Tomorrow night at my church St. Gabriel the Archangel, we are starting our fourth or fifth year of a program called Catholics Returning Home. It’s a six-week seminar for people who used to be Catholic but for one reason or another have drifted away (or run away) from the Catholic Church. We try to do whatever is possible to help them feel welcome again. My pastor Father Larry says that the second-largest religious denomination in the United States is ex-Catholics. As someone who grew up in the Catholic Church, left it, and then got back involved again I’m ideally suited to be the group leader. The past few years it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at church.
Although we generally get three or four people each year, unfortunately last year we only had one guy show up and he wasn’t even Catholic. A Catholic friend invited him just so he could find out a little bit about the Catholic faith even though the program wasn’t really geared for him.
We’ve tried all sorts of ways to promote the program.
This year for the first time we tried Internet advertising using a feature called Google adwords.
Here is how it works… When someone does a Google search on a word like Catholic or Catholic faith or other pertinent phrases, our advertisement pops up next to the searches. The advertisement says…
You can select a specific geographic area to limit where the ad is shown. In our case the ad only appears in Marion County and in a 10 mile radius of our church which includes parts of Hendrics County. It has been shown just over 30,000 times. Fortunately we only have to pay for it when someone actually clicks on our ad and goes to our webpage promoting Catholics Returning Home. We have 54 clicks recorded in the approximately 3 weeks the ad has been running. The Evangelization committee (which is run by my mom) has paid $28.53 or just over $.50 per click. By the way if you see our ad, don’t click on it… it costs us $.50! Click the fake version of it above or here is a link to the page the ad would take you to…
The great news is it works!
We just got a phone call from a woman seeking more information about the program. She and perhaps her adult son will be attending tomorrow night. We asked her how she found out about the program and she said she googled the word “Catholic” and there was our advertisement. Besides Google searches the ad also appears in various websites which are supported by Google advertising. Some of the people who clicked on our ad side in places like Catholic.org, online Catholic encyclopedias and other Catholic related sites.
Unfortunately sometimes the ad has appeared places we sort of wish it didn’t. A few weeks ago someone in the Vatican was interviewed and said that in modern times there are new ways to sin. Sin is that we didn’t even think about a few years let alone a few centuries ago. Among the things that were listed as new sins are “destroying the environment”. Normally I wouldn’t mind if our ad pops up next to such an article however online editions of two different British tabloid newspapers: The Times and The Telegraph ran articles which said something like “Recycle or go to hell Vatican warns”. Not exactly the image of the church we want to promote 🙂 It wasn’t just the terrible tabloid headlines but the stories themselves were chock full of inaccuracies about the teachings of the Church. Fortunately Google lets you block certain sites from showing your advertisements so I put a block on both of those tabloids.
I had tried doing similar advertising with various fundraisers at church. I promoted last years church festival poker tournaments and I’m pretty sure we got a few people showed up because of the advertising. I also tried it for a NCAA tournament team auction fundraiser we had a couple of weeks ago but I’m not sure that really attracted anybody. We did get some clicks but I don’t think anybody actually showed up at the event.
Anyway I think it’s really cool that the advertising really works. Believe it or not I get much more excited about saving souls than I do about playing poker despite the fact that I play a lot of poker! Now were trying to brainstorm other ways to use this advertising for other programs and events.
Anyway the Catholics Returning Home program starts tomorrow night and runs for six weeks. Say a prayer, wish me luck, cross your fingers, or whatever it is you do at your house that we get more people and that I do a good job in making them feel welcome in the church again. If you know anybody else who’s an ex-Catholic who might be interested… send them our way.