Both Fr. Jim Martin and Br. Dan Horan take up the question of how the church is doing in the digital age. I’ll add to their comments by saying that I can answer the question easily and frankly. The church is doing awful, not just in the digital media but in the media in general.
And that, friends, is a recipe for disaster.
Br. Dan riffs on Fr. Jim’s article in America today by saying the following:
My delight stems from yet another affirmation of something that I’ve advocated — here and in non-digital venues — for some years now. Namely, the pastoral and theological presence of ministers of the Church online is not simply a curious exception to the “real-time” norm, but must become a second-nature presumption in a digital age. If we are called to preach the Gospel at all times and meet people where they are, then we must go to the asynchronous (and increasingly “faster-than real-time”) internet and the virtual spaces where so many of today’s people spend their time. We must venture into the web, offering a Christian voice in a largely consumer-driven virtual-world.
Amen! Some anecdotal stats to back this up.
I text students to send them reminders of upcoming events more often than emailing or even sending a facebook message.
Facebook is my primary interaction with 95% of my students. I see them all at least weekly, and when I do 50% of them make a comment about something they read on Facebook that I sent to them. Our theological conversations that occur often stem from these initial virtual conversations.
Most of them have registered for retreats, Alternative spring breaks, etc. online.
I’ve received a total of 754 questions, comments, or issues of serious pastoral concern via text, facebook or email over the last two years alone.
This year a former spiritual directee emailed me, letting me know that his brother’s ex-wife had just killed their two children and asked for spiritual assistance to get through the tragedy.
Of the 6 spiritual directees I see regularly, 5 of them text or email me regularly, asking about some kind of spiritual enhancement (a book to read, a site to visit, etc.)
If it wasn’t for the internet, I probably wouldn’t be doing ministry at all.
Now that said, the main point in all of this digital downloading is this:
If we want to connect with young people, we have to hustle. They are no longer seeking us, we need to seek them and provide an opportunity to connect our wisdom with their busy lives. That connection needs to be a personal one, a one on one connection in real time with another, but it also must be enhanced by digital means. It may even start there and move into a more personal relationship.
Secondly, we have to teach people how to be more appropriate with their technology. The phone is still a good tool to use now and again, especially if something is more important. In person is even better. Sometimes we need to turn off our stuff and actually have a conversation.
And sometimes we don’t need to turn it off either. Technology is useful but more important in today’s world it is necessary. It’s how people communicate and tell one another about things that are going on. A link on facebook pointing “friends” to a good article has probably (and this is me estimating) a 95% chance of being clicked on by your top 100 friends. If you told them via word of mouth without handing them the article I doubt they’d read it at all. If you even handed them the article you have to trust that they won’t lose it. Convenience is the key, but more importantly, becoming the trusted source for the areas in which you are really an interesting pundit and expert in is what is most valuable.
The great pastoral minister, John Roberto, recently said at a conference that we all need to become “Online Curators.” That there is so much stuff out there already that we need not create more stuff (though we can if we feel called to) but rather we need to sift through the stuff to find the really excellent stuff and then we need to push that to our constituents. It’s what I try to do here most often. I want to say to readers, “Hey this is kind of interesting…what do you think?”
95% of the time, they tell me what they think on Facebook and not on this blog. Hence the need to be engaged in the world of social media.
Bottom line…as Catholics we all have a responsibility to curate the online Catholic museum. That museum is always open and always aimed at those we are able to be in contact with through our own connections. The connections that we’ve hustled to create a groundswell of support for our expertise. Those that trust us for the interesting thoughts we have and the places we offer to send people to are paramount for us to nurture.
Both online and off. For at the end of the day there is one truth that remains:
The geeks shall inherit the earth.