BY DWAIN HEBDA
The new parish bulletin lives in cyberspace as Yell County Catholic, a free smartphone and tablet app, putting parish information at the fingertips of the faithful in west central Arkansas.
“I know that some people still love the church bulletin, and I wouldn’t do away with it,” said Father James Melnick, pastor of St. Augustine Church in Dardanelle and St. Andrew Church in Danville. “But I also know there are a lot of people who take it because the ushers hand it out and then not even see it until they have to clean out the car.
“There are a lot of new ways for people to get the message about us, and I think this kind of interface is just going to be handy for getting the message to people.”
Father Melnick got the idea while visiting a youth event in Albuquerque, N.M., in October. While there, he was introduced to Sue Jiron, owner of SmartDogIntegration who had developed a similar tool for several Catholic churches there.
He was immediately struck by the possibilities the tool presented for his two parishes, which on any given weekend see a combined 1,000 worshipers for Sunday Mass.
“The new media is just about attracting people to information,” he said. “For me it’s the fastest, easiest way that I can connect to a majority of my parishioners on a daily basis, to send out a birthday greeting or to send out something just to be in the know on something that’s going on. It’s a lot easier.”
The app, which to Father Melnick’s knowledge, is the first parish-specific app in the diocese, cost $1,500 to develop and $70 per month to maintain. Since going live in January, it has attracted more than 100 downloads, with little more than word-of-mouth promotion.
Besides basic church information, such as Mass times, parish calendar and digitized bulletin, users can also leave Father Melnick a message, read his blog, make an appointment, share the app with other users, check out a news feed or view or share photos and watch videos of parish events and groups.
Father Melnick said he’s hoping as people start to use it, it will cut down on some of the time they spend dropping by the church office for basic information.
“People are driving to the office just to ask when are baptism classes,” he said. “We’re happy to help them, but if you can give people one less step maybe it will make their lives a little easier. We can give them that information just a click away so they don’t have to come by to ask the little questions.”
This isn’t the first technology that Father Melnick has incorporated into his pastorate. He’s regularly posting to Facebook and he’s actively involved with video projects chronicling youth group activity and other events in the two predominantly Hispanic churches. At just 29, he admits technology might be more his cup of tea than others, but he’s not alone in that category, either.
“Our average (age) is probably 25, because we have, like, a thousand kids. I look at the five o’clock Mass and I mean half of them don’t even come above the pew,” he said. “Just getting confirmation kids to download it, to know that their church has an app, that kind of says something. I mean how many other churches have an app like that? I’m pretty sure the Baptist church in Danville doesn’t have an app, so that’s pretty cool.”
Father Melnick insists the various tools he uses are not just technology for technology’s sake. His future goal, besides rolling out a version of the app in Spanish, is to publicize events within a two-hour radius. Much like the various media, he said the more you offer people the better chance something will hook their interest.
“I think that would be the main thing, just connecting ourselves and being relatable to other people and their daily life,” he said. “Pope Francis is saying get away from the computer, you know, get in the streets and I’m with that sometimes. But I also think that, especially with the blog stuff, maybe people aren’t going to read a paper but they might read like a little blog article. Or it just kind of puts that other idea out there, something they hadn’t thought about, maybe some final push to get somebody to go to a retreat or just pray.
“Whatever connects, that’s our goal. I think some people would say, ‘man that’s a lot of money to put into a game or a toy.’ But if I’ll do whatever I can to reach people. It’s not the end-all, be-all of evangelization but I think it’s worth a try.”
Yell County Catholic is available for Android via Google Play and on the iTunes for iPhone, iPad and iPad Touch.
Source: Arkansas Catholic