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The start-up solving a major challenge that parishes face

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Poor use of technology is keeping many churches from connecting with people, but a new platform aims to close the gap.

Several years ago, I was planning a speaker series at my parish when I came face-to-face with a major problem with inter-parish communications. To draw a wider audience, I wanted to email the series flyer to the 10 closest parishes to my own (all within a few miles’ radius), so I looked up their websites for contact information. Two of the websites hadn’t been updated since around 2007 and had no contact email anywhere to be found. Another three had contact emails that bounced back as undeliverable. Of the five emails that were delivered successfully, only two parishes responded (and they were happy to share the information).

After the series ended, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about the parishes that were unreachable or unresponsive. The reason I wanted to get in touch with them was minor, but what if someone had a real need? I thought of souls wanting to return to the Church after years away, of families seeking catechesis or couples looking to plan a wedding, of lonely individuals seeking community and a spiritual home. What would happen if they tried to contact their local Catholic church for guidance, and were met with no way to get in touch, or no response?

I wish I could say this problem is unique to my city, but if you’ve worked in ministry, you probably have a similar story of your own. It’s safe to say the Church has a real problem with technology, and this is an enormous drawback at a time when technology is usually the primary way to reach people and organizations. Even if an organization isn’t on social media, an email contact and regular responses to communications are the bare minimum most people would expect. In today’s world, the technological obsolescence of so many parishes is a serious problem for effective evangelization.

Thankfully, a new start-up is tackling this widespread challenge head-on. Glass Canvas, a strategy and marketing agency, has created Tilma, “a digital platform of interconnected websites and tools that work together to help nudge people deeper in their individual faith journey and unite a diocese to go from maintenance to mission,” said Glass Canvas president J.M. Boyd in an interview with Aleteia.

Glass Canvas was built with the goal of bringing “beauty and innovation back to how we communicate the Gospel,” and it soon became apparent that technological incompetence was hampering many parishes’ ministry efforts. Boyd said,

So many of our faith-based clients kept running into similar challenges with their technology: tools were too complex, they didn’t have the right set of features for their unique needs, or it was too much to manage for their team. We began to develop Tilma to help those in the Church who didn’t have the tools or resources to communicate well … We knew our tool could help solve the technology barrier while also helping to foster encounters with Christ.

Glass Canvas was already in the process of launching Tilma before the COVID-19 pandemic, but recent months made it even more apparent how critical it is for the Church to use technology to serve its people. “We knew our tool could help solve the technology barrier while also helping to foster encounters with Christ,” Boyd said.

Effective technology can seem intimidating to the inexperienced, but fortunately, ease of use is one of the best things about Tilma. From the very start, the platform was designed to be easy for anyone to handle. As Boyd said in a pitch video his team submitted for the OSV Innovation Challenge, “We made it so that a 65-year-old volunteer secretary can use the software.”

Tilma Platform is distinctive in that it’s “not just software or a collection of websites but a holistic ministry system,” he said. This “ministry model” has two goals: to take disciples and deepen their faith, sending them on mission in their homes and communities, and to help potential disciples discover that there is more to their faith than their current experience of it. This goal is reached through Tilma’s “personalized ministry journeys”: “Every touch point with the platform becomes a chance to nudge someone deeper in faith, to explore more of God and connect with real people,” Boyd said.

Creating such a thoughtful, well-designed system took not only industry expertise but also serious research into the needs and wants of parishes and their leaders. “From the beginning we built Tilma with the idea of solving real challenges at the diocesan level,” Boyd said. “We spent years working with parishes to make sure it had the features and usability that actually solved their biggest challenges and unlocked more time and resources for priests, secretaries, and ministry leaders to do their jobs to the best of their ability.”

He shared several ways that Tilma helps people in various diocesan roles, including the following:

  • Pastors better understand where their parishioners are at in their faith journeys and how to better serve them.
  • Parish secretaries and business managers have an easier tool for managing the website, newsletter, announcements, and donations no matter what experience they have with technology. Events, articles, workshops and more are now accessible to them from across the diocese so they don’t have to carry the load of finding and managing new content alone.
  • Ministries have a space to connect directly with parishes to help promote new opportunities.
  • A bishop can better know where parishes and people are so he can support them and accomplish their goals/priorities.
  • Parishioners can find exactly what they need—whether it’s a resource, mentor or answers to questions that are unique to their stage of life and faith.

The success of the Tilma Platform, in such a short amount of time, has been nothing short of astounding. “A year ago, we launched the whole Tilma Diocesan Solution with the Archdiocese of Vancouver and saw amazing results,” Boyd said. “Parishes that just adopted the Parish platform, with no added effort, have shown a 5% increase in giving. Those that put a little effort into utilizing the tool have seen increases of up to 30%.”

The pandemic has devastated ministry efforts across the world, but the opposite has been true for parishes that use the Tilma Platform. “In the last 9 months, the Archdiocese of Vancouver, despite COVID, has seen a 67% increase in their parishes running evangelistic programs,” Boyd said. “Now 1 in 3 parishes are running Alphas, Bible studies, or training workshops.”

The numbers only tell the smallest part of the story, however. The effect these apostolic efforts are having on individual souls is the most important part, and the full story of that impact is something that will be gradually revealed not only over the years ahead but in the life to come. “More people are encountering Jesus than ever before as the whole diocese moves from maintenance to mission,” Boyd said, “and we’re humbled to play a part in this transformation.”

“By combining technology and experiences that are designed to meet people with the right message at the right time and in the right place, we can serve people’s needs no matter where they are in life and faith,” Boyd said. That combination of industry know-how with researched real-world experience seems like the ultimate solution to the technological issues that seem to plague many parishes. By showing churches how to connect deeply with their members, Tilma Platform can bring countless souls into union with Christ, creating a ripple effect that can help the whole world.

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