A Revolution in Learning

This TED talk by Chris Anderson titled “How Web Video Powers Global Innovation” has profound implications for catechesis in our social media influenced society. We’re on the verge of a revolution in learning that catechists and catechetical leaders need to embrace. Anderson speaks about something called “Crowd Accelerated Innovation.” This takes place when a group, or crowd, of people with a common interest and a desire for improvement share their best ideas and spur each other to innovation and change.

This has always happened, pre-internet, on the local level but now web video is driving this innovation at a new velocity. Anderson uses the example of dancers on a street corner. When they get together, they push each other to try new things. Fueled by each other’s talent and the desire to push the limits of what is possible, they innovate and achieve higher levels of ability. Now, with the web,  this is possible all around the world.  Dancers are no longer limited to learning techniques from the best in their local area. Through web video, the best, most innovative techniques can be broadcast globally. Someone in Japan can see and imitate the best dancers in New York. The potential exposure to new ideas is limited only to how much people are willing to share what they know. The more transparency and sharing, the greater the possibility for innovation.

A year ago, I went to a diocesan retreat for catechetical leaders. As we talked and shared stories, I was blown away by the fantastic things they were doing. Everyone learned so much just by being with other. We all came away thinking, wouldn’t it be great if we could share these ideas all the time? We could solve more problems and get more done.

This was “Crowd Accelerated Innovation” on a local level and it was fabulous! However, we all lived hours apart and getting together regularly was an impossibility. But what if we could interact and share our best techniques, new ideas, awesome innovations and solutions to difficult problems all the time? And, what if people all over the world were sharing? Web video is becoming easier and easier to implement and use. All these awesome catechists doing amazing things could drive innovation in catechesis to new heights.

There’s a revolution in learning on it’s way and it won’t just benefit street dancers. We can take advantage of this in the Church and in the catechetical field. All we need is the courage to share our talents, ideas and innovations with our fellow catechists around the world. It doesn’t have to be eloquent. It just has to be out there. Nick Senger recently posted a list of Catholic educator’s blogs and there’s less than forty. I know there are more awesome catechists out there and more ideas to share! And, I’m sure that more and more will be coming online.

What can we do today to fuel this revolution, learn from our global network of religious educators and drive the innovation? The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and our willingness to share.

A Culture of Service

Does your parish staff resent its parishioners? That’s kind of a strong statement, but at a certain level, it’s true of many parishes. As a parish worker myself, it’s something that I’ve had to work on over the years. Let’s face it, bending over backwards to accommodate the individual is a hassle. It’s hard not to have an attitude of “I’m glad you’re in my program but kindly don’t make any trouble.” The simple fact is that Catholic parishes don’t generally see themselves as being in the business of customer service. I think that is a problem.

That’s an attitude I find in a lot of businesses and organizations, though. They want to put out a product or service and they want people to like it without a lot of fuss. I had a Targus computer bag once with a design flaw in the strap. It kept breaking in the same place from normal use. I liked the bag and got two replacements but they kept breaking. So I asked for a different kind of bag, or my money back. They told me to pack sand (not exactly in those words). End result, I don’t buy Targus bags anymore (Booq has the best computer bags in the world anyway).

In fact, it’s so startling when I run across a business that’s not like this, it makes me want to go back…and bring my friends! And that is exactly the point I want to make about customer service and Catholic parishes. If people are treated well at a business or service, they’ll go back and tell their friends.

I recently heard an interview with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. Hsieh created Zappos with a culture of great customer service. Zappos is not really about selling shoes, they are about outstanding service, and because of that they create amazing brand loyalty. Hsieh stated that 75% of their business is from return customers, and they have recorded increased profits even in the downturn economy. They make it so pleasant to shop there that no one wants to go anywhere else (including me!). Customers know they can get what they want at a fair price and enjoy the process. Tony Hsieh has evangelized the online shoe buying market.

It seems to me that outstanding customer service is sort of about not being upset when customers make trouble. It’s almost like allowing them the space to cause trouble and then seeing how well you can meet their needs. Zappos sometimes eats their profit because people take advantage of the return policies. But they’re in it for the long game. Over the years, the sales they generate through repeat business and customer loyalty more than make up for any losses. Zappos builds a relationship of trust with their customers, and people who do business with them value that relationship.

The truth about evangelization is that you have to build a bond of human relationship before people will listen to your message about God. The human connection provides a bridge upon which the divine message can travel. If parishioners aren’t feeling human love, they won’t listen to you about divine love. That’s just the way it is. I think a lot of people want to ignore that fact.

What would it take to change the culture of customer service in our Catholic parishes? How can we give a level of service that is evangelizing? And, if you think we’re not in the business of customer service, you are wrong. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. What are you doing for yours?

Hello from Me!

This is my inaugural post! I’m not tech savvy so it’s taken a while to get this blog set up. However, I think I finally have enough of it up to start posting.

I’m starting this blog because I have a lot of thoughts about catechesis, evangelization, Church ministry and all things Catholic. That is the plain and simple truth. In fact, I have so many thoughts that I can’t find enough people to listen. I read recently that when you talk so much about something that your friends tell you to shut up…you should start a blog. So here I am! When I was at Franciscan University studying theology, there were plenty of people to talk to and listen, but now…not so much. I’m hoping to connect with new friends, and perhaps some old, to talk about how to bring people into the awesome and exhilarating fullness of Catholic Truth.

I have an M.A. in Theology with a Specialization in Catechetics from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and I work as the Director of Religious Education at Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church in Champaign, IL (yesterday was our feast day!). That might sound fancy to some, and it gets my foot in the door at a lot of places, but it’s really just a way for me to do what I love most, tell people about Catholic theology and open them up to the amazing truth of the Catholic Faith.

The subtitle of this blog is “Bringing People into Union and Intimacy with Christ. This comes from paragraph 5 in On Catechesis in Our Time, the foundational text for modern catechetics written by Pope John Paul II in 1979. In it he says, “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” This, I feel, is the heart of our mission as catechetical leaders. This is the overarching vision for catechetical ministry.

In this blog, I want to write about evangelization, catechetics and figuring out what works to bring people into union and intimacy with Jesus Christ in and through the Catholic Church. I’m also interested in how to improve catechetical leadership in the Church. I would also like to strike up conversations to explore how the principles of great leaders can be “baptized” in a sense to enhance the spiritual leadership and functioning of Catholic parishes in accomplishing their missions. I hope you’ll join me.