We all know that the world has changed with the coming of the digital age, but when it comes to Church ministry in the U.S. (I am talking about national Catholic organizations, religious communities, dioceses, and parishes), that reality has not registered with everyone. Some ministry leaders will say “We have a website. What else do we need?” A response might include a reference to Pope Benedict XVI’s message on World Communications Day, May 16, 2010.
The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests [here I add “and ministry leaders”) can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests [and ministry leaders] are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project did a study on the change in Internet use by age group from 2004 to 2009. They report that in the U.S., as of December 2009, 93% of teens and 74% of all adults 18 or older were using the Internet. Further analysis by age indicates that 93% of adults 18-29 years old, 81% of adults 30-49 years old, 70% of adults 50-64 years old and 38% of adults 65 and over were using the Internet. Another report indicates that 68% of adults go on the Internet daily. These percentages have been steadily increasing since 2004 and there is every reason to believe that they will continue in the same direction going forward.
In an article posted on the U.S. News and World Report website, January 26, 2010, Jeff Greer reported that 1 in 4 college students were taking at least one online course in the school year beginning 2008-2009 which is a 17% increase over 2007.
The digital age is real. The Post Office is delivering less mail. Newspapers and magazines are shrinking or going out of business. Many agencies are moving all or part of their services online. This is all happening because more people are communicating online and getting their news and services from the Internet rather than through the mail or from print resources, or waiting in line somewhere.
We are in different degrees of relationship to technology. There are the digital natives who are growing up with it as a normal part of their daily life. There are digital immigrants, people like me, who are learning the new digital culture and adjusting life and ministry accordingly, and then there are what I call the digital protestors who are against it, the procrastinators, who can’t get to it, or the just plain perplexed who don’t know where to begin.
People active in ministry are all over the place when it comes to using technology for mission. Some have grasped its importance and are moving forward enthusiastically, we celebrate them. However, it is my impression that many are perplexed and others are either against it or putting it off. It is important that we talk with them. If they are in leadership positions they can limit greatly or prevent entirely their staff’s use of technology for mission. If they are in staff positions, they can hold back many others. That is not good for the Church and we need to have that conversation. If we truly believe that technology can support mission and ministry, we need to use it ourselves and make the case with our colleagues and leaders for using it more every chance we get.