Since I’ve spent over eight years serving in a part time and volunteer capacity at my parish as the webmaster, I know firsthand both the vast potential and the difficult perils that face parishes hoping to embrace social media in the New Evangelization. Here at the blog, I have the facility to be vastly more nimble in my decision making and implementation than I can in our parish setting.
Yet this does not mean that my parish is doomed to employ paper bulletins, an outdated website and rotary phones to spread the Good News of the gospel. Both my bishop and my pastor have both embraced use of the latest technological tools to communicate, educate, and evangelize. But it can be challenging to stay abreast of — or even begin — a parish communications platform in today’s fast paced world. That’s why I’m so excited about the new book Transforming Parish Communications: Growing the Church through New Media from Scot Landry and Our Sunday Visitor. With years of practical expertise and a heart for the New Evangelization that springs from his love for his Catholic faith, Scot has done a tremendous service for our entire Church with this book. My dogeared copy sits on my desk for handy reference and is now a “go to” recommendation when I teach and coach on tech issues for parishes, dioceses and apostolates.
Today, I’m thrilled to share my recent conversation with Scot Landry. I strongly recommend that after reading this you order two copies of Transforming Parish Communications — one for yourself and another for your pastor!
Q: Scot, congratulations on the publication of Transforming Parish Communications. Please begin by introducing yourself and your family to our readers.
Thank you, Lisa.
My wife, three children (ages 12, 10, 8) and I live in the Boston area. For 7 years, I worked for the Archdiocese of Boston. One of my roles there was to launch the Archdiocese’s New Media ministry both for the central ministries of the Archdiocese and to encourage parishes to embrace new media as a form of evangelization & outreach to current parishioners, inactive Catholics, and the entire community.
Recently I launched a new organization called Good Catholic Leadership Group (GoodCatholicLeadership.com) which provides Catholic executive recruiting, Catholic executive coaching and Catholic strategic and fundraising consulting. As dioceses and other Catholic organizations need more lay leaders to take on significant positions of responsibility, I hope to encourage and connect Catholic lay executives to these opportunities to serve.
Q: As a parish webmaster and Catholic geek, I absolutely love this book. Can you give our readers an overview of the book’s content and let us know what inspired your work on this project?
Both Our Sunday Visitor (the book’s publisher, which I had partnered with on many new media initiatives in my role at the Archdiocese of Boston) and Cardinal Seán O’Malley, my Archbishop in Boston, encouraged me to share insights, experiences and advice from the work to implement new media in the Archdiocese of Boston. We want to assist parishes throughout the country. We learned a lot in Boston from what worked and what didn’t work in terms of new media evangelization. The fruits of those experiences make up the basis of Transforming Parish Communications: Growing the Church through New Media.
The book is divided into four parts. The first section describes how the mission of the Church – to share the Good News of God’s saving love – and now Pope Francis’ call to “go to the peripheries” can be implemented very well through the use of new media. Next, I address all the reasons why some parishes have been slow to embrace new media and try to respond to those concerns. Then, I propose a step-by-step process for parishes and parishioners to grow their new media outreach. Finally, I share detailed implementation plans and resources to make it easy for parishes and parishioners to get started.
Q: Let’s address up front any concerns readers may have about this book not being for them if they don’t work in the institutional Church. Why is this a resource for any Catholic who loves his or her faith? How are each of us called to be involved in digital evangelization?
Part of the vocation of every Catholic is to share one’s faith with others. My main hope for the book is that it will lead so many more Catholic families to see how social media outreach can be part of the way that they live their faith every week, if not each day. Pope Francis has been encouraging us to use social media to connect with others and foster a true culture of encounter where we first listen to others, be a strong positive presence, and then accompany others on their journey of life, walking with them at their pace.
The main role for the parishes in this process is to become animators so that their parishioners can become digital missionaries. For examples, if parishes curate great Catholic content and share it with parishioners through social media, parishioners can easily “evangelize” by sharing or retweeting it with their social networks, which likely include friends from elementary school up to the current day, family members, neighbors, work colleagues. It is a great way to share little bits of the joy of living a good Catholic life with the world.
Finally, I think parishioners will realize that reading what great Catholic organizations and individuals post on social media can help us grow substantially in our faith and in our ability to express it effectively to others.
Q: What encouragement can you offer to readers who may be fired up digital missionaries worshiping in parishes that are decidedly opposed to use of these tools?
It is sadly true that there are many parishes that are cautious or reluctant to embrace new media. There are many reasons for this and I try to share and respond to every reason that I’ve heard thus far in one of the early chapters of the book.
In my experience, instead of proposing new media for its own sake, I often try to ask what the parish is truly doing to reach the “Lost” – those away from our Catholic family that live in the parish’s territory. If there is a passion for this evangelistic outreach and service, then I think a strong case can be made that new media is perhaps the most effective form of outreach today. I’ve seen many reluctant pastors make this connection and then ask for help to begin the implementation of new media. But it starts with connecting new media as an approach to the Church’s mission of sharing the Good News, not positioning it as a new technology that a parish should embrace to be “relevant” with younger Catholics.
The first section of Transforming Parish Communications is specifically written to make the case for why parishes must embrace new media today if they truly care about reaching the ‘Lost’ in their region.
Q: Please say a few words about how parishes can better support families who are raising children in today’s digital climate. What must we, as Church, do to educate and equip parents to raise children in such a “wired” world?
One of my hopes in writing the book is that parishes will sponsor many training sessions to help people learn about New Media. This would be a great new ministry for parishes and I think many parishioners would be eager to become involved to help others connect with their family members and lifelong and new friends via social media.
A key session would be the proper role of technology in the formation parents provide to their children. We want our children to utilize technology for learning and for enjoyment, but in a way that they don’t get addicted to it and drawn away from in-person interactions. I also recommend that parents install internet filters in their homes to make sure the content their kids are exposed to on the internet is appropriate.
Q: What are some of your favorite digital resources for your own faith journey?
Some examples are for news, I go to NewAdvent.com to read the links to important Catholic news stories that are curated there. For inspiration and homilies, I go to CatholicPreaching.com, which is a website that my twin brother (Fr. Roger Landry) publishes. For praying the rosary each day, I use the FamilyRosary app by Holy Family Communications. For reviewing the Mass Readings, I love the iMissal app. For following news about the Holy Father, I either go to News.va or I use ThePopeApp. I also follow about 300 Catholic writers and publications on Twitter and it helps me keep current on news of the Church and inspiring stories to share with my own friends on Twitter.
Q: How can we balance our desire to share our faith online with the urge to “go overboard” and possibly alienate our non-Catholic or non-practicing online “friends” and contacts?
What I suggest as a practical norm in the book is the idea of “tithing” ten percent of one’s social media messages to be faith-related.
If our messages were 100% faith-related people might think we are one-dimensional and tune us out or stop following us on social media. It’s good to be our well-rounded best selves in the world of new media. Share anecdotes about your kids, your commute, your favorite sports team, great things that happen in your town, and forward videos and photos you find inspirational. In the midst of all of these messages, intentionally share one of every 10 messages (perhaps 1-3 per week) on a faith-related message. Examples could be retweeting Pope Francis’ @Pontifex tweet, sharing a message received from your parish, talking about the challenging message in the priest’s homily, posting a Catholic news article that charitably presents the Church’s teaching on a controversial issue, or promoting an event at your parish with the extension of an invite to join you.
Q: If someone is just getting started with all of this, along with buying your book, what “first steps” might you recommend?
If someone is just beginning on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, I encourage them to follow and friend a lot of good Catholic individuals and organizations. To make it easy for people, I have a list of Catholic leaders on social media in the book and on ScotLandry.com. If you spend one or two weeks just observing the habits of many others that utilize social media well, I think you’ll identify styles, approaches and the types of posts that will work for you.
Next, if one’s parish has been slow to adopt new media, I’d suggest loaning your copy of the book to your pastor or a leader of the parish staff and indicate that you’d like to help the parish to begin a process of new media outreach. Encourage them to read the first half of the book and then ask if they would be open to forming a New Media Outreach Commission of parishioners who could train others in these tools and encourage others to embrace using them as an effective form of outreach and evangelization.
Most of these tools are fairly simple to learn and then utilize well, particularly if there is a friend or fellow parishioner who helps you to get established and then shares several pointers. It can be a great way to serve others in the parish community and to reach out to those we hope will rejoin us for the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Pope Francis has indicated that the internet can be considered a gift of God if we use it well to connect with others, walk with them in their joys and struggles, and then respond to their questions on the deeper questions of life. The answers to most of those questions lead in some way to God.
We want all those we care about to be on a path toward deeper friendship with God and we hope they respond with eagerness to God’s promise of eternal life. Social media is a great way to live out our individual and collective vocation to evangelize and to be truly great friends that seek the best for those we love.