Social Media Evangelization: 18 Ways

‘Priests Online’ — A Register Experts Forum, Part 4

“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 four in a series.

Pope Benedict defined social media as the new agora. He encouraged priests to engage in cyberspace and to blog with priestly hearts.

Some priests had been waiting eagerly for this endorsement: Their fingers were itching to jump on this amazing phenomenon. Many, however, might read all these new noise about social media and ask themselves cyber-what?

They’re not alone. Eighty percent of organizations will build their social media presence in the next 14 months. So the Pope’s calling is “just in time” and very relevant.

Okay, let’s start from the beginning. What is social media?

Many people confuse this concept with specific platforms. They think that mastering Twitter or Facebook will give them the “social media expert” status. This is wrong. Social media is a fundamental shift in communication.

It all began with the concept of “Web 2.0” presented at a conference organized by the O’Reilly Foundation. The second version of the World Wide Web brought to an end the one-way communication era.

Web 2.0 not only is a two-way engagement, but it can include three or four or five or thousands or millions of people. You can easily have one video on YouTube and soon have over one million people commenting on that video. The revolution is that the video doesn’t have to come from a fancy Hollywood studio: Any member of the community can actually upload a video and hold the torch of fame.

The notion of a community that owns and controls the media, the conversation, and — as a consequence — the influence is what’s making a big difference in this interactive Web 2.0.

Okay, so what’s the big deal? Let me give you some examples:

• Plane crash on the Hudson: Before The New York Times broadcasted the news, a simple guy who happened to be jogging on the Hudson sent a picture to his Twitter stream, making the news go viral in a matter of minutes.

• Elections in Iran: The U.S. State Department asked the social networking site Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance to avoid disrupting communications among Iranian citizens as they took over the streets to protest.

• If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest country in the world.

• More than 1.5 million pieces of content (Web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos) are shared on Facebook daily.

• YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.

You will soon realize that social media isn’t just an activity for “kids.”

Now all major organizations are using social media for customer service, brand awareness, marketing, sales, market research and more. Water for Charity raised more than $200,000 in one night on social media. The level of influence and engagement that an organization can now have through social media is infinite. Okay, what does that have to do with the Church?

I have nothing to add here other than quote the words of Pope John Paul II at the beginning of Redemptoris Missio: “The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion. … It is the Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God: ‘For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel’ (1 Corinthians 9:16). The Kingdom aims at transforming human relationships; it grows gradually as people slowly learn to love, forgive and serve one another.”

The Vatican is leading by example with Pope2You where everyone not only can access the Pope’s messages, but can also share the message via Facebook and/or e-mail.

The Pope encouraged priests to blog and penetrate social media, but to do so with “priestly hearts.” It’s the attitude of a shepherd whose ships have voluntarily migrated to a new land. Here are some tips to get you started on social media with priestly hearts:

1) Get a Cyber Parish committee together, ideally with reps from each community group: youth, moms, sick ministry, liturgy, catechists, seniors, finance and so forth.

2) Find out if there are any active bloggers/twitters/facebookers already in the parish. They will be your best resource to get the ball rolling.

3) Define your goals: for example, to double the youth group, to double the Sunday Mass attendance, to start a Parish Mom Club, to assist the homebound, to promote an event and to attract more parishioners to confession.

4) Lay out a simple social media policy. Don’t make it rule-heavy. If you involved everyone in the process, you’ll come out with the best policy and even better, you’ll have their buy-in.

5) Engage with others in your faith community. Go to TweetCatholic, for example. They have an amazing group of Catholics together that you can follow and engage.

6) Ask and you shall receive. If you have any social media related question, you’ll realize that so many people will be willing to help you out. This is particularly the case on Twitter.

7) Create a parish blog: Keep it simple, fun and engage the parish. Make sure everyone is there to voice their opinion and participate. You can have the different parish ministries in charge of a blogging day. That way the load doesn’t fall on one person only.

8) Create a Facebook fan page for your parish: It’s the perfect place to evangelize and spread the Good News. Also great to ask for prayers and make all kinds of activities together like a pro-life cyber march or a rosary. A excellent example is the Pontifical Seminary of Santiago, Chile. They doubled their number of seminarians after their social media engagement.

9) Create a Twitter account: If you feel the calling to really get into social media, Twitter can be an amazing tool to engage and communicate. It also directs traffic to your blog and websites.

10) Get on Monitter to discover the parishioners (and potential ones) who are on Twitter and engage in conversation. They’ll feel so proud of their pastor/parish that they’ll want to come back to the church.

11) Create a Flickr account: It allows everyone to upload pictures of all the parish-related activities. It might sound scary first, but after all, it is so powerful and will show the true life of the parish.

12) Create a YouTube channel for the parish: Record the homilies, christenings, confirmations, special messages and your message for the week. A real interesting way of using the channel is to ask parishioners for testimonies. You’ll be surprised at how much people have to say about how God is acting in their everyday life.

13) The most important rule in social media is to develop big ears. Use search extensively, focus on key words: sick, pray, need, God, abortion, pregnant, Church and so forth.

14) Remember your role: “a priestly heart.” Pope Benedict gives the best definition in his message: “Priests must always bear in mind that the ultimate fruitfulness of their ministry comes from Christ himself, encountered and listened to in prayer; proclaimed in preaching and lived witness; and known, loved and celebrated in the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist and

15) Be courageous: So many people will attack you just for the mere fact that you’re a priest. For crazy reasons (you’re not in front of them physically) they feel more at ease to insult you on Twitter or Facebook. So just again, answer the same way as if a reporter were to attack you. If it becomes personal or consistent, then ignore the person and eventually he/she will give up on the persecution.

16) Chill out. Don’t go with the official mentality. This is cyberspace, so the words “cool” and “LOL” are some of the most commonly used. Soon you’ll be using them too.

17) Use social bookmarking sites extensively: This will be used as a reading guide to your parishioners and as a reminder for so many articles you often don’t have time to read.

18) Learn: Don’t be afraid to learn and be open to explore new tools and techniques.

I have a very simple “starting2” list of videos on the Premier Social Media Blog to help you get started. The key here is to make baby steps and keep it fun. You may also look at the beginner’s track where I have a social media classroom and share the basics of getting started. Feel free to look for me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, StumbleUpon. My user name is always “AnaRC.”

Social media is all about relationships, community and content. There is collective hunger out there that cannot be satisfied. Too many people are focused on picking up the crumbs under the table. The Church has a great opportunity here “to bring a soul to the fabric of communications that makes up the Web” and to whisper that “God is near; that in Christ we all belong to one another” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, Dec. 21, 2009).

Ana Roca Castro is founder and CEO of Premier Social Media. She blogs at

‘Priests Online’ Series

Part 3: Are Priests Afraid of Facebook?  Father Jose de Jesus Palacios
Why aren’t more priests active on social networking sites?

Part 2: Getting Online? Get Help!  Father Leo Patalinghug
The key to a vibrant online ministry isn’t technical savvy, but knowing who to count on for help.

Part 1: Broadcasting and Narrowcasting the Gospel  Father Dwight Longenecker
Sometimes “preaching to the choir” is part of our mission too, but the fruits will surprise you.