By Patricia L. Guilfoyle
N.C. (CNS) — A broad digital media project to coincide with Pope Francis’
visit this fall to the United States aims to recruit and interact with young
people, particularly those who do not think of themselves as religious.
“nones,” as researchers have called them, are especially found among the millennial
generation, generally defined as those who came of age around the year 2000.
2014 Pew Research Center study found that the number of people who define
themselves as “nones” grew from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014. Among
millennials, the Pew survey showed a sharp decline in the percentage of people
who say they’re Catholic, in comparison to older generations. In the three
older generations the survey considered, 20-23 percent of adults said they are
Catholics, but among millennials, it was 16 percent.
youthful, religiously unaffiliated demographic presents a golden opportunity
for the Catholic Church’s new evangelization, said Kathleen Hessert, founder of
Charlotte-based Sports Media Challenge. Hessert, a parishioner of St. Gabriel
Church in Charlotte, is leading a national digital evangelization initiative by
the global Catholic network Aleteia.org in conjunction with the pope’s Sept.
22-27 trip to Philadelphia, New York and Washington.
key part of Aleteia.org’s digital strategy is engaging with millennials who —
even though they do not identify now as religious — can represent a vital
constituency to the future of the church, Hessert said.
called the “Net Generation” or “digital natives,” millennials were among the
first to grow up with computers in their homes, and one of the most popular
forms of their media use is social networking. The Catholic Church must use
digital and social media to engage with millennials — presenting the Gospel to
them in new ways and encouraging them to get involved, she said.
is our top priority,” Hessert told the Catholic News Herald,
newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte. “It’s key to instigate conversation, not
just broadcast information.”
has more than a decade of experience as an award-winning television anchor,
reporter and talk-show host who now serves as a media relations consultant for
athletes in the NBA, NFL, PGA and the Olympics. Clients have included Peyton
Manning, Derek Jeter, Danica Patrick, Christian Laettner, the University of
Notre Dame, ESPN, the Big Ten Network and the Radio City Rockettes. She has
literally written the book on “Winning Fans Through Social Media.”
the pope’s visit to the U.S., Aleteia.org’s digital campaign will spread the
message “Good Is Winning,” an effort to highlight acts of mercy, kindness,
courage and dignity in everyday life. Communication will include Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram and Pinterest, as well as contributions using Vine, Periscope and Snapchat,
with top Vine and Twitter influencers being part of the mix. The campaign will
use the hashtag #GoodIsWinning.
“Good Is Winning” campaign will be conducted by a “digital street team,” a
group of 30 social media-savvy millennials who will shepherd the communications
effort before, during and after the pope’s visit.
members will create and promote stories, photos, videos and conversations in
social media to help inspire and inform people about faith, social justice and
values. Twenty people will be based at a media “command center” in
Philadelphia, with another five in Washington and five in New York. Another 30
members from across the country will participate remotely.
on applying to be a “digital street team” member were posted online at goodiswinning.aleteia.org
with a July 25 deadline to apply.)
will be produced and targeted to those who don’t consider themselves religious
or who are lapsed from their faith, but who are curious about Pope Francis and
interested in what he has to say. The goal is to reach these people —
Catholics and non-Catholic alike — during the pope’s visit and start
conversations about faith in new ways, opening their hearts to the Gospel,
intend to engage people who would not otherwise have been engaged, and do it in
a very different way,” she said. “This is right in line with Pope Francis’
Vatican reorganization to make the church more effective in today’s digital
pope’s U.S. visit — and the message of mercy and love which he preaches — presents a powerful opportunity for digital evangelization, she said. The church’s
message of hope and salvation is more important than ever in this turbulent
world, and we are all called to become “digital disciples.”
Hessert, “If we walk away after the pope is gone from here, shame on us.”
“Good Is Winning” campaign is expected to reach millions, according to Hessert,
based on a similar “digital street team” campaign she launched for the NFL in
Canada in 2013 that attracted millions of new fans and followers on social
added that the campaign is meant to have longer-lasting results than just
building “buzz” around Pope Francis’ visit. Its most important impact will be in
the knowledge gained from engaging with people who are casual about their
religious affiliation or who have no faith at all. The “Good Is Winning”
campaign will compile and analyze data about its online audience and their
conversations, with the goal being for the church to better understand millennials and strategically engage with them.
much work will focus on the pope’s visit this fall, Hessert said, the church’s
digital evangelization efforts must be long-term and sustained if it is to
accomplish Christ’s command to “make disciples of all the nations.”
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is editor of the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.
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