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Social Media: the still undiscovered frontier of Family

Brussels/Washington, October 15th, 2015(National Catholic Register/ SIGNIS). The synod of Bishops on the family has started. But how do Catholics families use Internet and social media? Catholic Nation Register journalist Peter Jesserer recently wrote an interesting article on this topic, called his article “Social Media: the still undiscovered frontier of Family”. Read here a summary.

(to read the full article go here)

A survey was conducted recently on more than 1.000 Catholic parents, by the Georgetown University’s Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The main result is that it seems like it’s hard for the Church to communicate with something other than the parish bulletin and its inserts.

Indeed, even though parents use Internet and social media almost every day, they don’t interact with their parish or Church on line. 49% told CARA they never used any Catholic media — print or digital — to get information about their faith in the past month. Only 12% said using the parish website, and even less the Facebook accounts associated with Catholics or Catholics institutions.

Brandon Vogt, content director for Father Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, said that the Church is facing a “challenge and opportunity” that needs to be addressed now. CARA’s finding shows that 7 out of 10 parents don’t have their child enrolled in a parish-based education or Catholic school. For Vogt, it’s a proof that the Church needs to increase its presence online, in order to offer a direct channel to reach out to them.

Edward Sri, director of the Augustine Institute’s Symbolon program, said the Denver-based apostolate developed multiples programs on digital platforms in order to get parents information on the faith “in the way that people are more and more used to getting their information.” More than 4.000 parishes have access to these programs. People might not go to events at the parish, but if the contents are on line, they’ll be able to look them up whenever they have the time.

Church’s Social-Media Sins?

It’s also important for the Church to examine their consciences about how their own actions may be preventing them from connecting with families in their digital environments. Matthew Warner, Catholic digital-media expert and founder of Flocknote said “most parishes are doing a terrible job with all these forms of communication,”, and that they have to change their mentality. Internet helps communicate the information, but people don’t have to read them. Even though email and text can reach more people “If you send something they don’t care about too many times, you’ve just lost them: They’ve unsubscribed, they’ve blocked you, or whatever.”

“Until Church leadership changes its mindset about how these tools can help them, they’re going to keep failing at it.”

A big part of the problem, Vogt pointed out, is that many content-rich Catholic websites are not user-friendly, especially on mobile devices.

When CARA asked about their opinions of Catholic media, 47% of parents said they were unaware of it. Another 30% were indifferent. Just 18% said they enjoyed it.

Potential for Evangelization

Sri thinks a revolution is taking place, in terms of teaching the faith, and Catholic parents and their families today are “not going to want to watch a man in a church for 40 minutes.”

“One of the things we realized is that the real competitor is Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hollywood,” he said. “That’s where people’s minds are, and we need to develop programming and catechesis that will be able to take the timeless teachings of Jesus Christ but present them in a timely way that captivate the hearts and minds of modern men and women.”

“If we focus on doing the things that are local, meaningful and personal, then that competes, because no one else can get that local story of someone sitting next to you in your pew. You can meet that person and have a friendship with that person.”
CARA found that lots of Catholic parents enjoyed watching shows on television or online, but only 18% reported deliberately engaging with religious content on television, and just 9% watched YouTube for religious content.

But there are ways around the barriers: Vogt said Father Barron builds low-barrier digital bridges with people who are not seeking him out for a homily or a catechetical lesson when he “just comments on a popular movie, book or cultural event, such as reviewing the latest Avengers movie.” The Word on Fire YouTube channel has more than 61,000 subscribers.

“The challenge for the next generation of evangelists and Church leaders,” Vogt said, is: “How do we become present and attractive in a digital world?”

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