Photo Credit: Vatican Radio

“The challenge is to rediscover, through the means of social communication as well as by personal contact, the beauty that is at the heart of our existence and journey, the beauty of faith and of the beauty of the encounter with Christ. Even in this world of communications, the Church must warm the hearts of men and women. Do our presence and plans measure up to this requirement or do we remain technicians? We hold a precious treasure that is to be passed on, a treasure that brings light and hope. They are greatly needed. All this, however, means that priests, religious and laity must have a thorough and adequate formation.

“The great digital continent not only involves technology but is made up of real men and women who bring with them their hopes, their suffering, their concerns and their pursuit of what is true, beautiful and good. We need to bring Christ to others, through these joys and hopes, like Mary, who brought Christ to the hearts of men and women; we need to pass through the clouds of indifference without losing our way; we need to descend into the darkest night without being overcome and disorientated; we need to listen to the dreams, without being seduced; we need to share their disappointments, without becoming despondent; to sympathize with those whose lives are falling apart, without losing our own strength and identity (cf. Pope Francis, Address to the Bishops of Brazil, 27 July 2013, n. 4). This is the path. This is the challenge.”

Address of the Holy Father to the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications
21 September 2013

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On Monday of this week, I had the privilege of attending the Digital Church Conference hosted by the Diocese of Orlando and held at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Altamonte Springs. The conference is a one-day guide to new media featuring the great minds of Brandon Vogt, Matt Warner, and Josh Simmons. The conference, which was the inaugural for these guys, gave some practical advice for how parishes can utilize new media to be active in the New Evangelization.

The morning began with an overview of the various communications successes of the Diocese of Orlando presented by Teresa Peterson, Director of Communications. These included the completion of a new social communications plan, the creation of the Light of Faith Awards, the institution of the C-CLEAR communication ministry, the production of a Year of Faith mobile app, and the addition of a publishers fair to be held in February 2013. As a former employee of a Catholic church and school in Orlando, I can attest to the success of the efforts made by the Office of Communications to transform the way the Diocese communicates. This conference has made evident the great enthusiasm Bishop Noonan and his staff have about engaging the culture during this Year of Faith.

Following this brief presentation, the DCC continued with its sessions, including: an overview of new media and the history of new evangelization, practical ways of creating an effective website for parishes and ministries, making your web presence into a social network, and understanding what NOT to do in new media. There is a lot of information that is already available on these topics on the Digital Church Conference website, so I won’t discuss the particulars of each session. If you want those details, I would encourage you to contact your diocesan office of communications and urge them to bring the conference to your area. What I will talk about, however, is the benefit I think the conference provides for dioceses and parishes.

The Digital Church Conference provides excellent information for parishes who may just be initiating the incorporation of new media into their communication efforts. It also gives great insights on a variety of tools parishes can use to contact their members on a large scale, through email blasts, text messages, and phone calls. The conference supplies some best practices for websites as well, including the basics of SEO, design, graphics, and content.

For those who might be a little more advanced in their understanding of new media, the DCC does not go to such a level of depth that would provide you with information about advanced technological procedures; it pretty much stays with the basics. However, I am a firm believer in the notion that reviewing some basics every now and then can go a long way in adding to the effectiveness of your parish’s outreach.

In the end, I think the Digital Church Conference provides a great service to the Church that needs to be brought to each diocese. However, in the future, I would like to see this conference grow into a multi-day, regional or provincial conference that provides breakout sessions based on the participant’s level of expertise towards new media. In my opinion, that would provide more opportunities for parishes to grow in their use and understanding of how to reach parishioners more effectively and more efficiently.

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20121117-223318.jpgBy now, most of you who are faithful readers of Catholic blogs have heard that there was a rather historic meeting last weekend in Baltimore between Catholic bloggers and American bishops. Many bloggers who were in attendance have already shared their thoughts on the meeting and I honestly don’t know what more I can add to the conversation. But, never one to keep thoughts about the Catholic world to myself, I will share some of my opinions and insights about last week’s meeting.

First of all, I have to say, I was completely humbled that I was sent an invitation to attend and I knew that I could not pass up the opportunity. If anything, I realized that it would be a fantastically awesome experience meeting many of the bloggers I’ve followed for years. (Can you tell how excited I was? A total Catholic Geek Out moment.)

To be quite honest, as I was preparing for the trip north, I was asking myself what I could bring to the discussions we would have in Baltimore. I figured the panel would take the results of the CARA study on how adult Catholics utilize new media to find out and share their faith and then present us with a vision for moving forward. I thought the USCCB would present us with what they wanted to see happen; after all, that’s kind of what we saw at the Vatican bloggers meet-up last year. But, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised that the bishops conference was more open to our input.

Initially, I was quite surprised by the findings of the CARA study, especially the fact that most Catholics still receive the bulk of their information about their parish and the Church, in general, from their parish bulletins. As a bulletin editor for a Catholic parish in Florida, I can tell you, most people in the parish don’t read the entire bulletin; they skim, looking for stuff that is most important to them and move on. Additionally, many obtain information nowadays through email communications from the parish, which I believe was overlooked in the CARA study.

I was not shocked by the level of use of new media by younger adult Catholics. In fact, most of the people I encounter on Twitter and other social media sites are people in their 20s to late 30s. We are constantly talking about how our faith has been an important part of our lives and sharing our experiences with the Church–good and bad, I might add. We challenge each other, strengthen each other, and teach each other about the Church. We have grown to embrace the Church, despite the diversity and difference of opinion amongst the faithful. We are proud to be Catholic…and we don’t hide it.

During the meeting, when the bloggers were able to break into small groups with bishops and talk about our impressions of the findings in the CARA report, I was able to share some of my opinions on what the Church needs to be doing about embracing social media. I simply shared, if we do not embrace new media, we are in jeopardy of losing an entire generation of Catholics. We are beyond the point of simply getting involved in the use of social media; in actuality, we have some major catching up to do.

Churches of other faith denominations have done a remarkable job at utilizing new media to engage young people and get them involved in the activities of their churches. If you’re interested in seeing which churches are using social media effectively, I encourage you to visit the website of any popular Protestant church in your community…you’ll see what they are doing and how successful they are.

All Catholics, young and old, laity and clergy, MUST get on social media and MUST share their faith. There is absolutely no getting around it. It’s time our bishops and dioceses become active on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and share the Catholic story. However, as I mentioned throughout my live-tweeting of the bishops and bloggers dialogue, it CANNOT be a one-sided conversation…it has to be a dialogue. We cannot just put out the teachings of the Church; we have to talk to those on social media about why the Church believes what it does; we have to respond to people who have questions about the faith; we have to correct, with charity, what people get wrong about our faith. As Bishop Sample stated at the meeting, the whole concept of social media is to be social.

So, as we wait to see what comes of this historic meeting, I’m curious, what are some of your thoughts on the CARA study? What would you suggest the Church do to utilize new media to share our Catholic story more effectively? It’s our duty and our responsibility to share the Gospel message of Christ to the world…how can we help the Church answer our baptismal call?

UPDATE: On a related note, it was great meeting all of the bloggers I’ve followed for years, especially Sarah Vabulas of Catholic Drinkie, Fr. Kyle Schnippel, Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, Lisa Hendey of CatholicMom.com, Kathy Schiffer, Mark Shea, Steve Nelson, David Cheney, Mary DeTourris Poust, Brandon Vogt (I’ve met Brandon once before), Tom McDonald, Leah Libresco, Deacon Greg, and everyone else. Sorry if i forgot anyone. A special thanks to Lisa Hendey for the picture! :)

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This weekend I am traveling to Baltimore to participate in a blogging/social media conference with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The conference, which will take place on Sunday, November 11th, is an “effort to continue the discussion started at the Vatican’s April 2, 2011 conference for bloggers.” It is meant to be a dialogue between the bishops and Catholic social media users and bloggers on how the Church can utilize various social networking sites and blogging platforms to spread the Gospel.

The conference will begin with a report on a study which examined how Catholics utilize social media. The study was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and commissioned by USCCB. Following that report, a panel consisting of Bishop Coyne, Rocco Palmo, Mary DeTurris Poust, and Terry Mattingly will respond to its findings. I’m quite interested in hearing what the study found and what it means for the future of how the Church communicates.

If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow me: @thomaspringle. You can also follow the hashtag #bpsblog on Sunday. The conference should begin around 12:30.

During the weekend, a group of bloggers will be getting together for a couple of nights out on the town. For many of us–myself included–this will be the first time we get to meet most of the bloggers we interact with on a regular, almost daily, basis. The whole concept of social networking is to not stay connected to people solely using social media sites; we have to take the relationships we form in the digital world into the real world and make those relationships personal. So, this will be a welcome change for all of us who have yet to meet in person.

I’ll keep you all informed of how the weekend is going and, again, will be posting my thoughts and some pictures to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram.

P.S. I am writing this on the plane to Baltimore, so please excuse any grammatical errors or weird sentences. I am not responsible for how the altitude affects my writing. :)

God love you.

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