Friday, October 21, 2011

Social media use, new approaches to evangelization among Communications Day topics

Archbishop John Nienstedt welcomed about 525 parish and school leaders and priests to Archdiocesan Communications Day Oct. 13 and told them the church must use all means of communication to continue its mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“We are committed to embracing social media,” he said during the gathering at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie with the theme “Ever Ancient, Ever New.” He added that the archdiocese is working on unified protocols to ensure better communication with parishes, schools and parishioners.

The local church, he said, has three “high-level goals” of improved communication:

• evangelization and re-evangelization, the fundamental mission of the church;

• fostering improved communications between the chancery and parishes, schools and other organizations; and

• making a commitment “to telling our story — maintaining good public relations and providing accurate information about the events and initiatives of this local church.”

Reaching today’s Catholics

The day — a collaborative effort of The Catholic Spirit, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Coalition of Ministries Associations — included sessions featuring several national speakers.

John Allen Jr., senior National Catholic Reporter correspondent who is frequently seen on CNN addressing Catholic issues, outlined the challenges the church faces from a worldwide perspective in getting out its message. He also noted the qualities it must use to be successful, such as patience, availability, universality and humor.

Paul Henderson, director of planning and operations with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Department, told participants the role of church leaders is changing.

He said developments in new media, which encourage interactive participation among users, are changing the role of leaders from being gatekeepers to facilitating and mentoring communication and dialogue.

Lino Rulli, host of “The Catholic Guy” show on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, gave the under-40 perspective. To reach people from 18 to 40, church communicators must remember what it is like to be their age, he said. Young adults need to have someone they can relate to, someone who understands their questions like, “Why is it important to go to Mass every Sunday?” and “Why should someone go to confession and tell their sins to a priest.”

Rulli’s answer: “I want to be right with God. I want to know there is a plan for my life and peace in my life.”

“Youth can relate to this,” he said.

Rules of the new media road

Blogger Lisa Hendey, founder of, and Matthew Warner, founder of, and a National Catholic Register blogger, led an afternoon session on “harnessing the power of new media in your ministry.”

Noting that 80 percent of Americans use social media like Facebook and Twitter, Hendey and Warner presented five new media rules of ministry communication:

1. The parishioner is in control.

Communicators must respect parishioners’ time and attention and make it easy for them to connect, Warner said. Church communicators must speak to people in ways they want, often through social media, and listen more than talk.

2. Your website matters.

It’s the “home base” for new media efforts and leaves a lasting first impression about a parish or school.

3. Reach people where they already are.

Having a social media presence alone is not enough. There must be engagement and dialogue with social media users to make connections and create meaningful relationships.

4. Don’t give up.

Parishes and schools should tap into local talent and resources for help and ideas, Hendey said.

5. Engage their hearts first.

Technology will not bring people back to the church, people will, Warner said. Church communicators can seek to inspire others and build meaningful relationships through social media and other means.

Lou Carbone, a leader of the experience management movement and author of “Clued In, How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again & Again” spoke about the importance of personal experience and its impact on how people feel about a business or organization like the church.

A self-identified “satellite Catholic” who has struggled with the changes in the church following the Second Vatican Council, Carbone told a heartwarming story of how a priest created a positive experience for his daughter who sought to get married in the church. Such positive experiences are what the church needs to cultivate.

The day also included a video on the theology of communication narrated by Father Jan Michael Joncas, a priest of the archdiocese and associate professor of Catholic studies and theology at the University of St. Thomas, and a social and digital media best practices panel.

For resources from Archdiocesan Communications Day, including the PowerPoint presentations of some presenters, visit the event’s web page.

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