Taking Christ into the digital 'streets' (News Release)
August 19, 2014
The 750th and final episode of The Good Catholic Life radio program
June 13, 2014
Interview: EWTN News Nightly with Brian Patrick
September 25, 2014
How to (re)connect with inactive Catholics through Social Media
October 20, 2013
The following is the prepared text for my address at the Catholic New Media Conference (#CNMC) on Saturday October 19 at the Archdiocese of Boston Pastoral Center in Braintree.
The title of my address was, "How to reconnect with inactive Catholics through social media."
Thank for choosing to be here at the 2013 CNMC in Boston to grow in your faith and to learn techniques to help others grow too. For those from outside the area, let me add my welcome to our Archdiocese.
My topic today is “How to reconnect with inactive Catholics through Social Media.” It’s a privilege to share my reflections with you. Before getting into the meat of it, let me insert a brief commercial message for a book that I’m writing that Our Sunday Visitor will publish in 2014 entitled “Transforming Parish Communications: Growing the Church through New Media.” It’s been a wonderful process to write the book. I encourage you to follow me on Twitter (@ScotLandry) and you’ll be among the first to know when it is available.
I am in awe of everyone here and what you do in social media to share our Catholic faith and life with others. I’m more of a digital immigrant than a digital native and I’m convinced that social media is essential to the New Evangelization. I hope that my efforts might lead late adopters to new media to embrace these tools and use them well.
I like to structure my presentations around questions and I have 8 central ones today which are on your handout. The first is relatively simple and straightforward:
(1) Whom are we hoping to reach?
We are trying to reach inactive Catholics. How does Jesus describe them?
In Sacred Scripturem we hear that he often refers to them as the “lost.” In the 15th Chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus tells us three parables in response to the grumblings of the Pharisees and Scribes who didn’t like that Jesus was spending time with sinners and tax collectors.
He first tells us the parable of the Lost Sheep, where the Shepherd will leave the 99 to reach out to find the 1 Lost. He tells us that Shepherd will rejoice we he finds the one. Jesus then adds “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” MORE JOY.
He then tells us the parable of the Lost Coin in which the woman searches for the lost silver piece and when she finds it will invite her neighbors to celebrate with her that she has found the coin she had lost. Then Jesus adds “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus then shares the parable of the Prodigal Son. We know the story well. When the Son who disowned the family and squandered half the estate, returns home, the Loving Father throws a huge party! To the older, faithful, jealous brother, the Loving Father states “we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
In the Catholic Church today, we only have about 7% of self-identified Catholics that are highly engaged in living their faith in their parishes, according to Matthew Kelly in his book “The 4 Signs of a Dynamic Catholic.” My guess is that many of you would be part of that 7%.
How large is our target audience? 93%. How would we classify this remaining 93%?
First, we have those that attend Mass regularly but aren’t super engaged in parish life outside of the Sunday Eucharist. We know in most parts of the country mass attendance is between 15-35% typically. It is about 15% in the Archdiocese of Boston. From a round-number perspective, lets call this group about 20% of Catholics in
Then we have those that come a couple of times per year. Perhaps they drop their children off at religious education on Sundays but don’t think about joining the community at prayer. From their actions, it’s easy to classify them as inactive. This group is likely about 40% of U.S. Catholics.
Finally we have “fallen away or ex-Catholics.” Some writers have called this the second largest religious group in the country. It’s huge.
I don’t want to get caught up in the percentages. The most important takeaway is that the vast majority of Catholics today are lost. Their center is not Christ. They may have been catechized but not evangelization. The Lost are not just 1%; it’s far greater than 50% who are in need of a spiritual GPS to help them find Christ and his loving invitation to the fullness of life, mercy and the promises he has for those of us that choose to be his disciples.
So the next question:
(2) Why are we trying to reach them? Why are we trying to reach them?
Why’s matter. A big enough why can motivate you to do almost anything.
Why are we trying to reach the lost? Simply put: The Lost are immensely important to Jesus. Jesus is immensely important to us. Therefore, should those that are incredibly important to Him be also incredibly important to us? Should His priority in finding the Lost also be our priority?
Why us? Why not priests, religious, paid parish staff, Catholic school teachers do this on behalf of the Church. The reason is simply that we are his disciples, his followers. That’s it. We each have a personal invitation and responsibility to do this. It’s proper particularly to our vocation as lay people. As Cardinal Sean often says, “someone who is evangelized, evangelizes.”
Is there anything new or innovative here? Heck no!
So why have we, the Church, not been making this a priority? Why have we been so bad at evangelization and seeking out the Lost for many years?
To address that question thoroughly would take hours, but I’ll state what I think is the principle reason. Our Church’s culture is the main reason.
We have a culture that has made it easy for us to think that outreach is someone else’s job. We have a culture that too often focuses on maintenance over mission. We have a culture that too often welcomes the attitude of the Older Son toward his Prodigal Brothers and Sisters. We have lost focus that heaven will REJOICE when even ONE repentant sinner comes home.
I believe that this is the primary reform that Pope Francis is about – the reform of our culture, attitude and focus as a Church. He told the Cardinals before the Conclave that he thinks the Church needs to refocus its energies, changing from an internal management focus to an external focus on reaching those on the margins, at the peripheries. The same way Jesus did. He wants the Church to be like a field hospital after battle – helping to heal one’s wounds before we explain the Catechism or discuss one of the harder of our Church’s teachings.
Changing culture is a very tough thing to do.
So that leads us to the third question:
(3) Why is social media one of the best ways to reach the Lost?
I believe that social media can truly be a game-changer for the Church. My new book focuses a lot on why this is.
Briefly, the main reason is that social media is not just a new tool of communication; as you know, it’s a new cultureof communication. Msgr. Tighe spoke beautifully about this point this morning.
Pope Benedict recognized this and wrote in his World Communication Day messages that there is a new culture on the digital continent and that the Church – you and me, our billion family members, our parishes and institutions – need to embrace it as speak the language of the natives.
A second reason is that social media is where we can find and engage the Lost. They may be “lost” to the Church but they aren’t lost to us. On various social media platforms, they are our friends, followers and are linked in to us. Many of them are our personal friends, some for years.
For many in our social network, we might be a face or the face of the Catholic Church today to them. Perhaps they are away from the Church because someone in the Church hurt them or hurt their feelings. Maybe they’ve seen Catholics representing the Church appear angry in the media and don’t feel that faces like that are the type of community they want to be part of. Let’s be a new face for them, reflecting the divine face of Christ.
Here’s my hypothesis: Nearly every “Lost” or inactive Catholic in the United States who is on social media is connected with, or one retweet away, from at least ONE Catholic that would be part of Matthew Kelly’s highly engaged 7%. What an opportunity this represents! What a source of hope?
But let me ask you. How many Catholics on social media, perhaps besides the type of folks that come to the CNMC, actively share messages/articles about faith on social media? If there was ever a persecution of Christians and they used our tweets and Facebook posts as the only evidence of our faith and life in Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict many of us?
(4) What is the ideal role of a parish in this process? What can we do to help? What is essential for a parish to become a hub of new media?
In October 2012, Bishops gathered in Rome from throughout the world for the 13th Ordinary Synod of Bishops, which corresponded to the beginning of the Church’s Year of Faith. The title of the Synod was “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” In its concluding propositions, reflecting Catholic Theology and the remarks shared by Bishops and invited experts, the Synod concluded that the “parish, in and through all of its activities, shouldanimate its members to become agents of the New Evangelization, witnessing through both their words and theirlives.”
The Church wants parishes through these activities to animate parishioners, that is, to be full of life, specifically the life Christ offers us and hopes we accept. People who are animated have energy, passion, enthusiasm, and love for what they do.
In my book, I spend a chapter unpacking this proposition. The parish is called to be the animator not the agent. We the parishioners are called to be the agents. That’s important.
So how can a parish best animate its parishioners to evangelize? I propose in the book that it’s to leverage new media, to become a “hub” of new media – receiving and filtering messages, sharing them with parishioners through new media, and inviting parishioners to retweet them and share with their own social networks.
I believe we’ll get far more parishioners evangelizing if our parishes train them on New Media than if we train them on Evangelization specifically. Once we train them on New Media, we can invite them to tithe 10 or 20 percent of their new media posts to be messages of invitation or links to documents that positively and clearly explain Church teaching or make them feel that they’d like to be a part of our community.
To accomplish this cultural change toward new media evangelization at the parish, I recommend in the book that parishes for a “New Media Outreach Committee,” which would train people on New Media, help the parish office with the work of identifying what to post and share, and then to help implement any specific new media outreach initiatives and events. You can be these trainers and those that train future trainers.
So, how can you help? I’d love it if you would both introduce the idea to your parish leadership and parish councils and then offer to be helpful on the New Media Outreach Committee.
Having worked for the Church for 7 years recently, I realize how challenging it can be, with all the demands on our parish staff, to have one more thing to do – even if it is very important. So the book is written in a way that I hope it will do much of the work of selling this idea. My hope is that parish councils will read it together and discuss it. There’s even a 24-month implementation schedule in there for a parish to modify if it chooses to become a Hub for New Media and seek to animate parishioners to utilize new media as agents of the New Evangelization.
(5) When we reach inactive Catholics through new media, how do we hope they’ll feel and think? What do we hope they’ll do?
The best communication efforts speak to recipients’ hearts, heads and souls. Not every message can do all three, but it’s important that our various messages combine to reach all three.
In terms of what we hope they’ll do, we hope inactive Catholics will want to take a new step to come closer to the Church. One step at a time. The first step can often be the hardest.
Perhaps it is reading an article about Pope Francis or one of his beautiful tweets. Perhaps it is a great, clear, positive explanation of the greater good that the Church is for on a controversial issue. Perhaps it is about a story of sacrificial love that someone does on account of faith – something that makes us proud to be Catholic.
In terms of what we hope they’ll think feel, we hope that they feel that the Church gives them hope and could be a force of positive change and transformation in their lives.
(6) What are the best messages to utilize in reaching the Lost? Are there any messages to avoid?
We want to listen to them and hear about their experiences. We want to have a respectful and friendly conversation about tough issues.
We are sinners too. We are always learning/growing. Our Church is a hospital for sinners not a museum of saints. If you’re a sinner, please join our club.
We struggle too. We don’t have all the answers but we believe we have insights that can help people grow in peace, joy and happiness. From personal experience it has worked in our lives.
We are kind, people of empathy and mercy. Not judgmental or angry. We are not modern-day Pharisees.
We care for people (generally) and we care for them specifically. We want to see if there is a way we can help them or a way to be of service.
We are about love much more than we are about rules.
We seek to stand up for the vulnerable and voiceless in society – not to be cultural “warriors.”
We are truly sorry if someone in the Church has hurt them. We ask their forgiveness. They might need to hear that from one of us. Perhaps more than once.
We truly miss them and wish they were with us. We invite them to come with us in the spirit of genuine friendship.
In summary, messages that are hopeful, uplifting, caring, positive, and about good virtue in action.
(7) What communication lessons can we draw from Pope Francis’ first 221 days?
We can learn so much from Pope Francis’ outreach to the Lost – in my opinion, they are the primary target audience for him in his interviews and biggest homilies.
Fr. Roger this morning spoke of many communications lessons from Pope Francis’ daily remarks. I encourage you toread his address which will be posted on CatholicPreaching.com tomorrow. Fr. Roger said one of his favorite things to do is to read Pope Francis’ daily homilies each day before he preaches his own homily.
One of my favorite things to do is to read his Tweets, which I think speak so well to head, mind and soul.
In his first 7 months, he tweeted 172 times as of this past Monday. Here are some of my favorites and they’re instructive regarding some of the messages we could retweet or share in our own words.
10) “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”
9) “The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love.”
8) “We cannot be Christians part-time. If Christ is at the center of our lives, he is present in all that we do.”
7) “Every time we give in to selfishness and say ‘No’ to God, we spoil his loving plan for us.”
6) “There is no cross, big or small, in our life which the Lord does not share with us.”
5) “We ought never to lose hope. God overwhelms us with his grace, if we keep asking.”
4) “How marvelous it would be if, at the end of the day, each of us could say: today I have performed an act of charity towards others!”
3) “Jesus is the gate opening up to salvation, a gate open to everyone.” (Aug. 27, #127).
2) “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” (July 27, #107).
1) “God’s forgiveness is stronger than any sin.” (Sept. 26, #161)
If we were saying similar things in our own words, as 10-20 percent of our tweets, I think those we’re connected with, even those of other faiths or no faith at all, would be moved and inspired.
(8) What if someone then wants to engage you in a deeper conversation about a hot-button issue?
A great problem to have. However, it can be a scary problem, can’t it?
Let me offer some principles of positive and civil communication in talking about controversial, misunderstood and otherwise hot-button issues in the Church (CVUSA.org). We share these as part of our Catholic Voices training workshops.
1. Look for the positive intention behind criticism of the Church. There’s often a Christian value to appeal to. Speak to it.
2. Shed light, not heat. Explain, don’t argue. Leave them wanting to hear more.
3. People won’t remember what you said as much as how you made them feel. Big words, complex thoughts, church speak won’t connect. Aim for civility, empathy and clarity.
4. Show, don’t tell. Stories are compelling. Stay with your lived experience. You are a delighted disciple with stories and experiences to share, not a spokesperson of a huge organization.
5. Three messages. In conversation, discern the three most important points and return to them to avoid distraction and to improve probability of proper takeaway of your main message(s).
6. Be positive. State what we are for. The Church is often perceived as being "against" things because people are unaware of the greater good we are for or why we are for it. We are a people of "yes" to God. The fullest freedom the Church proposes.
7. Be compassionate. Ready to absorb anger and hurt.
8. Share facts, but avoid robotics. Bring facts alive by tying them to something that moves the heart or soul.
9. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ. It’s His Church you’re seeking to make the case for, to represent. Pray.
10. Witnessing, not winning. Reframe – politely challenge a prejudice or preconception. Invite conversion.
(9) Concluding Remarks and Dsicussion
I invite you to go to our website, CVUSA.org, for more description of these principles. I’ll also put a copy of this talk there on Sunday, October 20.
Finally, I thought about how I’d sum up this talk in 140 characters: @ScotLandry invites us to use social media to prompt parties in Heaven. Remarks at CVUSA.org Sunday. #CNMC.
Now, I invite your insights into ways we can leverage social media to invite inactive Catholics home and also any questions/comments about anything I’ve said.