The Pew Research Center reports that 95 percent of Americans have a cell phone, with 77 percent of those devices having smartphone technology. To effectively broaden their outreach, churches must change how they communicate and engage their members, to find them where they are most: the digital world.
In an episode of the Catholic Broadcast Network show “Inter Nos,” Bishop Paul Tighe, formerly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said, “My nieces and nephews spend increasingly long hours of their lives in the digital arena. If the Church isn’t present in a sufficiently sophisticated manner, then Christ is going to be missing from a huge aspect of their lives. So, for us, it’s about knowing: How do we engage people? How do we bring the presence of Christ into a different kind of environment?”
Agree or disagree with the proliferation of the growing digital convergence in our lives, it is here to stay. Change is hard, but necessary for the life of our holy Catholic Church to thrive with the next generation. It also provides an opportunity to bring younger members into ministry within your parish. As Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron said, “Share the beauty of our faith first before teaching the rules.”
There is beauty within each parish that can be shared via social media and, as the Facebook administrator at American Martyrs parish in Manhattan Beach, I have helped develop a social media strategy that works. It’s simple, easy to follow and doesn’t require an inordinate amount of time or money. Posting items related to the following five themes works for us and they can work for you, too.
Pope, pastor, priests and deacons
Sharing messages from Pope Francis at least once a week from his existing social media pages on your parish page sparks engagement. He does not have an official Facebook page, but the news.va page shares his weekly addresses and writings. His Twitter is @Pontifex and his Instagram is @Franciscus. For those parishes who speak other languages, you can use Google to find these social pages in several other languages.
Pastors are the spiritual models for their parishes. Posting words from their homilies via social media posts allows their messages to be shared throughout the entire week, not just on Sundays. Associate priests and deacons support their parishes and also serve as models of spirituality. Capturing their homilies, images of them living their vocations by participating in ministries or Mass and posting about their birthdays, ordinations and anniversaries are always engaging.
Daily inspirational messages
At American Martyrs we are blessed to have a pastor who embraces technology and supports our efforts. Msgr. John Barry hosts “Monsignor Minutes,” a daily inspirational video series to share a minihomily on the daily Scriptures. If your pastor is a little camera shy, have him write a short tweet-sized quote on the Scriptures or, as stated earlier, share select quotes from his Sunday homily Monday through Thursday, with a preview to the upcoming homily message on Friday.
A daily devotional book can also serve as a resource for creating a daily inspirational message — just be sure to attribute the original source in your post. During the Lenten and Advent seasons, an easy resource to share is Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever” and “Best Advent Ever” posts.
The Litany of the Saints for the holy Catholic is a gold mine for inspiration, education and engagement on social media — and the easiest to share. The first thing I usually do in the morning is go to one of the following pages and just share posts from some of the following on our Facebook page. Easy-peasy, right?
› Bishop Barron’s Facebook page;
› Catholic Saint of the Day Facebook page;
› USCCB (Twitter and Instagram, but don’t do all of the saints);
› @Saintoftheday on Twitter;
› Catholic_Saints on Instagram; and
› Saints of the Week on Instagram.
However, if a particular saint is the namesake of your parish or you have statues or buildings on your campus named for certain saints, create a custom post on their feast day(s).
Behind-the-scenes at your parish
Those who are in ministry know that there is an army of volunteers who help maintain a parish. The average parishioner shows up on Sunday, sits down in a clean, polished pew, lights a candle to pray, spends time in adoration or listens to the homily proclaimed by a priest clad in freshly-pressed vestments — but is often oblivious to the magic that happens in preparation behind the scenes.
Share posts about how the altar society works to keep the church clean or showing how burned out candles are restocked or the pressing of vestments or altar linens. Or share pictures of ministry members as they are in the process of preparing for a big event. As the liturgical seasons change, capture volunteers transforming the liturgical environment. It may inspire others to get more involved.
Parish and community life
Using social media to promote upcoming parish events is also a powerful method for engaging your members, but also for drawing in new ones, too. Posting about parish events — both beforehand and after — paints a picture of what your faith community looks like. You can also spotlight traditions unique to your parish, whether it’s how your nativity scene looks, how the parish preps for the annual fair or sacramental events, if your parish says the Our Father holding hands or not and events related to the parish school, such as special programs or yearly graduation.
Hopefully, these social media tips will help your parish share messages of Christ among us, in us and through us with your community members and beyond.