Catholic Book Reviews
 

Transforming Parish Communications:
Growing the Church through New Media

by Scot Landry

 



Reviewed by Gordon Nary


I first became aware of this book via an email from the Archdiocese of Chicago's Parish Transformation Team who commented
 
  "Pope Francis has called Catholics to take their faith outside of churches and personal comfort zones and into the streets. In Transforming Parish Communications: Growing the Church through New Media, author and Catholic media expert Scot Landry shows Catholics how to take the Gospel everywhere using social media.

According to the author, nearly every non-practicing Catholic in the United States is likely connected with at least one engaged Catholic — and is perhaps only one “retweet” or “like” away. “My goal is to inspire all parishes and parishioners to use new media as a central tool of evangelization,” he says. 

Many Catholics are more comfortable sharing their faith online than in person, but likely need pointers and encouragement to be most effective. Transforming Parish Communications gives readers — from pastors, to parish leaders, to lay Catholics — the rationale, tools and motivation to reach out using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Catholics can become “digital missionaries,” with the ability to relate the Gospel to people in the next cubicle, next town, or across the world,"
 


I then discovered Scot Landry's video introducing himself and providing a background on his book,


There has been a significant exodus of baptized Catholics from the church and especially young adults for a variety of reasons. But one of the most significant may be best expressed by Strother Martin (as a prison warden) in the film Cool Hand Luke.
 
 

Transforming Parish Communications provides dioceses. parishes, and parishioners - especially youth and young adult ministries - with some of the tools to more effectively communicate with younger parishioners and help reverse this trend as well as evangelize new members.

There have been many significant endorsements of this book. including one by Msgr. Paul Tighe, Secretary, Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who wrote
 
  "Scot Landry is to be complimented on this most timely and useful publication. He both reminds us why the Church needs to be present in the ‘new continent’ of social media and tells us how to make our presence effective. He shows us how the traditional welcome offered by our parishes to those who come searching for a ‘home’, where they may find mercy and healing, hope and meaning, can be extended to far more people if we are attentive to participate in the conversations and dialogue that are emerging across new media platforms.

Scot’s great achievement is in offering very concrete suggestions as to how individual Catholics and parish communities can take their first steps into the digital space. His suggestions are eminently practical and serve to remove some of the fear factors that may inhibit parish initiatives. He puts us on our way and encourages us to be ‘thoughtful practitioners’ who learn from doing. As we become more at home as ‘citizens’ of the networks, we will be better able to evaluate how effective we are in listening to, conversing with, encouraging and, ultimately, bringing to meet Christ those we encounter in this environment. If we share our learning with one another in the Church, we can grow together and share the Good News of God’s love with all those men and women for whom social media are an essential dimension of their lives.

Scot has very generously shared with us his accumulated learning and experience in working with new media in the mission of the Church. His enthusiasm and competence make him a great guide and companion for those who are venturing into this arena; his great familiarity with the area and the thoroughness of his presentation ensure he has much to offer to those who are already engaged.
"
 

Here are the titles of the chapters with a few of the several summery points for each chapter:
 
1.  Reaching The Lost
 
  • The majority of Catholics today in the United States are "lost" from the church to some extent (infrequent, inactive, or ex-Catholics.
  • Social media can be a game changer for the Church. Those who are "lost" are likely connected on Social Media with Catholics who are engaged.

2.  Encountering Christ In the New Media

  • New media is a place where so many people spend significant portions of their time - and if we're going to meet them, we have to be willing to meet them where they are.
  • Through our presence on new media, the Church can reach people who would ordinarily not hear the Gospel.

  3.  Overcoming Fears and Obstacles

  • Overall, the Church has been hesitant to embrace the new media....Part of the slow response might be resistance to change in general, where parishes believe they lack the expertise, time, money and energy, motivation and compelling rational to do this well,,,.
  • The biggest reason, however, that the new media has not been adopted fully at many parishes. Evangelization (reaching the lost, inviting them to become growing disciples in a community) is not acted upon as the top priority and central mission of the parish because parishes are in maintenance mode (or survival mode) and because many parishioners act as "demanding consumers," instead of evangelizing evangelizers.

  4.  Parishes: Animating Hubs for Catholic New Media

  • Parishes are called to be centers of evangelization and to reach the lost in their communities. The 2012 synod on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith" stated that parishes should become animators and parishioners agents of the new Evangelization.
  • Unfortunately, many parishes and parishioners today only spend a minimal amount of their time on the task of evangelization. With 70 percent or more of Catholics not coming to church and many unchurched, atheists, and agnostics in our communities, there are many people we can be reaching with invitations to join us in conversation and community.

  5.  Launching a New Media Outreach Initiative

  • A team (commission) provides the human resources necessary to carry on a large initiative and to reach the entire parish. A newly formed commission signals that this is a significant priority and the beginning of a new effort. It also allows for creativity and innovation, as well as the opportunity to involve new leaders within the parish.
  • Select an initiative and commission name that is straight forward (and easy to remember) so that everyone naturally understands what its work is about and is easy to remember.

  6.  A Consistent Digital Identity

  • Consistency in your name across various new media makes your parish easier to find and easier for your message to get through the clutter of a noisy work.
  • Select a name that will be intuitive and easy to remember for all in your parish community. A combination of your parish name and town (e.g.,SaintBernadetteFallRiver.com) or a combination of town name and Catholic (e.g.,LexingtonCatholic.org) are two recommended approaches.

  7.  A Website: The Parish's Virtual Front Door

  • Parishes need to be wise to set a goal and select tactics that encourage parishioners to visit the parish website for new content at least a couple of  times during the workweek, if not daily.
  • The Church would be strengthened if all parishes were to set a high bar for their digital presence, annually evaluated their efforts against the parishes nominated and selected by parish website contests, and committed to a path of continuous improvement.

  8. Blogs: Integrating Communications

  • Blogs are discussions or informational sites published on the Internet in separate entries, articles, and posts.,,,Blogs can be an effective way of beginning a conversation with someone who is lost and away from the Church.
  • Parishes can start a blog to focus online efforts, drive traffic to the website, make it easier to share parish information on the website and through social media, integrate video and other forms of media  on the website, and encourage reflection and dialogue in the comments section.

  9,  Email. Twitter, Facebook: Sharing and Dialogue

  • The tools of social media have developed significantly over the past several years and will continue to evolve.  The principle, however, of using digital tools to direct traffic to your home base will remain.
  • The main obstacle to embracing these will never be money, just time. these tools are straightforward and quick to learn, particularly with the tools available on line....

 10. Electronic Giving and the Parish Mission

  • Electronic giving (e-giving) has many benefits for parishes and parishioners. it is a critical service that should be integrated into the parish website. The e-giving option is consistent with a news media approach to growing discipleship and stewardship.
  • Establishing an e-giving program gets the parish halfway to the goal. The other major element is ongoing promotion of the program by launching it in a big way, recognizing the growth and eventually asking parishioners to give it a try.  Communicate that there is a preferred method from the perspective of the parish to provide financial support.

Like Moses, Scot Landry has given us the ten commandments of more effective communication and evangelization. Transforming Parish Communication is a treasure chest of information and resources that have the potential of reversing the continued loss of current Catholics and introducing others to the love of Christ and the message of the Gospels.