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CL church uses text messaging to retain 'Creasters'

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(H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Bill Weiseman (left) of Crystal Lake receives an ash cross on his forehead from Fr. Jerome Koutnik at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Crystal Lake. Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent and the 40 days of fasting leading up to Easter.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Ash Wednesday brought thousands from across McHenry County to church services Wednesday, but Catholic leaders fear some won’t return again until Easter, and then not until Christmas.

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Crystal Lake used text messaging during its Ash Wednesday services to try to retain some of those visitors.

At the end of the service, the Rev. Jerome Koutnik told those with cellphones to text the word Saint Thomas to 84576 to receive information about upcoming services.

Koutnik said it was an effort to turn “Chreasters” (people who go to church only on Easter, Christmas and other key religious holidays) into church regulars.

“We know we’re going to see people on Ash Wednesday that we’re not going to see again until either Easter or Christmas,” Koutnik said. “We thought ‘How can we network technologically?’ to keep them active in the pursuit of this love of ours.”

This year’s Ash Wednesday attendance had not been tallied, but Koutnik said that last year more than 8,000 people attended services.

St. Thomas is using software called Flocknote, which is designed to help churches better communicate with their congregations. Churchgoers can send a text to the number and have the option to receive church updates in the form of texts, emails or landline phone calls.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, St. Thomas had received several hundred text messages, with two Ash Wednesday services still to go, said JoEllen Gregus, director of adult education and evangelization.

Gregus said the church plans to send messages throughout Lent to encourage people to attend services. The church plans to send several video clips of Koutnik delivering brief messages. St. Thomas also is using Twitter and Facebook to help spread its message and church information.

Koutnik said the Catholic Church isn’t great at turning the occasional church visitor into a regular worshiper, and the technology push may be one answer to that problem.

“Some Protestant groups are much better at evangelizing than the Catholic Church,” he said. “That’s a fact. We’ve got all the answers, but we’ve got no one out there spreading the message.”

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