To meet the needs of parents today, Rev. John Belmonte, S.J., has established a new evangelization non-profit named APP-OSTOLIC, and developed a mobile app called We Parent More. The tool aims to help the Church stay connected to parents between the time they bring their infant to be baptized and the time, a few years later, when they might introduce their three-year-old to pre-K connected to their parish school.
“We’re losing this generation,” warned Fr. Belmonte, superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Joliet. And part of the solution, he said, is the app’s array of customizable, updatable information resources.
“Our app attempts to meet young Catholic parents where they are most often found today—in the digital marketplace,” Fr. Belmonte said in an online interview. “Meeting them there, we hope to build a bridge to invite them into their parish and school. The We Parent More app is that bridge from the baptism of their children into the parish and Catholic school. It is the voice of the Church on their cell phones: 'Guess who’s calling?'”
With or without new technologies, best practices for Catholic school recruiting efforts rely on building relationships with families from the moment they enter the parish or express interest. A sense of community helps to create the trust and confidence that can lead parents to enroll their children in the parish school, said Cristina Espino, advancement coordinator for Notre Dame ACE Academies.
Especially in Latino communities, families want to feel welcomed into a meaningful relationship, to know that close friends and relatives have had a good experience, and to see that a parish community offers companionship in life’s daily journey, she said. It’s unclear if smartphone apps fill that need for schools with limited resources.
“It depends on who your target audience is,” Espino said, explaining that every parish must decide what demographic groups are most relevant to its service and outreach and how important different tools for outreach—such as apps or hard-copy bulletins—are to those groups. "Technology to keep people informed can be a very valuable tool, and families who stay informed, online or in hard copy, are already more likely to enroll their children."
Besides We Parent More, for example, the Our Sunday Visitor publishing company offers free set-up of “Faith in Action” websites and parish apps. An ecumenical company called Bluebridge provides various products, including what it calls “a digital bulletin.”
Technology will, no doubt, continue to evolve, but Espino said that people need to remain the focal point of recruiting efforts. The personal encounters that build and sustain communities need not be high-tech and can’t lose the human dimension.
“Apps can inform, but they won’t necessarily welcome.”