Catholic technologists are facilitators, not gatekeepers

Sid O'Neill on Jun 12, 2021

About six months ago, we started thinking about adding an email hosting component to SimpleParish.

I have an idea like that once a day, on average. I see a problem, or I have the glimmer of an idea and I immediately want to start building something. It doesn't really matter whether anyone has asked for it, or whether it's a problem that really needs to be solved, or even if it can be solved. Right away, my mind is off to the races, and more often than not, before you know it, I'm knee-deep in code, or sawdust, or wiring.

Because why spend 10 minutes picking up LEGO when you can spend a month of evenings building and coding a remotely-controlled, camera and proximity-sensor guided tank robot?

This creative, problem-solving urge is a crucial component of the recipe for a good developer. It's an endemic trait! But, while it's the useful little engine that powers basically any new cool thing you see, it can be dangerous, because it's intrinsically subject to hubris. Creating anything requires a certain level of, if not arrogance, at least self-confidence. For developers or "coders" the danger comes in not asking two important questions about any new bee that buzzed into your bonnet:

  1. Is this thing that I am building actually going to benefit humanity, or at least a subset of it?
  2. Has someone else already solved this problem?

The latter part is crucially important. How often have you seen — possibly cringed at — the "Catholic X", meaning an inferior copy of something else with a Catholic label and vibe bolted onto it? This phenomenon isn't constrained to technology, it infests all forms of media, and lots of other purchasable products. I don't mean to suggest that everyone doing this is cynically trading on the demonstrable willingness of niche groups to buy things nominally marketed to their niche. There's probably some of that! But lots of these things happen with the best of motives.

In the realm of technology, as the Church gradually adapts its strategies to the changing landscape — the new threats and opportunities of the digital continent — there is a need for services and products aimed at promoting and improving those strategies. We need to be able to trust that the people and companies we choose to rely on have our best interests at heart, and the ability to execute the plans they make. Stewardship is essential, and we can't just fling ourselves recklessly into whatever secular concern has great market share. Our solutions and the companies that create them need to be compatible with our mission and intent.

But I believe very strongly that technologists serving the church have a duty to be facilitators, not gatekeepers. Whether it happens through insecurity, or greed, or a genuine desire to protect, it's unfortunately the case that the Church is a fertile environment for technological fiefdoms. We need to move past that to a much more pragmatic, open, competitive model.

Competition is good, because it means the Church gets the most bang for her (donated in good faith) buck. It's not just good for the church, it's good for the companies that serve her, too.

So we're not building a fiefdom here, at SimpleParish. We're not trying to be a one-stop-shop. We're trying to do one thing really well: parish websites. For every other component of the parish digital experience (email, content, media, giving, etc) there are already companies working hard to solve those problems. So instead of trying to capture a little bit more of the market with our own version of what they're doing, we're focusing on being the solid base that allows you to integrate with any good service you want.

For example, our recently launched Sources integration lets you integrate news feeds from a wide variety of Catholic sources into your site, but it also lets you pull in news feeds from any other news site or blog you can think of. We don't think it's our place to directly or indirectly influence the content you share with your audience.

Our sites have built in analytics from Fathom, the privacy-first analytics platform, but if you want to use Google Analytics, fine! It's your choice. Love using Flocknote, or Mailchimp? Fantastic - we have an easy integration for those. Don't want to host your podcast using the built in functionality we provide? No problem - we're about to launch integrations with Fireside and Libsyn (and any other podcast platform you want to use - just drop us a line!) Need more than the basic built-in forms? Great, you'll love our Typeform, Wufoo, and Jotform integration block that's also coming soon.

We have a ton more integrations launching this summer — but no, we're not building an email hosting platform for parishes. Because there are already great options out there for email. We are delighted to help you choose, if you want some help – but at the end of the day it's up to you. As it should be.

Tie it all together

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