“Priests should use the Internet to evangelize more.” That’s what Pope Benedict’s World Communications Day message says. “But how?” That’s the question many priests have. The Register asked some experts. This is part one in a series.

When we think of the Gospel passage about the miraculous catch of fish, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that the Lord’s command to “Let down your nets” can very happily be applied to the Internet. If we’re fishers of men, the Internet is our net. The deep water is cyberspace and the population of fish to be caught is vast.

The apostles cast their nets wide and deep, and the Internet allows us to do the same.

The term “broadcast” applies to “casting the net” as well as the simple method of sowing seeds by casting them wide across the field. While these images work well for traditional broadcasting, we should be aware of the fundamental shift that is going on within the world of media.

The shift is from “broadcast” to “narrowcast.” Put simply, the old method of publishing — radio, television and film production — was to produce the work and then send it out to the widest possible audience. It was expensive to produce a book, a radio show, a movie or television program, so the producer had to distribute his work to a vast audience in order to make a profit.

Technology now allows us to “narrowcast” instead of “broadcast.” Anyone can produce a “radio show.” It’s called a podcast, and it costs virtually nothing.
I can produce video clips just by talking to my laptop, which has a built-in camera and microphone. I can produce leaflets and articles and distribute all of this material instantly to a global audience through the Internet.
While broadcasters distributed widely to a comparatively local audience, narrowcasters distribute globally to a narrow audience.

This shift means that audiences for all forms of Internet media are selecting not only what they want to view, read and listen to, but also when they want view, read and listen. This is a very important distinction, and one that impacts how priests should use the Internet for evangelization.

The downside of this revolution is that we will seem to be preaching to the choir. Since this is the case, we should cater for our audience.

My blog, Standing on My Head has a daily readership of about 2,000 people. They visit my blog from across the USA and around the world. They come back for my own peculiar blend of Catholicism, comment on converts, apologetics, humor, inspiration and personal information. Not only can I publish instantly and globally, but the medium is friendly. Regulars make comments and discussions get started on what I have posted.

Because of the “narrowcast” element it sometimes feels like I am not evangelizing at all, but simply “feeding the sheep.”

There is nothing wrong with a pastor feeding the sheep, but I have had enough e-mails over the years to know that a good number of people have returned to the Church, come into full communion with the Church, or had serious questions answered about the Catholic faith through my writings. They tell me that my blog encourages them, entertains them and makes them think about the faith, helps them through difficulties and keeps their faith alive.

Many Anglicans on the verge of coming into full communion read my blog and a good number tell me that it has been one of the helpers for them in their journey home.

I would encourage priests who like to write, and have good communication skills, to launch out into the new media. The technological side isn’t too difficult to master, and once you get going you’ll be surprised the number of people you touch.

What to write on a blog? Keep it short. Make it daily. Most of all, speak the truth simply and with enthusiasm, and before you let down your net make sure you have spent time with God, for before Christ told the disciples to let down their nets he told them to “cast out into the deep.”

Father Dwight Longenecker, a Register columnist, is online at www.dwightlongenecker.com.