BUFFALO — Yvette Wilson-Gardner’s parents helped build Chicago’s Holy Name of Mary Church, the first black parish to construct its own building in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Now she wants to build a new, digital church to reach out to today’s young, digital generation.
Wilson-Gardner said the parish’s Web site is still “pre-Vatican II” and needs help to expand the bare-bones information on the parish’s youth ministry.
She picked up several ideas from a July 13 workshop at the 10th National Black Catholic Congress’ session “Communication, Education and Evangelization through Modern Technologies.”
At the workshop, Christopher Boudy of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in New Orleans, who is co-author of the soon-to-be-released Technology in Youth Ministry: Guidelines for Effective Communication and Evangelization, said today’s young adults and youths are building entire communities of friends online, including people they’ve never met.
That’s why Boudy is calling for youth and young-adult ministries to follow the digital generation onto social-networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, the Christian-oriented Youth Ministry Exchange and the video-sharing site YouTube.
Rather than trying to drive traffic to a parish Web site, Boudy said youth-ministry sites might be better off at going to the social-networking sites where youths and young adults are hanging out. He said these sites show that young people are searching to fill their spiritual and social needs.
“You can fill them up with the Holy Spirit,” said Boudy, who at age 16 began the Web site-building company CBX WebDesigns. “You can create something they will want to download.”
Boudy, who is a Web master at the Tulane University Library, coordinated the congress’s Youth and Young Adult Cyber Center, which showed off new technology and its role in ministry. He said youth and young-adult ministers can use the latest electronic gadgets, tools and software to evangelize and communicate with young people.
He cited the example of the Bible. Today’s teens and 20-somethings don’t have to turn the pages of a Bible — they can listen to the Bible on CD, watch it on DVD or read it digitally through programs such as e-Bible, which will send Scripture passages to a portable electronic device.
Boudy said video-conferencing programs and Web cameras, which cost about $25, could allow two faraway parishes to partner together, allow someone deployed overseas to chat with family and friends back home, or allow a guest speaker to host a question-and-answer session for a virtual audience.
He encouraged parishes to spark discussion by adding audio or video to digital presentations of topics such as the war in Iraq or Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts.
Web sites are necessary to reach a digital audience, Boudy said, noting blogs and Web site-building programs can make it easy for a ministry to create a Web site with calendars, photos of events and information about activities in which young people have participated. Other relevant online tools include digital bulletin boards or forums to spark discussion on issues, virtual mentoring and offering podcasts, which are similar to radio broadcasts.
“Adults may have a lot of negativity because there are a lot of bad things on the Web, but wouldn’t it be great to present in an uplifting way the message of God?” Boudy said.
Boudy cited a variety of ways to publicize youth-ministry events, including e-mailing a flier created in a desktop-publishing program. But even this technology is not cutting-edge, he noted.
“E-mail is old,” Boudy said. “The new thing now is text messaging.”
Several Web sites offer free text messaging to cell phones, which he said could be used to alert youth-group members the day before an event. Database programs also can be used to manage contact information, e-mail addresses and cell numbers for members of a ministry, he said.
One of the best ways to expand a youth ministry’s digital presence is to ask youths to help, Boudy noted.
“They will feel uplifted,” he said. “They will feel like they have a purpose, and you benefit, because they can teach you, like you teach them.”
Boudy said the cost should not prevent people from trying out the ideas. He said most of the equipment needed is free or less than $100. Even a basic computer system may be found for about $299, he said. A youth ministry also can fundraise for the equipment, he added.
“What you are doing is ministry work,” Boudy said. “When they see you taking the commitment to better their lives, they will step up.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Added tips on using technology to evangelize may be found at www.congressxvcc.com.