Friday, 07 October 2016 08:25

Social Media for Ministry

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IMAGE Social Media for Ministry“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” This message from Mark 16:15 calls us so loudly today especially with the dawn of new media.

Throughout the history of Christianity, many different tools and methods have been used to share and proclaim the good news of our salvation. Currently, social media is a very easy, cheap and effective tool for evangelisation.

There are currently several social media platforms. These include: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. However, the most popular are Facebook and Twitter. YouTube is used to upload videos and are shared on Facebook and Twitter.

On 12 December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI launched an official Twitter account with the handle @Pontifex. When Pope Francis became Pope in 2013, the Vatican continued using the Twitter handle @Pontifex, which now has 9.8 million followers, to post Pope Francis’ sermons and quotes.

On Facebook, although there is an automatically generated Page (liked by over 2 million people across the world) based on what FB users are interested in, the Vatican does not seem to have an official FB page for Pope Francis. There is an unofficial page with over 700, 000 page likes and a dozen of other individually created pages and groups using Pope Francis’ name.

Aside from the Popes, many of our clergy are now using social media to spread God’s word and to transform people’s hearts and lives. It is essential that social media, as part of the new media tools, be utilised to reach as many people as we can.

Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles Archdiocese has been utilising new media, especially social media, in his work of evangelisation. Interestingly, he admitted that he does not know how to use many of these tools of social media. However, he has people who record his talks, sermons and interviews and then upload them into social media.

In Australia, our Bishops are now very much present in social media through their own diocesan communications offices. Some parish priests create slides of their sermons and make them into videos for YouTube. Some post their entire sermon on Facebook or on their blogs.

Religious Congregations, Dioceses, Catholic agencies, groups and parishes have Facebook and Twitter Accounts. It is interesting to note that as of today, it appears that there are only a few parishes, out of over a thousand Australian parishes, that have Facebook Accounts. Either the parish priests are not interested or none of the parishioners want to volunteer to manage it.

WHY should we use Social Media for Ministry?

1. For evangelisation
It is an opportunity for the clergy to share our faith and community with people wherever they are, 24/7.
It brings people the Good News in everyday language, images and photos.

2. For awareness
It gives the clergy and parish leaders access to people whether they are in church on Sunday or not.

3. For information sharing
Posts, photos, interviews, texts and short videos connect parishioners to the parish, even if it’s for a few seconds.

WHO Should Post on our Social Media account or the Parish Facebook Page?

1. Volunteer Parish Social Media manager
- Not just any young person
- Must have an evangelising mindset
- Work with clergy and parish office well
- Must have access to diocesan, national and general church information
- Know how to evangelise
- Know how to catechise

2. Parish priest
- Can post photos of his visits to parishioners (with their permission)
- His personal reflections
- His dog (yes, one parish priest posted a photo of him with his dog!)

3. Parish office staff
- Must be negotiated by the parish priest (as this is an extra responsibility that requires specific skills).

There is a misconception that only young people are into social media. However, your parish FB page is not a ‘post when I like’ project. Once parishioners click Like, they expect to see regularly posts that relate to them. Thus, there is a need for a mature and consistent person to manage it.

WHEN should we post?

A few times a week will be enough. Unless there are several events or programs starting soon, then perhaps more posts than usual can be expected.

WHAT to post?

- Celebrations – Baptisms, Confirmations, Weddings, Anniversaries etc
- Evangelising moments
- Reminders
- Introduction of parishioners and clergy and office workers

WHAT to watch out for?

- Internet Trolls – negative or inflammatory comments to provoke an emotional response
- Yes, faith-related social media posts get trolls.
- How to deal with trolls: either ignore or delete their comments or the full post
- Social Media Policy: ACBC, Diocesan and Parish Guidelines
- Respecting privacy – seeking permission before publishing, especially the presence of children

There are many different ways that we welcome and encourage parishioners to feel part of our faith community. And social media is a tool to share our witnessing of faith. This witness of faith is ministry.

Social Media for parish ministry is real work. It is not fad or play. It takes time, commitment, planning and execution, creativity and basic writing skills, graphic design skills and photography skills.

There is also a need for everyone in the parish: clergy, Parish Pastoral Councils and ministry leaders to realise, respect and appreciate this social media ministry within the community. Although the main audience will be parishioners who come to regular Sunday Masses, there is also an expectation that the posts are shared with those who are Catholics yet do not come to Mass anymore and those who are wondering what Catholics do and believe. We need to consider this when planning our content.

It is critical for parishes, as hubs of the New Evangelisation, to embrace new media, such as social media. Although not all our clergy are on social media, both our active and inactive parishioners are being engaged out there in the digital continent.

Yes, we need to create evangelisation opportunities that help bring people back to church. New media, specifically social media, has a huge part in reaching out to people we need to minister to.

So, as we witness social media rise and unfold to become mainstream media, it is important to realise that it is becoming an effective and efficient tool for ministry and evangelisation.