What are the implications of Pride (or competitor Yammer) as a mobile collaboration app? A realtime portrait of the efforts of an entire staff. Imagine 250+ employees in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia collaborating and sharing their work processes in realtime. Suddenly the stars (and the dead wood) become a whole lot more visible.

New media and social communications can transform Catholicism institutionally for the better, helping us return to a focus on community, witness, and evangelization.

This showed up in my inbox this afternoon. This is the type of thing Rachel Sterne is doing in New York City as the city government’s first Chief Digital Officer, a position I believe should be ported to Catholicism.

In the Philadelphia Catholic Church we probably wouldn’t want to host a sustainability hackathon. But we might want to host something like it, bringing together self-starters and thinkers to tackle different ways to share the faith, or witness using mobile devices, or help the 250+ area churches improve in some big way.

Actually, bringing together regular Catholics to interact in a non-explicitly religious environment would be a good start. A small example of what the Archdiocese could do digitally is host a hackathon for its own web presence simply asking the question: what can we do better? Then have people do those things.

As it stands, we don’t harness the potential of our people to act or even propose ideas in unstructured ways. We’re still stuck in top-down thinking. For doctrinal questions on theology it makes sense. For the applications of sharing that theology, the living daily witness of regular Catholics among the laity, it makes less sense.

What is the Archdiocese even there for (that local parishes couldn’t figure out for themselves) if not to take advantage of its scale to connect the laity like New York City is doing in civic matters?

I was watching Fr. Robert Barron‘s Elmhurst College talk on Evangelizing the Culture the other day. At the 20:33 mark, Fr. Barron references Saint IrenaeusThe glory of God is a human being fully alive. “Can I suggest,” Fr. Barron asks, that “you could lose almost all the literature of Christianity but keep that one line and you’ve got the heart of it.”

What digital strategy can be for the Church is and rightly should be a means to witness to human beings fully alive in Christ. The torrent of technology, platforms, and new media can be measured for the Church simply by asking whether authentic witness can occur.

We are in the midst of a new age of opportunity for Christ and the Church, and digital strategy can help us fulfill our ever revolutionary calling to share the Gospel promise of salvation, to foster community, to witness, to evangelize, to convey and transmit, to conserve and preserve, to reintroduce and in a thousand ways present ourselves as fully alive.

Our own soulfulness serves as requisite kindling for hearts on fire. Digital strategy for the Church is not about technologies, but rather about human persons and the broader story of our journey together toward Christ.

Posted from North Wales, Pennsylvania, United States.

Todd Park is the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. (Did you know we have one of those?) Watch the entire talk above if you can for a glimpse at what he and others are doing to apply a lean startup mentality to government. Todd’s energy is infectious.

During his time as Health and Human Services CTO, he was profiled by The Atlantic as “running his part of the massive government agency “like a Silicon Valley company.’” An example of his lean startup approach from his Wikipedia profile:

HealthCare.gov, the first government website that provides consumers with a searchable database of public and private health insurance plans available across the U.S. by zip code. … The initial version of HealthCare.gov, which was deployed on July 1, 2010, was built in 90 days.

Like Todd Park, Macon Philips has been an accelerating force in government for the Obama administration. Macon is the Director of Digital Strategy for the White House and speaks at the ~20 minute mark. He says of the White House approach to new media that the purpose is three-fold:

  1. Amplify the president’s voice; supplement communications and public engagement efforts. As he jokes, the “only person with whitehouse.gov as her homepage is my mother,” so they need to utilize channels beyond that site.
  2. Promote openness and transparency by making information accessible, and speak about White House initiatives in ways regular people can understand. Use new media, videos, and interactive content.
  3. Create opportunities for meaningful engagement and work with other offices to do this. Measure aggregate engagement and also outcomes from those activities.

Four competencies drive their digital strategy effort: teams focus on (a) content creation (editorial, copywriters, video, etc.), (b) engagement (c) outreach (d) platform. The lesson? New and social media doesn’t replace traditional communications, PR, or engagement efforts, but can supplement and accelerate them.

Great lessons here for institutions or companies looking to evolve.

Clive Sirkin of Kimberly-Clark: “We don’t believe in digital marketing. We believe in marketing in a digital world, and there’s a huge difference.” The former involves repackaging your tired, old-world ad campaign and buying Google Ads. The latter involves constructing an entirely new business plan. See: Uber’s On-Demand Cinco de Mayo Mariachi Fiestas:

On Friday, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo (which is actually Saturday, so this is pre-game), if you happen to live in San Francisco, you’ll be able to open the Uber app and request a “fiesta”.

What’s do you get with a “fiesta”, you may wonder?

Well, you get an SUV Uber that pulls up with a mariachi band that will play you a song, give you a bottle of margarita mix, and give you a stuffed piñata.

This will cost you $100 via in-app purchase, so choose your time and place wisely.

Yes, this is real.

Uber is a cab company, except you get town cars and hail your cab via an app your mobile device. Who thinks of something like on-demand Mariachi Fiestas? A company that loves what it does. People like people who love what they do. Marketing in a digital world.

Catholics across the Greater Philadelphia area are part of a massive, five-county community of some 270+ parish churches. This sounds impressive. In and of itself, though, data tends to be abstract — not immediately or obviously meaningful.

What does this Catholic community resemble? Where is the presence geographically greatest? Where is it absent? Which communities engage in vibrant digital evangelization? Or simply: what other parishes are in my area?

The Archdiocese’s official parish directory doesn’t present us with anything but raw information. It only shows us parish names and data by county. To answer the above questions — questions I ask myself often in my work with Catholic communities — a visual, engaging presentation of this directory was needed.  So I created one using Google Maps:


View Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a larger map

In all, I was able to map some 270 churches in a little over seven hours yesterday evening and night. Each listing includes the parish name, its physical location, its main telephone number, and, if available, its website.

At a time when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is experiencing systemic atrophy of both its churches and schools, a visualization of the real church presence across the Delaware Valley could be a helpful way to truly contextualize news as it unfolds.

To be useful, data must be engaging. To help inform the conversation about the future of the Catholic family across the Philadelphia area, it helps to see where we stand. Literally.