You are definitely right about the personal invitation to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. But careful not to discount the power of the internet media in reaching young men, especially the post-Gen X'ers (I'm not even sure what they're called anymore.)
I knew little about my religious community when I began discerning, and I never received a personal invitation from a priest. Much of my initial research on vocations was done through the internet, and I'm not alone. Dioceses and religious orders have only scratched the surface of using the internet as an outreach resource.
An excellent point except there are a few caveats:
1) Initial Inspiration Sources: Young men and women who are searching for vocations have already been inspired to do so. So the initial spark in doesn't necessarily come to them because they stumbled upon a random internet site and then said "Gee, maybe I'll be a priest (or a sister)." Although I wouldn't discount that that COULD happen to at least a small number of people. I would think that seeing something like the Fishers of Men video or reading a story about a person's vocation would have more to do with inspiring them in a virtual way than a random ad or even a basic informational website for a community or a diocese would.
Most people have been inspired by a priest, sister or deacon who they've had an experience with in ministry and they also had the seeds planted that they might be good at what they do either by them, by a friend who notices those gifts, or by their own intuition after witnessing other clergy or religious in action. But here's the huge thing to Jason's point...wait for it...
2) Vocation Candidates search for dioceses and communities anoymously:
A survey done by the Emerging Models Project found that few people approached a vocations director to ask about possibly going into ministry. Most talked to a friend or another trusted source. Many also said they did a private search with regards to religious communities.
Once people get interested in religious vocations they decide to start searching for vocational material on their own, that search is primarily done anonymously on the internet today. So just having your diocesan information or your religious community's information online is paramount.
If nothing else, this makes a stronger case for what we call niche marketing. Better stated it means targeting people who may have already been inspired by a priest or a campus minister. In essence, you don't really have to convince people to consider vocations with an online ad--they already ARE interested. What you need to do is twofold: 1) Make it easy to find your ad in places that they are sure to visit on that search and maybe even do some search engine optimization to make sure that you come up when they put in obvious keywords.
2) Make yourself look interesting online: You are really trying to convince them that your diocese or religious community is interesting enough to make them want to join you. You are not really getting them over the hump of considering priesthood or religious life. If they were, they wouldn't be looking at your ad, most likely.
Simply put, to not be online, means that you don't exist. So you must have some kind of landing place for them to find out information on your community. These sites should have loads of information. Everything from how long it takes to be ordained, to what kind of education requirements and age are needed, and most importantly, to have stories of someone's journey on a you tube video or maybe even a seminarian's blog. Pictures are most important--what kind of message do you want to send? If you're a more contemplative community how do you best express that visually and in text (and you need both)? If you're into evangelization, how do you best express that?
This adds to the inspiration that's already present and that sparked the search to begin with.
3) Niche Marketing:
Take a hard look at where most of your present vocations have come from. As an example, many people will reply "That's easy--they dome from various college campuses who know our community." OK, that might be true--but then go beyond that. What are those people studying on those campuses? If it's theology than there's probably something happening with that group long before they get to college. My guess is that it's not theology though. My guess is that it might be something like social work or psychology or even education or something that maybe particularly connects with your community's charism. A Jesuit I knew said that the reason he became a Jesuit was so he could be a priest AND have "a job"--as opposed to just working in a parish as a diocesan priest might. He wanted more and his experience of studying counseling lead him to the Jesuits, campus ministry and spiritual direction work.
How do you express who you are to people who are already engaged in the charisms that your community holds? More importantly, are you presently going after THOSE people. Are you engaging with folks as an example in the communications department if your community has a charism for evangelization on a college campus that you're familar with? If you work with the poor in the third world are you engaged with the local global outreach programs or even with service organizations that already send people abroad--even if it's just to say hi and offer them some support. As an example, maybe offering them free space in a church hall to meet with possible recruits. They're looking for the same people you are and in some ways they might help you in the long term simply because folks will remember meeting at your church and maybe meeting you.
Hey Jason, does this make sense?
How about you vocations directors? Anything to add?
Seminarians--how did your vocations director get you on the hook?
One final point: Most of our advertisers on BustedHalo.com are vocations ads and they note that they get a huge response. Check them out on the right sidebar and if you want to advertise yourself--here's a link for you to contact us.