How Your Parish Can Use Social Media to Evangelize

Unless you've been living under a rock—which it seems many Catholics have—you will have noticed that the internet and other advances in communication technology have created many new ways to communicate. Your parish should be taking advantage of these new media to continue the Church's mission to evangelize. Here are some tips that will help you get started.

social-media

What is Social Media?

If you already know, you can skip this section. Social media refers mainly to the different forms of communication available through which people can connect with other people. The great thing about the internet is that the geographical and logistic problems are almost non-consequential.

When we look back at people like St. Paul who traveled around the Mediterranean on foot sharing the Gospel and telling people about the love and mercy of God we get inspired. But do we ever actually do anything about it?

Paul had to go out meet people where they were, which in his time was the marketplace. So he went out into the streets to preach. These days there is another avenue through which we can reach people and social media provides us the ability to do just that.

The Top Five Social Media Platforms

Facebook

What it is: This is definitely the most popular social media platform so if you haven’t heard of it, or worse if you’re not using it, then you’re in trouble. There are over one billion people using Facebook as of September 2012. That’s a lot of people who can be reached.

How it works: The way Facebook works is that people have profiles which is basically like your online identity through which you can connect with others (family, friends, friends of friends, etc.). They can post status updates, upload photos and videos, and share links to other websites. Another powerful feature of Facebook is the user-interaction encouraged through commenting and “likes”.

How you can use it: Don’t just use Facebook to use it, but to provide a place for parishioners to connect. A parish can share the obvious stuff from the bulletin like news and upcoming events, but also ask questions, get conversations started about current events, reflections, etc. You can also share content here from other sources (ie. YouTube videos).

Twitter

What it is: This platform is almost like a simplified version of Facebook.

How it works: Each user has a profile and can post “tweets” which are text-only messages under 144 characters. Links can also be included. In the sound-byte culture we live, Twitter has become very popular among the great many people who prefer short, pithy tweets to long blog posts.

How you can use it: It’s probably more suitable for the younger crowd. It is used less for actual conversations—although direct messages are a feature. If you’re shooting for your parishioners then you’ll probably just tweet news updates, but don’t forget to evangelize. Throw in some Bible passages and quotes. You can also share links to videos or interesting articles found elsewhere, especially if they are on your own website.

YouTube

What it is: If you are watching videos online it’s probably on YouTube. It is the largest video platform online and without a doubt the most popular.

How it works: Pretty much anyone can upload a video and it is immediately shared with the world. Production is not always an important factor. Some of the more popular videos are filmed with webcams. What is important is the content.

How you can use it: I have found that many people are more likely to watch a video than they are to read an article—even if the content is exactly the same. Some parishes record the homily on video which can be good if you have good preachers. But don’t stop there. Host video contests asking each group, ministry, or even individuals to create a video on a certain topic (ie. patron saint of the parish, certain teaching of the faith, reaction to current events, etc.) These contests would allow the parishioners to get involved and would provide you with lots of videos to post on your website. The winner can get some sort of prize or have their video posted on the homepage.

Pinterest

What it is: This is a photo sharing website.

How it works: Users can browse and search photos posted or “pinned” by other users. You can also create your own “boards” and pin or repin photos usually separated into different categories.

How you can use it: Some people post Bible passages or quotes from the saints. You can post photos with or without captions. If you have someone proficient in Photoshop that would be a big help when it comes to Pinterest. Have them put together photos that revisit different points from your weekly message. Visually introduce people to the basics of the Christian message.

Instagram

What it is: This is another photo sharing service, but even more simplified.

How it works: Users upload photos directly from their mobile devices, usually smartphones or tablets. You can also follow your friends and see the photos they are posting.

How you can use it: This is a good place to share photos taken in your parish and at parish activities. How can you inspire your flock and their friends to deeper relationship with God and practical expressions of faith in their daily lives?

Determining Your Target Audience

It’s important to remember that there are two distinct demographics that you are trying to reach. Obviously, there are those who are already coming to Mass and involved in the parish community. They need to be continually challenged to go deeper in their faith. But there is another even more important target market that needs to be reached, the lost. This group consists of non-believers, fallen away Catholics, and former members of your parish. They need a completely different message.

So when you are approaching the idea of using social media it’s essential to determine your demographic for each method of communication you are going to use. You can reach both groups, but it needs to be intentional. You should really encourage your parishioners to reach out to the lost. They can share your posts with the people in a way that you cannot, since they have already built the trust necessary.

A Few Cautions

1. Social Media is Made for Connections

You can’t think of social media as a place to just post, but a place to make real connections with real people. If you don’t miss this very important point, than you will probably fail.

2. Don’t Be Afraid

You will face rejection. This is true in all aspects of evangelization. You will see negative comments, but that should not prevent you from doing what you are called to do. St. Paul was beaten, stoned, and chased out of town for proclaiming the Gospel.

3. Share the Truth in Love

If you are going to share the teachings of the Church, do so in a way that not only is true to the Gospel and the Magisterium, but also in a way that doesn’t put down, rather builds up.

4. Practice Affirmative Orthodoxy

This means don’t focus on the things we as Christians and especially as Catholics, say no to, but rather what we say yes to. Make your focus on what we are for, not necessarily what we are against. Otherwise, people will begin to see you as negative and who wants to listen to negativity?

5. Enlist the Help of the Youth

They are the ones who are already familiar with social media and are most likely using it in their day-to-day lives. Ask them to help you set up your accounts and profiles. Not only will this help you with the learning curve, it will also help them to get excited about evangelization.

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