Amy describes the process of creating a shared Google Calendar for her parish.
Some of us have had the experience of entering a new community and feeling completely left out. Based on my recent experiences with Digital Discipleship Boot Camp and Renew My Church, I became aware of how a lack of information can contribute to this sense of isolation. A sense of community requires presence in the community, which requires knowledge of opportunities to gather. This requires prompt notification of events as well as answers to what, when and where they are, how one can participate, and who to contact for more information.
In my role as Campus Minister and Parish Vitality Coordinator at St. James I help create a sense of community by organizing and scheduling fellowship and faith formation opportunities and making the community aware of them. Until now my parish was using multiple calendars as little more than placeholders. One calendar was for scheduling all facilities, recording meetings and events. It was only visible to staff and did not communicate with our website calendar. Our website calendar showed items of interest to the broader campus and parish audiences. People recorded work events on their personal calendars. On each of these three calendars we included little or no information other than time and location. As a result, I spent a lot of time entering the same event in three locations, decreasing the timeliness of the information, and increasing the opportunity for errors.
As a solution, I took advantage of the switch to a new website provider to create a single set of Google calendars (Google Calendar) that empowers ministry leaders to take more ownership of their ministry by facilitating scheduling and creating a greater sense of community through providing complete information about events on a timely basis. Ministers are empowered through scheduling their own events (rather than relying on a single staff person), choosing which calendars they wish to see and being able to take advantage of Google Calendar’s invitation and notification capabilities to send notices to participants. Scheduling is facilitated by having events created on only one calendar and then rolling up into a community calendar that is embedded in our website. Staff, ministry leaders and participants can automatically add applicable events to their personal calendars or show the existing work calendars on their preferred device.
If we did nothing more than communicate on an efficient and timely basis, however, we would be missing an opportunity to create a sense of community. One goal of the new calendar is to provide inquirers with enough information to enable them to feel a part of the community. I encourage ministers to describe their events as being seen through the eyes of a new member or guest. What would they need to know to feel included? I suggest including time and location of the event, description of the event, ways to be involved, contact information, flyers if they are available, and links to on-line registration if available. By providing complete information on a timely basis we should attract more participants to events and thereby enhance their faith formation and sense of belonging to our community.
The steps I followed in the process were:
- Obtain approval of the pastor and staff to use Google Calendar. We chose Google Calendar because most people already used it for their personal calendars and were familiar with adding events. It is also free, and in the church world, free is good! If you are not familiar with Google Calendar, Google support (https://support.google.com/calendar/?hl=en#topic=3417969) provides instructions on all aspects of Google calendars. You will also find a comprehensive tutorial on Google Calendar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsgBNi8YEs0.
- Choose a calendar structure
In deciding on a calendar structure, we considered the following:
- Which ministries needed to create calendar items;
- Who in each ministry should be responsible for the calendar (the administrator); who should be able to add events to a calendar (can edit); and, who should be able to see but not edit the calendar. These are the people with whom the calendar is shared. Editing permissions are established in sharing;
- Which events we include the community calendar; and,
- How to schedule the use of facilities. Google Calendar as a stand-alone product does not support scheduling resources so we created calendars for our three primary facilities (rectory, upper level, and lower level).
- Create a Google account for each staff member using their work email address. For a shared calendar to appear in someone’s Google Calendar the Google account must be created before sharing the calendar. Users can switch between their work Google account and personal Google account by clicking on their Google icon and choosing another account.
- Import existing calendars into any ministry calendar and move events to the appropriate ministry calendars. To export a calendar, look for instructions in your current calendaring program, some make it easier than others. When adding new events, make sure to choose the appropriate calendar.
- Add descriptive information and set events to appear on the community calendar and appropriate facility calendar. You can make an event appear on more than one calendar by either inviting another calendar as a guest or copying an event to a calendar. I recommend using guest invitations because updates to the event on the original calendar are made automatically on the guest calendar. There are times, however, when a conflicting event on a guest calendar results in the invitation being declined. You can instead copy the event to the desired calendar using the drop-down menu (red arrow). The disadvantage of using the copy feature is that you must manually make changes on both the original calendar and the calendar to which the event was copied. The pictures below illustrate the recommended depth of information:
We live in a digital age which presents us with new opportunities for working within our communities and extending beyond our traditional brick and mortar churches. There are many digital tools at our disposal for being “Collaborative Disciples”, “Digital Communicators” and fostering faith relationship through Community Discipleship” ( https://digitaldisciplenetwork.wordpress.com/about/standards/). I hope these examples help illustrate the advantages and possibilities of using a calendaring system, such as Google Calendar (Google Calendar), to facilitate collaboration and communication, but even more importantly as a tool that can help foster a sense of community. It takes some thought and time to create the proper structure and train users to create and share events appropriately. Once done, however, it creates a more dynamic experience for all involved.