sacramental records unclear and inaccurate, it could be a real problem when someone is the the hospital or neads a sacramant for themselves or their chilldren.

Also, at some point the whole issue of tithing, and use of envelopes or parish pay online, etc. needs to be addressed with people as individuals.

It has potential as a step in the actual process, but if misused could further depersonalize people as in the mega-churches.

phatcatholic said...

How exactly did you download all of the registrations and how did you import them into Flocknote?

Marcel said...

We accessed our Aircard account on the web and then downloaded them into a Simple Text doc. They are then imported into an Excel spreadsheet, which can be imported into Flocknote, using their import feature.