The great evangelists Sts. Peter and Paul took full advantage of the network of Roman Empire roads to spread of Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the then-known world. Today’s evangelists must do likewise with the Internet and social media, the director of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Office of New Evangelization stressed during opening remarks at the Digital Church Conference this week at Loyola Marymount University.
“Today, our Roman roads are not physical roads but the Internet,” Father Edward Benoiff reminded more than 400 mostly Catholic school educators and parish workers. The day-long Aug. 11 forum kicked off the archdiocese’s third-annual Catholic Communication Collaborative (C3) Technology Conference on the Westchester campus, which continued through Aug. 14.
“We can reach out to people in a much more effective way than even the great pillars of our church,” said Father Benoiff. “St. Peter and St. Paul would have loved having the Internet to boldly proclaim Christ. We’re so blessed. We’re living in a great time for the church. We’re right on the ground floor of this new evangelization plan. Our new expression and method is to use social media. It would be foolish not to.”
The first day featured presentations on the “New Media, New Evangelization,” “How to Create a Website that Will Transform Your Ministry,” “Turning Your Web Presence into a Social Network,” “Connecting with Your Flock” and “5 Secrets to Evangelizing Online.”
Social media guru at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries Brandon Vogt gave the “5 Secrets” afternoon wrap-up session. He pointed out that using the technology of the day to spread the Good News goes back at least to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in the first half of 19th century in the U.S. And the acclaimed preacher’s work on radio (“The Catholic Hour”) and, especially, early TV (“Life is Worth Living”) drew tens of thousands of listeners and viewers.
Vogt said both Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have kept up using the latest technology to reach millions of people today. He noted that the current pontiff, in fact, had become a virtual rock star, with being the most popular figure on all of social media last year. His “tweets” were “retreated” more often than any other world leader.
The “secrets” of evangelizing online, Vogt said, boiled down to five best practices:
1) “Get help” with your social media efforts, especially from teenagers and young adults, who have grown up using the new technology.
2) “Learn the [specific] language” of Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, emails and other social media platforms.
3) “Use videos,” made easy to shoot with smart phones, because people will take the time to watch videos.
4) “Welcome Outsiders” back to the church through social media outreach.
5) “Engage the Culture,” to really reach today’s young people.
“Figure new ways to tell our Catholic stories,” urged Vogt. “But the good news is that these new media allows us to do it easier, quicker and cheaper than ever before. And so using these five practices, I encourage you to launch out together to let us evangelize the Internet.”
Maggie Lara, development director at St. Louise de Marillac Church in Covina, came to the Digital Catholic Conference at LMU with a specific thing in mind. “We’re looking to engage the next generation of Catholics, and we know that technology is one of the ways that we can do it,” she told The Tidings. “We’ve begun that process, and we just want to refine it and make sure that we’re doing it in the best possible way that we can.”
The conference confirmed for her that the church’s true mission is pretty simple —to bring people “into relationship,” but which at a sprawling suburban parish like St. Louise de Marillac, with more than 4,800 families, is a definitely daunting task. But she said using Facebook and Twitter to communicate, along with follow-up letters and phone calls, plus having an up-to-date website with engaging videos has helped a lot.
“The conference was really good, and I loved the presenters, who are really ‘technology evangelists,’” Lara said. “And we, too, have to be vigilant, passionate, excited about sharing the Gospel. Because in the end, it’s about getting to heaven. And technology is one way we can help people to begin their journey.”