Pastors Discuss the New Evangelization and Web Presence

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on November 19, 2013

in parish, Pope Francis, social media, website

new evangelizationLast week I had the pleasure of facilitating a focus group set up by my pastor with five other pastors from the Diocese of Cleveland. They are committed to the New Evangelization and want to see how their parish web presence can support that mission. Each of the pastors had completed a survey that I had sent ahead of time. They represented suburban parishes of 1800 to more than 3000 families. All of their parishes had websites and most of them were on Facebook.

We discussed the challenges of commitment to the New Evangelization which calls active Catholics to reach out and welcome back inactive members. The biggest challenge is that most Church goers do not understand that this outreach is part of their faith commitment. And that welcoming and incorporating new comers into the community is also part of their responsibility.

We talked about Pope Francis’ insight that our social media presence should be less about telling and more about listening, engaging, and encouraging. How can we do that when we have so much to say? Listening and engaging represent a different mindset. We need to explore how to take it on.

Most of their websites are directly serving their Church-going members. We discussed the importance of including visitors, new comers, and inactive Catholics in our intended audience and providing not only a welcome to them, but also information that would serve their needs.

We discussed the relative importance of websites and social media to their role as pastor. What turned out to be most important to them was email. One sends electronic newsletters to parishioners a few times a year, another sends a bulk email message on Saturday mornings with a preview of the Gospel message for the weekend.

Some are already blogging; others have considered it, but are afraid to start.

When we discussed web presence and engagement, some were worried about allowing comments and then dealing with negative and abusive posts. My response to that was that most comments do not need a response (although responding is a good idea when possible) and negative comments can be instructive. One should always require that comments be moderated by the administrator before they are posted. Abusive posts can be left unapproved or deleted. Legitimate questions, however, need to be answered.

I was delighted with the energy and engagement of these pastors around the topics. I told them that they were exceptional and pioneers. It will be up to pastors like them to explore the possibilities, to test them out, learn from them and create models of web presence and engagement for others to follow.

What would you have said to these pastors?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline Cerveny, SSJ-TOSF November 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

Susan, thanks for asking. There are two things I would have mentioned. One, a parish today needs to consider how the ICT technology triangle (i.e., Information Systems, Communications Technologies, and Educational Technologies) – supports what needs to happen in a parish for New Evangelization. Second, I would invite them to come to the Interactive Connections conference ( where they can get exposed to ALL three areas.

Pat Sylvester November 19, 2013 at 11:20 am

Thanks for inviting the Pastors to focus on how technology can support Evangelization. They are the ones that have the final say in all the possibilitues at our fingertips and on screen. Thanks for all you ae doing to not only raise awareness but share the “how to”,

Jeff November 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I would have told them exactly what you told them. Through John Paul II and Benedict XVI God worked to apply our doctrinal fine print to the modern world. (Please excuse the gross oversimplification.) With Francis God now helps us learn to engage one another as Christ engages us despite the interconnected loneliness of the modern world.

My weaknesses succeeded several years ago in throwing my life into chaos. I went from respected to a pariah, from a catechist to a self excommunicated Catholic. I would not revisit all the pain on my loved ones or myself again but the lessons gleaned from experiencing life as the prodigal were profound.

The teachings of the Church give us a guide to living happily, a life of peace. But what of those whose lives are in constant upheaval? It is simple and even to a degree just to dismiss it as them reaping the fruits of their constant sinful and short sighted decisions. Pope Francis shows us another way. He won’t engage in a battle with the foes of Church teaching. He won’t judge the tax collector even if he/she is not already humbled as in Matthew’s gospel. He loves them. He shows us the loving Christ. He is making the world wonder what it is like to have what he has.

For us prodigals, he makes it hard to not miss a life of faith.

If the digital message of a parish is not the unconditional love of the sinner while proclaiming the truths of the Church, it is probably best that it is left unattended for now.

John J. Boucher November 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm

How can we use social media to connect people more closely with Jesus and come face to face with other Catholics? We cannot evangelize without forming living relationships with those close to us and those on the fringes of parish life. How can we work together on the issues between different perspectives in Catholicism with going to a def-con 4 war mode, where all we do is squabble with one another?

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND November 20, 2013 at 5:48 am

Thanks for all the comments!

Caroline–you always add more to the conversation and thanks for reminding everyone about the Interactive Connections conference.

Pat, thanks for the affirmation.

Jeff, I really do appreciate your sharing your experience here. Pope Francis is reminding us in very concrete ways that we must witness to merciful God. We must focus on the person whom God loves unconditionally. I am glad that his witness and words are meaningful to you as I know they are to so many.

John, social media is an entry level connection–where we touch people with Jesus’ love and the gifts of our faith. We do this by positive content that truly adds value to their lives. This is a type of “sowing the seed.” We sow and it falls where it does. Some bears fruit, some does not–but we still sow the seed as far and wide as we can.

On large national sites I have seen some of the squabbling you are talking about. There is much less of that at the local level. But when it comes–we realize that this is where some people are. We do not have to take the bait and argue back–we need only to remember that light casts out darkness and it is our duty to be a light to the world.

Sr. Angela Ann November 20, 2013 at 8:47 am

Very interesting! I think it is a great idea of parish groups gathering to contemplate a collaborative digital effort! I imagine they could pull a variety of digital natives into the e-conversation.

I think bringing the digital natives into a discussion in the beginning can take the edge off the conversation.

Inch by inch we go forward! I agree with Pope Francis about listening, etc. I believe our goal here is not ‘simply to use’ the technology but how can the application, integration of the digital engagement stimulate an inner desire within those who navigate the sites to desire to become engaged with the parish.

Of course, this means the parish is also pastorally ready to receive them into the faith community with hospitality and enthusiasm!


Terrie Baldwin November 20, 2013 at 9:27 am

I would like to mention that it is important on social media that as best we can, we respond in the most loving and compassionate way possible; that others will see the good that we do and bring glory to God (to quote a favorite hymn.)

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND November 22, 2013 at 9:14 am

Thanks, Sr. Angela Ann, for reminding us to engage young adults in our online ministry. They will need guidance in terms of social media as a ministry and mentoring in terms of content that reflects the mission of the Church, but they are usually more fearless and creative when it comes to technology and methods.

Terrie, you make a great point. Actually, every post as well as response should add value to the lives of the people we are serving. Negativity and sarcasm turn more people away than bring them closer.

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