The Bishops on Social Media

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on November 22, 2010

in Catholic, Diocese, ministry, social media, Uncategorized

On Monday, November 15, 2010, Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria gave a report from the USCCB Communication Committee on integrating social media into ecclesial communications to the U.S. bishops gathered at their fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The report was another positive sign that more people in responsible positions in the Church recognize the importance of social media for mission. I found a lot of realism in the Bishop’s presentation and would like to draw your attention to two of his comments.

Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice 

According to Bishop Herzog, all of the research indicates that this new shift in communications is not a fad, but a real paradigm shift that cannot be ignored.  At one point, in his talk he says that this may not be the platform that we would choose for ministry—but it is an opportunity we cannot ignore. He compares this shift to social media to what happened when the printing press was invented.

We’re being told that it [social media] is causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behavior as the printing press did 500 years ago. And I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened when the Catholic Church was slow to adapt to that new technology. By the time we decided to seriously promote that common folk should read the Bible, the Protestant Reformation was well underway.

Church Use of Social Media Needs Strategic Thinking and Planning

The second point that I want to note is the importance of thinking strategically about our use of social media.  In my experience, it is very difficult for leaders in any ministry to think and act strategically. To expect them to be strategic in the use of social media is asking a lot. But we need to keep asking for it. Otherwise, we will have either no presence on the internet or get more “Catholic” content on the web that is neither engaging nor evangelizing   Here is what Bishop Herzog said:

On the Digital Continent, “if you build it, they will come” does not hold true. It takes careful strategizing and planning to make social media an effective and efficient communication tool, not only for your communications department, but for all of the church’s ministries. We digital immigrants need lessons on the digital culture, just as we expect missionaries to learn the cultures of the people they are evangelizing. We have to be enculturated. It’s more than just learning how to create a Facebook account. It’s learning how to think, live and embrace life on the Digital Continent.

The bishop is correct. The use of social media is entrance into a new culture, a new language, a new way of relating and it takes time and effort.  If we want ministers to use social media, we have to set new ministry priorities and give ministers the time and training they need to be effective.

You can read the full text of Bishop Herzog’s statement by clicking here.  Please share your thoughts and comments about what the Bishop had to say or about my reflections.  Remember to use the icons below to share this article and discussion with others in your social networks. Thank you.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Hendey November 22, 2010 at 7:51 am

I’m thrilled by his presentation, as it echoes what so many of us have been saying in our dioceses. My home diocese is already at work on addressing these issues. I’m not on the diocesan staff, but they have kindly welcomed me to be involved with discussions about how we can implement social media strategies at the service of the Word. Thanks for an important post!

Caroline Cerveny, SSJ-TOSF November 22, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Susan, I so appreciate your sharing Bishop Herzog’s comments. I totally agree with him when he says, “We have to be enculturated. It’s more than just learning how to create a Facebook account. It’s learning how to think, live and embrace life on the Digital Continent.” It is so important today, to aim to become a “Digital Native” – as much as we are capable of!

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