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Area churches turn to technology to increase attendance

Every year churches are packed on Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday and other major Christian holidays.

But many congregations struggle to retain those churchgoers who are less likely to show up on the Sunday's in-between.

To account for this, some McHenry County churches are using communication software to try to better stay in touch with members and reach out to those who don't attend services weekly.

At the end of the homily during the Ash Wednesday service, alter servers at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Crystal Lake held up a large sign and told people to text the word "Saint Thomas" to 84576. The church collected the numbers through a software called Flocknote, which allows organizations to easily communicate with their members.

Flocknote, founded in 2009 by a former youth pastor in Texas, allows churches to send simple and professional-looking text, email or phone message to subscribers. Users select how they want to receive the messages.

“Parishioners hear something Sunday, but once they walk out of the church they forget about it until next Sunday,” said Matthew Warner, founder of Flocknote. “The ability to send a quick text update [in the middle of the week] is huge.”

Since Ash Wednesday, St. Thomas the Apostle has added more than 1,000 people to its Flocknote service. The church was able to inform members of a last-minute visit by a priest who spent time in Rome and planned to inform them of the process to elect a new pope.

“We would have never been able to do that before we started using [Flocknote],” said JoEllen Gregus, director of adult education and evangelization at St. Thomas the Apostle.

But the potential of Flocknote is in its ability to keep more people coming to St. Thomas the Apostle every week by increasing communication, the Rev. Jerome Koutnik said.

“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.”

St. Mary's in Huntley started using Flocknote three weeks ago and uploaded the email addresses of 5,000 members into the service. The church is also holding a cell phone number sign up at the Masses on April 6-7.

“People can receive messages the way they want to receive them,” said Maria Maddox, coordinator of adult faith information and parish secretary at St. Mary's. "It's really easy to use."

Providing an easy-to-use software was a priority for Warner when designing Flocknote, as he knows many church administrators are overburdened and often not very tech savvy.

“There's more complicated software out there, but it doesn't get utilized,” Warner said. “It's too complicated and takes too much training. We tried to overcome those obstacles.”

More than 400 churches throughout the country use the service, including Holy Cross in Batavia and St. Mary Immaculate in Plainfield.

Koutnik said that while the Catholic Church has millions of worshipers in the United States, getting a strong turnout every week has always been a challenge.

“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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