Promoting your Blessing of the Animals for the Feast of St. Francis
In the hierarchy of important church days, we’ve got Easter. Christmas. And the Blessing of the Animals on the Feast of St. Francis.
Ok. So theologically this celebration may not have the significance of the resurrection. Fair point. But a Blessing of the Animals - especially a blessing that takes place during worship and one that brings animals into church - is a time in which the presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable. People feel it, they respond to it, they joyfully bring their furry friends, and they often invite their neighbors to bring their furry friends. It’s easy evangelism and it’s more fun than most people ever imagined they could have in church!
So how do you equip and encourage your congregation to be invitational about your Blessing of the Animals? That too is easy because there are few social media posts that get more attention and engagement than animal pictures! There’s a reason a whole new pupper-luvin’ lingo has sprung up around #dogsofInstagram and why people love cat memes!
How to Promote your Animal Blessing
Get the good word out in advance! Don’t just rely on your communications staff - equip your congregation! If you’ve done an animal blessing before, chances are people enjoyed it and will need very little prompting to talk it up. If you’ve never done one, the novelty and excitement will also be contagious.
A few tips:
- Create a Facebook event with a catchy graphic (included is one I’ve create of my dog Barney - he’s a rock star). Encourage your parishioners to share it on their social media accounts. Consider boosting the post with the event, building a target audience for your post of people whose interests/hobbies include dogs, cats, and pets. Also, include people who are friends of people who like your page. This creates a more personal connection.
- Create small cards with the same graphic with the details of the event, your church’s contact information (phone, location, website, and social media accounts) and give these to parishioners to share with their friends; alternately you could create flyers for community pet store bulletin boards, dog parks, veterinary offices, etc.
- Create a Facebook profile photo frame. When people attend the event, encourage them to take a picture of their animal and set that photo as their temporary profile on Facebook and use the frame on that profile photo. You can pull this into a graphic package and add your church’s name to it.
- Instructions for creating a profile photo frame can be found here. Choose Frame Studio, Create a Frame to get started.
- Make sure to save it as a .PNG image with a transparent background. Graphic editing software such as Canva, Pixlr and Photoshop all allow you to do this.
- Make sure the image you create is configured for the square aspect ratio. Ignore the previews for horizontal or vertical configurations.
- You will name your frame, and choose some keywords (pet, pets, dog, dogs, animals, blessing, church, worship). Perhaps choose a keyword that is the name of your community. Once you’ve done this, submit your frame for approval. It usually takes a few days.
- Once your frame has been approved, encourage people to use it! Include text in your bulletin (see below) instructing people how to find and use it.
- Create a Snapchat geofilter this is also a fun decorative frame that Snapchat users will discover when they create Snaps at your event.
- Instructions for creating a Snapchat geofilter
- You can create your own filter following the step-by-step guidelines or create one from the templates provided.
- You can adjust the timing of your filter and see the impact on the cost. For example, having a geofilter live for just the morning of the Blessing at my local church costs on $5. If I extend the timeframe to a week before the event, the cost jumps up to almost $200.
- You can also adjust the “fence” - the area in which your filter will be active. Consider if you are near a place where people walk their dogs or near a dog park, including that as part of your filter.
- Determine what Instagram hashtags you will ask people to use when posting; use one to identify your church - which you should use on all social posts; one for the event (#petblessing) plus hashtags that are connect the event to a larger community interest (#dogsofinstagram, #catsofinstagram)
- Designate a photographer - while you want to encourage people to share photos, you also want to make sure you get plenty of good shots. No need to limit yourself to just one official photographer - deputize your young people! Children can make GREAT pet photographers! Just make sure to have a plan for getting all of the digital photo files from their device to you.
- Make it newsworthy - which means going beyond blessing only pets. Consider - are there any working animals that might benefit from a blessing? Invite your local police department to bring their K9 officers. How about police horses? Go and bless the cows on a dairy farm. I once invited a local company that offers goats to clear invasive weeds, but alas, the urban goats were busy!
- Make it community focused - are there local Humane Society organizations who have adoptable animals? Invite them! Include activities to support these animals such as collections of pet food and other necessary supplies (paper towels, bleach). Invite Sunday school families to bake dog treats, or to make decorative name-tags (which sometimes help animals get adopted). Ask your local animal shelter what would be useful and appreciated.
During the Animal Blessing
- Encourage people to share their personal photographs of their pets being blessed! Include language in your bulletin with the following instructions:
Please share your pictures from today’s Pet Blessing!
We want everyone to know what a great event this is and what a wonderful community we have and how much we love our pets! Won’t you please share your pictures on social media to help tell our story?
- “Check In” at (@yourchurch's Facebook Page) so we see your photos!
- Make sure the privacy setting on your post is “Public” so we can find your pictures!
- Make your pet photo a temporary profile - click on your profile photo, select Add a Frame and search for (name of your frame). Apply that and make it temporary - or permanent depending on how much you love your pet!
Use the hashtags (#churchtag) #petblessing and #dogsofinstagram or #catsofinstagram
Checkout our geofilter!
- Remember to have plenty of poop bags and clear signage as to where pet waste should be disposed.
After the Animal Blessing
Don’t start planning for the next big event quite yet. Make sure to get the most out of the pictures that people shared.
- Check on social media accounts for posts.
- Search by hashtag on Instagram. There is no great way to reshare photos on Instagram, but if you are working from a mobile device and there aren’t a zillion pictures, you can always screen capture them. Just crop them so all you see is the picture.
- Check the posts on Facebook that people geotagged to your church. Also look on your Page at posts made by other people, in case some people posted that way. If you have lots of good pictures, you might want to save those pictures and then re-post them as a single Facebook post with an accompanying photo album rather than re-sharing posts individually.
While it isn’t theologically as important as Easter or Christmas, the Blessing of the Animals is a wonderful opportunity to invite people and their animal companions into the life of your church and a way of celebrating the profound joy and beauty in all of creation as espoused by St. Francis.
- Lisa Brown
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.