2012 World Communications Day Message

“Update your website!” “Create a Facebook page!” “Post videos online!” “Engage your members during Mass!” Amid the commotion surrounding New Media, we hear from our Holy Father this year’s World Communications Day message: “Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” Finally, a refreshing reminder to take a step back and appreciate the value in silent contemplation before we speak out loud or post content online.

A message I keep hearing at Catholic technology conferences goes something like this: “You need to have a great website with social media integration because younger generations grew up with this technology and its second nature to them. This is how they communicate.” (And then they throw in an arbitrary fact about teenagers and smart phone usage.) Basically, what this is telling churches is that younger generations will not be interested in their faith unless they can somehow participate with the church online. And I don’t believe this to be entirely true. Facebook, for example, is old news to my generation. (20-25 year olds)

A message I’m not hearing at these conferences reflects what the Pope is telling us, “Let’s spend some time in prayer and then discuss what kind of content will remind people about the sacramental importance of Holy Eucharist. What messaging can we post on our sites that will invite people to come celebrate with us?” Sure you can post videos and podcasts of last week’s homily, but does that draw people in to the sacrament? If you give your visitors too much content to look at online, they may feel like there’s no reason to show up on Sunday.

A few weeks ago there was a post on CTT about a parish that made some conscious efforts to make Mass more “engaging.” The thought being, this is where technology is taking us. If churches continue with traditional forms of communication, Catholics will leave the church in droves because they find it “boring.” On one hand, I love when priests are accessible and open to conversation. On the other hand, I’ve seen priests conforming to today’s overly-engaged society by sitting with the congregation rather than near the altar, and allowing Eucharistic Ministers to overstep their bounds and “help out” more than they should during the consecration. What’s the problem?

The illusion here is that the priest is “just one of us,” but which one of us could walk up to the altar and take his place? The Catholic faith is extremely engaging as is—the altar and tabernacle are in plain view, and we all surround one, participatory and communal table. Technology is changing our world, and the church can’t ignore that. Then again, we can’t downplay the sacrament of Holy Orders just so parishioners “feel less left out.” If your members seem bored during Mass, maybe it’s time to simply ask them why they feel that way.

Pope Benedict also tells us, “Learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak.” Instead of pushing out blog posts and tweets just for the sake of pushing out content, let’s listen to our communities first, and then put together a strategic plan to appropriately speak to them in the digital realm. If they’re looking for place to talk about last week’s homily or an upcoming election, let’s give them a safe environment online to facilitate that conversation. There are various private online solutions, as well as public.

It’s absolutely true that your parish should be open to where the Internet is taking us. But I think we need to find a better balance when integrating technology into our faith communities, and I love that the Pope is reminding us to appreciate silence in a world full of meaningless banter. If we conform to technology trends too much, I think we start to lose sight of why we should be evangelizing online in the first place. There may be over 800 million users on Facebook, but there are 1.1 billion Catholics. We’re already a part of the most engaged social network in the world.

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Author:Clare Zajicek

Clare Zajicek is a Catholic wife, mom, and Marketing professional working in the Milwaukee area.
  • http://www.lifeisaprayer.com/ Jeff Geerling

    This was exactly the theme I addressed in my Saturday session at this year’s Catholic New Media Celebration (http://www.lifeisaprayer.com/religion/2011/continuity-eternal-word-new-me). A lot of people I know who are part of the ‘old guard’ of Catholics working on websites and online communications media are coming to the realization that the missing part of their ministry and something causing a loss of effectiveness is the idea of the strong personal relationship with Christ, shared with others.

    And the only way to have that strong, personal relationship, is through prayer and silence (in tandem with the sacraments and liturgy, of course). So many people who struggle through any form of meaningful communication (be it in spoken word, face-to-face meetings, or Facebook) need to simply refocus on their own relationship with Jesus, and listen to Him for ways they can share that relationship with everyone around them.

    (P.S. The iPad theme for this site doesn’t work correctly in landscape mode; the bottom portion is cut off, meaning I can’t switch to the [more user-friendly] normal site styling (how it looks and functions on the desktop).

  • Clare Zajicek

    Very cool, Jeff! I read through the presentation you gave, and I love the goals you laid out – attract, instruct, and sanctify the audience.

    http://www.lifeisaprayer.com/sites/lifeisaprayer.com/files/Eternal%20Word%20-%20Relationships.pdf 

  • Brad

    Clare, I absolutely agree that the reason for adoption is often communicated wrong.  The “young people” and “boring” points for me rank up their with the “make the music more upbeat” thing that has been coming up since the 1970′s.  

    Here’s the aspect I see and often point out to others, look at how we keep our parish communities connected today and how we communicate.  What comes to mind?  The bulletin.  That paper booklet is the primary means of communication in many parishes.  It’s costly, inefficient, limited, and one-way.  Websites and social media overcome all of those barriers.  So instead of waiting until Sunday to announce something we can get the message out immediately.  We can discuss online.  We can share online.  So forth and so on.  

    Likewise, look at how we operate our parishes.  We can leverage these technologies to operate our parishes far more efficiently and far less costly without it being complicated or costly to start. For example, how much does the office print and mail?  Then ask, “Of those things we are printing or mailing; can we provide the information on the website, email the information, etc.?”  90% of the time you are going to find that you can (i.e. online forms, mass email, online calendars, Facebook event postings, etc.).  So we’ve enhanced and improved while reducing expense and workload . . . that’s investing in technology.  

    Obviously there are the wonderful evangelizing opportunities as well.  Look at Father Barron’s videos with WordOnFire.org.  He can offer perspective to the world whenever.  Our parish priests have a lot of wonderful insight to offer their parishes, why wait until Sunday?  Likewise, I can’t ask questions during a homily (tried it once and it did not go over very well.  Just kidding), but I can ask on Facebook or a blog post.  

    The real purpose should be identified first prior to implementing the thing.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173602118 Angela Sealana

    Great post, Clare. I really enjoyed it.