When I started Strong Catholic Dad in May of 2018, I had 25 years of experience as a Father, 14 years of experience in ministry, and 10 years of experience in directly and intentionally passing on the Faith to my kids. I had a desire to help other fathers and a dream that every dad could step up to build stronger relationships with his family and confidently lead them to Heaven. What I didn’t have? Any idea how any of this would go.
So, what’s been happening for the last two years? In short, an explosion of growth followed by slow, painful steps forward, finally culminating in a new period of revival.
Immediately following the launch of Strong Catholic Dad, I was invited to speak at the summer Holy Family Fests at the Apostolate for Family Consecration. Over the course of five separate weeks, I had the chance to present Strong Catholic Dad to between 500 and 600 families, and around 250 of them signed up to try the See for Yourself approach. That’s nearly 50 percent!
Talk about invigorating. This ministry had been on my heart for years, and here it was met with a tremendous immediate response. Praise the Lord!
I set my nose to the grindstone, and over the next 9 months spent most of my time creating new See for Yourself guides. I would finish each guide on a Monday, and that night I would test it out with my family. It felt like things were moving forward.
Over time, however, I began to discover issues with the website which were making my job more difficult. The biggest was that I had no way of knowing how many people were using the site or which guides they were using, which is obviously a problem if I’m going to keep creating content that is actually relevant to dads. So, in February of 2019 I worked with my son John-Andrew to launch website version 2.0, equipped with a new system for displaying guides and tracking usage.
The results were disheartening, to say the least. Of the 250 dads who had signed up, nearly 85% had never logged in. 10% had logged in and used a few guides before stopping, and only 5% of the dads were still using the guides consistently.
From a business standpoint, that was scary. I quit my job when I founded Strong Catholic Dad, and realizing that 85% of the subscribers had never logged in meant that every day brought an increased likelihood that they would cancel their subscriptions. In addition, between August of 2018 and February of 2019, we had seen almost no new subscribers.
But far more importantly, from a ministry standpoint, I came to a heartbreaking conclusion.
I had failed.
By sharing my experiences and explaining the fruits of my own use of the See for Yourself approach in my own family, I was able to convince 250 dads to commit to trying the approach…but then I left them hanging. I failed to find a way to continue to engage those dads and encourage them to try See for Yourself with their kids. Most importantly, I failed to stoke the fire that I had started. And for that I’m sorry – because it means that you and your kids missed out on months and months of the good fruits that come from building fulfilling relationships. I could have done more to help get dads on board, and I failed.
Confronting this failure was quite challenging. How am I supposed to help dads if I can’t even get them to log in? What’s the point of encouraging new dads to sign up? Is this ministry as a whole bound for failure?
After much time and discernment, I was able to move on from disappointment to the next and far more important question: Why? What led to these failures? How could we prevent them in the future? In time, we came to some answers:
- Dads weren’t using the guides because I wasn’t reaching out to them consistently. In a sense, Strong Catholic Dad was out of sight, out of mind. On this front, I felt pretty helpless. For all of the benefits website version 2.0 brought, it still offered me no way to communicate with the dads who had signed up, short of tracking them down individually and emailing them.
- Dads weren’t using the guides because it took too long to complete one. For the last 10 years, I had been spending an hour a week doing a guide with my family, but this was a serious time commitment that I worked up to over years and years. For most dads, it was too much to ask, and so they didn’t start.
- Dads weren’t using the guides because they didn’t understand what the guides were. This conclusion came through a surprising venue: the OSV Innovation Challenge.
The OSV Innovation Challenge
Back in November of 2019, my son John-Andrew forwarded me an email about the OSV Innovation Challenge, a contest where Catholic organizations compete for three $100k grants. We knew that we needed that kind of money to help market Strong Catholic Dad, so it seemed like a good idea and I applied. Praise God that I did, because some amazing things happened.
First, we were forced to compete against over 350 other organizations in explaining why Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) should invest in the mission of Strong Catholic Dad. Through that process, we learned something monumentally important: people had trouble understanding what the See for Yourself guides were. There was no elevator pitch – it took me nearly 10 minutes to explain what they were all about, and often I was forced to just show people. Not ideal!
Digging a little deeper, we realized that this was because we didn’t clearly understand what we had on our hands. I had often said that the See for Yourself approach was the best method of Father-led Family Formation, but that was missing the most vital component: relationships.
The only reason I had so much success using the approach with my own family is because I was putting the relationships with my kids first! When I would show the kids one of the videos from one of the guides, I would make sure to engage with them, laugh with them, get off topic, let them share stories, affirm them, and bond with them. Sometimes we wouldn’t even get through all of the videos, but we would always have a great time. However, if you looked at the Strong Catholic Dad website or listened to our original pitches for the OSV Innovation Challenge (or listened to my talks at those fests in the summer of 2018), that fundamental part of the See for Yourself approach was grossly underrepresented, so much so that people saw this as just another way to teach their kids the faith. It’s not. It’s a way to build relationships with your kids while passing on the Faith. Both pillars are equally important, and the whole approach fails if it’s missing EITHER.
Once we realized this, we were able to refine the pitch for the contest, and suddenly, people started to get it! My fellow contestants were delighted at what Strong Catholic Dad offered. I had people tell me that even if we didn’t win the contest, they still wanted to try to help us succeed. Most importantly, I felt revitalized in the ministry.
And then something else amazing happened. We were selected from the original 350+ to the top 24, and then to the top 12! The contest is still ongoing and the winners will be announced in August. In the meantime, along with the other 12 finalists, OSV enrolled Strong Catholic Dad in the Notre Dame Idea Center’s Accelerator Program. This will help us further hone in on what Strong Catholic Dad has to offer and the best way to present that to the world.
So, what did we learn from the Challenge?
We learned that we needed to change the way we talk about the See for Yourself approach and guides. We want people to understand that the guides are basically icebreakers you can use with your kids to build relationships and start a conversation about the Faith. They’re not a boring and replaceable catechetical model. They are like nothing else. Once people understand exactly what the See for Yourself approach is and what makes it unique, they are inspired to give it a try.
The Plan Going Forward
So, where do we go from here? In short:
- We’ve launched version 3.0 of the site, which now includes an automated email onboarding and retention process. This should help encourage the dads who do sign up to follow through on giving the See for Yourself approach a try.
- We’ve updated all of the language around the See for Yourself approach, and we feel ready to begin heavily promoting it across the country.
- I’m planning on releasing consistent Fuel for the Fire content. Over the last year it has become more and more clear that the Lord is calling me to focus more heavily on the broader mission of strengthening dads. This will take the form of me releasing at least one new Fuel for the Fire video or blog post per week, aimed at sharing successes, failures and tips about practically living out faith and fatherhood.
Thank you to everyone who has supported Strong Catholic Dad over the last two years and who has been patient with us as we have learned and grown in what God is calling us to accomplish through this ministry. I am personally very excited about our direction for the future and look forward to the many ways God will use Strong Catholic Dad in the future.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below, and I will do my best to respond to everyone. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please keep Strong Catholic Dad in your prayers!
Thanks Michael = I’m one of the 10 % That has used a few guides. They are great. I’d dropped my subscription but I believe in what your doing. Thinking about returning. Relationships are important. God bless us all. …