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St. Gabriel Parish: Using technology to connect with members
CHARLOTTE — The communications coordinator at St. Gabriel Church is hoping new technology will help boost attendance and spread the word about what's going on at the vibrant Charlotte parish.
Shannon Habenicht has helped St. Gabriel Parish launch a new website, use QR codes for smart phones to scan and save information on bulletins and flyers, and now to create an original mobile app for the parish. St. Gabriel is among the largest parishes in the Diocese of Charlotte, with more than 3,000 registered families, so communication is key. And these technologies can help the parish communicate better, faster and easier, Habenicht says.
Pictured: Communications coordinator Shannon Habenicht has helped St. Gabriel Parish launch a new website, use QR codes for smart phones to scan and save information on bulletins and flyers, and is now working on building a mobile app – all in an effort to better communicate to the parish's approximately 3,000 members. (Kimberly Bender | Catholic News Herald)
"I worked marketing, fundraisers and worked for a health care system. It took me to come to Catholic church in my hometown to do QR codes and apps. It's like – boom – technology," Habenicht says excitedly about all of the parish's new initiatives.
Habenicht, who attended St. Gabriel School and graduated from Charlotte Catholic High School, returned to Charlotte eight years ago after attending college in Virginia and working in Washington, D.C.
An email sent through a Christian mothers' group alerted her to the job opening. She has served as part-time communications director at the church for nearly two years now.
"It was meant to be as I thought and hope it was," she says. "It's been really great. We're very lucky to have supportive staff and Father Frank (O'Rourke). I knew I'd like it here, but I love it here."
As parish communications director, Habenicht writes press releases, compiles the weekly bulletin, updates the calendar and maintains the parish website, which was recently redesigned.
"I'm getting out the good works that we do here," Habenicht says.
In an attempt to reach a broader audience, Habenicht says, the parish is now looking to connect to more people through their smart phones.
With help from a local company, St. Gabriel Parish is developing an app, an application for Apple and Android phones, that will have the same look as the website. The app will also have GPS directions to the church from the phone's location, front desk numbers, Mass schedules, calendar of events and push notifications that will go parish-wide, Habenicht says. It will also have a form for ministries to use, so that if a meeting is cancelled or changed, a notification can be "pushed" to all the attendees' phones.
"We didn't have the technology to reach everyone before. The free app is voluntary," Habenicht says. "We're trying to reach a larger audience."
The goal through the mobile app is to target the 18- to 35-year-old demographic, she says.
"That's really where things are going. A lot of people don't even check email anymore. We want people to see that we're in the times, and we're doing so many things, and people may not know about them. The app gives them immediate access to us."
The mobile app should be available for download in the next few weeks, she says.
The other initiative that St. Gabriel Parish is undertaking is adding quick response codes, or QR codes, to bulletins, flyers and other communications. These two-dimensional boxes of code can be scanned by smart phones, similar to bar codes, and are free and easy to produce and use.
Through these codes, the goal is to boost attendance at events and awareness for campaigns through the ability to quickly obtain the information on the go and reading more on a phone or device at a more convenient time, Habenicht points out.
"I'm more excited for the QR codes than I am for the app," she says. "To take all the time to write down the details while a baby is screaming is hard. But with the code, you just scan and go. I think it's a good way to get people to start coming to events. I think it's a neat concept. I think it's cool for the Catholic Church to have that ability. We're pretty progressive with the technology. "
The first QR codes appeared in the parish bulletin over the June 23-24 weekend, and five people scanned the codes for more information. "Not a ton, but a nice start," Habenicht says.
Kate Stephens, director of St. Gabriel's preschool, the Cradle, said she's grateful for Habenicht's hard work in creating greener communication, including using QR codes to pay tuition.
"I'm really excited about it. In the Cradle, we strive educate our students as 21st century learners. It only makes sense for our parents to use 21st century communication," Stephens says. "Shannon has brought a lot convenience to the parents because the website has become more user-friendly. We're fortunate to have someone bright like Shannon to keep us up to date."
Since the parish's new website launched, Habenicht says, they've seen steady growth of new and returning visitors to the site.
Habenicht says she looks to her peers at other parishes for advice and ideas, and she could see that a position like hers would be beneficial in other parishes.
— Kimberly Bender, online reporter
Check out St. Gabriel Church's new website: www.stgabrielchurch.org
Learn more about QR codes or create them yourself: www.qrstuff.com
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