July 13, 2020

Addressing the 5 fears of taking your ministry digital

Addressing the 5 fears of taking your ministry digital

Four years ago, I wrote a blog titled “5 fears of going digital,” responding to questions following the webinar “Modernize Your Music Ministry.” In that blog, I mentioned that part of the hurdle in adopting new technologies is overcoming our apprehensions about the unknown. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, parishes were thrown into that unknown reality, with no other options to reach their assembly through livestreamed Masses. As parishes look toward the future, those 5 fears may still be present. So, let’s address this issue once more, in light of where we find the Church today.

1. “My pastor is apprehensive about embracing digital subscriptions.”

A common phrase has emerged among the discussions surrounding COVID-19: “When things get back to normal…” The reality we find ourselves in however is that things may not return to the “normal” that we’ve been anticipating. Even if we do get back to that illusive “normal,” we must approach the future with a backup plan should our normal be turned on its head again in the future. Having access to a library full of digital sheet music and assembly versions of songs brings flexibility when responding to your congregations needs. With a subscription to one of our digital libraries, you will have all of the assets needed to create experiences for your parish in the areas of worship aids and projection or streaming the Mass, should public gatherings become restricted again. If you are a current customer of OCP, you can currently get free permission to use the OCP songs in these resources, and you can receive two free months of a digital library subscription. After those two months, you can evaluate your digital library usage and determine if its service is right for you without incurring a large additional cost to your parish. As the license to use the OCP songs extends through the end of the 2020 liturgical year, you can also prepare liturgies through October with our digital libraries. If you cancel your free subscription after two months, so long as you distributed all of your music plans to your musicians before the end of your subscription, you would still be covered by that free permission until November, whether worshiping in person or from home. This path takes care of your immediate need, without putting additional strain on your already tight budget. With no risk to your parish, it is our hope that this will remove some of your apprehension.

2. “Programs like the Spirit & Song All-Inclusive Digital Edition are only for the youth Mass.”

While the content of Spirit & Song initially appealed to a younger assembly, those young people have grown up. Those attending contemporary liturgies develop increasing amounts of grey hair each day. The adoption of digital resources for use in ministry was already on a steep incline four years ago when this fear was initially expressed. And that adoption curve has skyrocketed in light of recent parish closures. During this time, one of the primary benefits for digital library subscribers was the ability to do all the planning and delivery of liturgical music and liturgy outlines remotely. While it may have been true in the past that digital content was most successful in ministering to the young, we’re all figuring this out together now.

For arguments sake though, let’s say that the rumors were true, and that only young people were impacted by something like a Spirit & Song All-Inclusive Digital Edition. What about that would not be enough? Our young people are as much a part of the Church as you or me. Without them, the Church has no future. As a Church committed to the New Evangelization, we should use every option at our disposal to promote full, active and conscious participation from our young people during the liturgy — even if it moves us a little outside of our comfort zone.

Every parish must balance a budget. But if enhanced participation keeps even one teenager from walking away from the Church or Christ himself, what is that worth? Seriously, what is that worth? The average person lives 71 years, and the average Catholic gives about $10 per Mass. Assuming they put $10 in the collection 58 times a year for 50 years. It’s worth about $29,000! Compare that financial impact to the price of this digital library, and this becomes an investment with a 7.6% return over 50 years, not simply an additional cost.

3. “Using a tablet for my sheet music seems complicated.”

Learning any skill can seem daunting at the beginning. For me, moving to a tablet device has been a slower transition than expected, but I have learned so much along the way as I began to adopt it into my ministry. There are many moments, after that initial hurdle, when using a tablet actually makes your life much less complicated and more open to change in the moment. Using a sheet music app on your tablet allows you to set up a digital binder that you can save for future use as well. I find this particularly useful for repeat events like our annual confirmation retreat, where the outline stays the same for the most part.

After my long and sorted attempt to adopt tablet usage in my ministry, I have come to the realization that I was making it way more complicated than it really needed to be. OCP will be publishing a how-to guide for using music on a tablet, so keep an eye out for that.

One item that you will need to effectively shift between binders to digital sheet music is a good device for changing the page. The company AirTurn offers some great foot pedals for this, but there are several other solutions as well. There is even a bite button that lets you control page turns with your mouth. You’ll have to explore which page turning device makes the most sense for you, but this is really the main hurdle to overcome. For most pedals you simply turn the page forward and backward, but if you have a 4-button pedal, you can also flip from one song to the next. Most sheet music reading software out there, like OnSong, allows you to upload any PDF into your setlist. So, if you have a talk you need to give, or if you want to include announcements or other content that is not music, that is well supported too. Ultimately, using a tablet for sheet music is way less complicated once you explore the options and learn how to do it. However, there is an element of truth to this fear. You’ll need to invest some time and energy into becoming comfortable with the technology.

4. “I don’t know how to use a digital music library like Breaking Bread.”

We’re here to help! Our Parish Services and Customer Success teams offer a wealth of knowledge and support for you in this area. You can get in touch with a representative from your region by clicking here.

Digital libraries are also much easier to use now that they include a subscription to Through the course of your normal liturgy planning, you’ll be presented with a button that says “create a music link.” When clicked, the system packages all of the MP3s and keyboard, guitar, solo instrument, choral, assembly and lyric files into an easy to navigate download page specifically geared toward both your ensemble members and the outline you just planned. You can plan the liturgy, share the link, and your musicians, projectionist, secretary, pastor and singers all have a download page customized to their role. I have been using this feature every week, and it saves me a ton of time. Plus, every member of my ensemble shows up on Sunday ready to go, having listened to the recordings and downloaded all the music at home. There’s no searching of parish files for sheet music and no creating or organizing of binders. Rehearsal time is efficient. And if you need more guidance, there is a whole page of helpful content found here, including a number of tutorial videos that show you how to use each tool step by step.

5. “I’m not planning on using projection or a tablet. Why would I be interested?”

The beauty of using online tools to do your liturgy planning is that you aren’t locked into a single method of distribution. Your ensemble members can add the files to a tablet if they would like, but they can also print out their own music and bring a binder. I have examples of both in my ensemble, and they works seamlessly, having somebody using a tablet and somebody else using a binder. Those who want to adopt technology can, and those who don’t adopt it can manage their own binders. The same thing is true for projection. If you want to project the lyrics, you can, but many of those using digital libraries continue to direct the assembly to song numbers in their missals or hymnals. This is a really good thing to continue doing for parishioners who are being given missals for use at home, or for parishioners ordering personal missals. You can announce the page numbers on a livestream, and they can follow along, even if they are unable to attend Mass in person. But you can also use the files in the digital libraries to create your own worship aid for the assembly or to add lyrics to a livestream. Keep in mind, lyrics on a livestream or in a worship aid will require a ONE LICENSE under normal circumstances. However, as mentioned before, from now until the 2021 liturgical year, you can fill out the form here to receive free permissions. So, if you have a digital subscription and are set up to use projection, you could try out different options for two months with no cost to you.

Jethro Higgins
Jethro Higgins

Jethro Higgins, father of 6,  has Directed Youth & Young Adult ministry programs and led liturgical music ensembles since 2004. Jethro received his Master of Science in Business Analysis from the Catholic University of America and is currently studying at The Augustine Institute in the Master of Arts in Theology program.