CARA Study Shows Me Why Social Media Matters

Carol Zimmermann of Catholic News Service recently wrote a great article which gave an overview of this year’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate report to Catholic press on the current state of communications efforts in the Catholic Church:

Most U.S. Catholics are not looking for spirituality online, in fact, half of them are unaware the church even has an online presence, according to researchers at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

The most widely used communication tool in Catholic Church is the parish bulletin, followed by a diocesan newspaper or magazine — in print form — which one in four adult Catholics have read in the past three months, CARA reports.

Narrowing the focus on Catholics who attend Mass each week, CARA said 13 percent of them read Catholic blogs and 17 percent view religious material on YouTube.

Read the full article here.

Anyone who spends time working in Catholic new media might look at this report and despair. We bloggers — so steeped in the Church’s “inside baseball” — often forget that the average guy in the pew sometimes has very little clue about much that goes on outside his parish. I do have to say that since the election of Pope Francis, mainstream media reports on the Church seem to be having an impact. I’ve noted an uptick in family and friends asking about news coming from the Vatican. They are more tuned in to their Church, and that’s a good thing.

So what do I think when I read this update on the most recent CARA study? It actually makes me realize that perhaps the most efficacious tool in the technological realm of the New Evangelization is our own Facebook pages. The average Catholic may not be reading Catholic blogs or watching videos promulgated be official Church sources, but plenty of us spend hours each week on Facebook. According to an August 2013 Pew Internet resource, 72% of online adults use social networking sites.

So our friends may not read Catholic blogs, but they are more likely than ever to find faith-based content on social media. In a way, this makes me more excited than ever about the role of the average Catholic in the pew to have an impact in the New Evangelization. I know this to be the case with my own non-Catholic friends: when I share news related items on my Facebook profile, they are noticed and commented upon by a broad variety of folks, not just those who share my faith background.

This puts a burden on all of us to be careful with our social media efforts. We have to avoid being obnoxious, overdoing the “holy roller” stuff in our zeal. We also have to err on the side of caution — when we spread unreliable or malicious information in social media about our Church, there are repercussions.

Now, more than ever, we have new and exciting tools to share the faith we love with the people who matter most in our lives. Let’s not rely on them picking up the Church bulletin (although that’s obviously still a great tool!) Let’s each embrace the power of social media to share the Good News of the gospel in our own way. Let’s let our joy shine through like a light in the darkness.

A question for you: Do you consider your social media platforms to be a tool for sharing your faith?

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  • May I ask, why can’t each parish have a web page/blog where they send out not just the weekly bulletin but also some evangelization for the evangelized? Seems to me that should be part of the new job requirements for parish priests. Deacon Greg puts out his homily on his blog, why can’t all priests?

    • moseynon

      Manny, for those of us who are tuned in, it is hard to imagine getting by without the internet. But according to a recent study by the US Commerce Department, 30% of Americans do not use the internet at home.

      That percentage is strongly influenced by certain demographic factors. For example, household income is a strong predictor, with wealthier homes much more likely to have internet access. Educational attainment is a also a big factor. 77% of persons with some college background use the internet, but that figure drops to 61% for those with simply a high school diploma. Ethnicity is a big factor, with only 58% of Hispanics and 57% of African-Americans being online. Age is strongly related to internet usage, attracting only 52% of Americans age 65+

      That latter figure is important since, according CARA, the average age of Catholic priests in the US is 63. If you add in the demographics of the parish (ethnicity, income, educational levels etc) many priests may not view an online presence as important.

      A simple website with the Mass times, the weekly bulletin, and some spiritual enrichment might have sufficed in years past. However, among Americans who do use the internet, there is a growing expectation for more to be provided . A barebones website won’t draw many visitors. To be attractive, it will need interactive features such as online forms which can be filled out, blogs, podcasts, etc.

      I think Lisa is right about the importance of using social media to evangelize. Interactivity is what it is all about! However, it is important to remember that we still have a big digital divide in the US, so online efforts will only reach persons who are on one side of that canyon.

  • Sr. Maria Kim Ngan Bui

    Thanks for your insight. It’s true that Facebook seems like the perfect platform for evangelizing and educating friends and family about the Church’s active presence on social media and in the world. I also agree it’s so easy to overdue the “holy roller” stuff…especially as the nun in the family ;). What do you think of having private and public FB accounts? Is it possible to keep these apart?

    • lisahendey

      Sr. Maria – thank you for your comment! It is possible – I recommend having a Facebook “profile” for personal connections and a Facebook “page” for public connections. Another option is to vary the privacy settings according to each post’s privacy. You can create lists/groups on Facebook and set the privacy of individual posts so that they can only be viewed by certain people. To learn more about Facebook pages, go to