Archdiocese launches ‘Encounter Grow Witness’ platform to share best parish practices

“Encounter Grow Witness” is a new digital community for parish leaders and lay ecclesial ministers from the Archdiocese of Detroit, designed to help parishes connect with one another and share best practices, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. A screenshot above shows one of the community’s e-newsletters.

New online community can help parish leaders navigate COVID-19 crisis by connecting them to one another, leaders say

DETROIT — If necessity is the mother of innovation, then the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to birth new ways for parishes and archdiocese to do ministry.

Pastors and parish staff have been creative with everything from how to handle livestream Masses, teaching RCIA and organizing service projects in a time of social distancing.

Knowing there is still work to do in the vineyard, the Archdiocese of Detroit has launched “Encounter Grow Witness,” a virtual community for chancery staff, pastors and pastoral leaders across the archdiocese to collaborate and share best practices in various aspect of ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The community uses the platform Mighty Networks, which is designed to foster authentic community and collaboration, according to a letter from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“Encounter Grow Witness” has been in the works for a while, as part of the Sent on Mission phase of the Unleash the Gospel movement.

But with the dramatic shift in parish life, now seemed to be an appropriate time to roll out the platform, said Emily Mentock, director of creative and marketing services for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“The concept of an online community connecting people and parish leadership and staff across the archdiocese has been in place before the pandemic started,” Mentock told Detroit Catholic. “We started talking about it as parishes were going through the missionary strategic planning process as a way of encouraging engagement and coordination between parish staff.”

The “Encounter Grow Witness” channel allows people in ministry to pose questions related to parish ministry during times of social distancing and stay-home orders, from technical questions such as how to livestream Masses to pastoral concerns for RCIA students who were planning to enter the Church this Easter.

“The input we were initially getting from the parish staff were things like advice from the communication department of the archdiocese,” Mentock said. “Then it turned into asking what other parishes were doing during this crisis. We felt it could be something better suited for parishes to collaborate with each other more directly rather than for us to give top-down advice.”

Pastoral minsters are adapting on the fly during the crisis, and the wisdom of the crowd is proving helpful, said Laura Piccone-Hanchon, a youth ministry team leader in the Archdiocese of Detroit's Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship.

“A couple of people have asked specific questions on what to do during this pandemic, and one thing we have seen is parishes asking how to be useful in ministering to teens and families and what resources are out there,” Piccone-Hanchon said.

It will take time for parish staff to get comfortable with the platform, but Piccone-Hanchon has already seen the online community produce results.

For instance, on a recent post asking the question, “What’s helping you to grow in faith?” more than 94 people have responded, Piccone-Hanchon said. “We are already seeing this tool be helpful inspiring people across the archdiocese,” she added.

In a time when conferences are not possible, RCIA directors, evangelization leaders and Christian service coordinators could be at their wits’ end solving problems no one foresaw two months ago.

“Right now, this tool is focused on getting us through the crisis, helping our parishes navigate this situation as best as they can,” Mentock said. “But there is a long-term vision for a community like this, with sharing best practices and having more collaboration among leadership. It’s a place for people who are good at what they do — whether it’s in communication or in ministry — to share their talents across the archdiocese.”

Learn more

Parish leaders interested in learning more about “Encounter Grow Witness” can contact Emily Mentock at [email protected].