What role can social media play in evangelization?
These days, one is hard-pressed to find people who speak positively about social media. In fact, a quick Google search of the term "social media" brings about doom-and-gloom articles discussing how social media have brought about the ruin of our institutions, turned us into antisocial scrollers and are the root source of depression and anxiety.
I am not one to discount or deny the negative aspects of social media, particularly as it relates to the Catholic Church, but I take a different approach.
Social media, especially Catholic social media, can be a difficult, hostile place. These days, we often see discussion devolve into debate, and debate devolve into fighting, and fighting devolve into mudslinging. The current climate in the Catholic Church has supercharged this phenomenon in an ugly way.
It is for these very reasons that faithful Catholics must take our message of love of and trust in Jesus Christ to social media. Now is the time to show the world what it means to be a Catholic, to love our neighbor, to advocate for life in all of its forms and to be in awe of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Social media allow us to communicate with hundreds of thousands of people with one click -- so what better place to spread this message of hope and love than Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram)?
Using social media to witness to Christ, and hopefully, to evangelize in his name, starts by treating social media as an end in itself, not just a means to an end. Pope Francis, in his 2016 message for World Communications Day, alluded to this:
"Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology that determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal."
It is extremely important to use our social media outlets to invite people to Mass, adoration, confession and Catholic events, but we can't only use our social media in this way. Rather, we must acknowledge that our Facebook friends, or the accounts following our parish's Twitter account, are communities themselves.
That means we must use social media to minister to and feed these communities by offering them content that will help them encounter Jesus in some way. Whether it is an inspiring or comforting quote from Scripture, live streaming Masses or events, or catechetical videos that share the richness of our Catholic tradition, we need to offer something of substance to our friends and followers.
If we share meaningful content, we can use social media to bring people into an encounter with Christ every single day.
Meaningful content is two things: authentic and vulnerable. In a world where lives are lived on social media, where we are bombarded with advertisements and noise, people crave authenticity. They desire something stable, something comforting and something that helps them make sense of their crazy lives. That something is actually someone, and his name is Jesus Christ.
In my role as director of digital media at the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I've found people respond strongly to short videos, authentic reflections and spiritual graphics. Most of all, they respond to our bishop, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, who uses social media to post daily reflections, ask questions and offer prayers.
Likewise, parishes that use their social media to highlight their parishioners, share words of wisdom from their pastor, and provide prayer and reflection resources to the faithful are all authentically using social media for the betterment of their parishioners.
Social media must also be vulnerable. These days, many people live their lives on social media, meaning they open themselves up to the inherent and constant vulnerability that comes from putting their hopes, dreams, emotions, opinions and day-to-day experiences out on display for all to see.
Since they live their lives this way, they expect the institutions they follow to live this way too. That's why it is so important for our parishes, schools and dioceses to have fun on social media, to use informal language and to show people "the behind the scenes" of the institution.
This allows us to show that the church is made up of people, with all of their triumphs and tribulations, all trying to serve God as best they can. In this way, we are both authentic and vulnerable.
We cannot resign ourselves to indifference or cynicism simply because social media sites can often be desolate places. Rather, if we bring a spirit of love and joy, rooted in Christ, to everything we do on social media, we can provide an incredibly compelling example to a searching world.
Christ himself tells us: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 12:35).
There is nothing more authentic, no narrative more powerful and no message more challenging than the Gospel. Let us strive to share it through our example of loving witness on social media.
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(John Grosso is director of digital media at the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.)