FaceBook page from Grants Pass parish.
FaceBook page from Grants Pass parish.
This scene could be playing out in a church near you right this minute. Someone suggests adopting social media, and gets a response akin to the one:  

“I do indeed realize social media is all the rage. Let us enter into prayer for discernment for an inordinately long period of time about how we might use social media at this church.” 

The playful video posted on YouTube by church communications consultant Meredith Gould pokes fun at the quandary many churches face: How do you create a careful, concrete plan to use communication tools for evangelization when the very nature of the media is ever-changing?  

“It's a new day in church work: the computer has replaced the pen, 15 minutes seems like eternity, and if you don't get your message out fast, the audience disappears,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Church leaders – especially youth ministry leaders - in the Archdiocese of Portland have adopted social media plans to keep in touch with the people of the parish.

“Just as the Holy Father said, we should try to use the media that are available to us today to evangelize,” said Michal Horace, director of Youth and Young Adults Ministry for the archdiocese.

New media are a way of communicating to those who the church minsters to, Horace said, but parish leaders also want to make sure they are using the tools with care and caution to protect the church and the young people who most often utilize the media.

There are privacy issues –ministry leaders are cautioned against adding names or other identifying information to photos or text content. Keeping up-to-date with the changing platforms can also be a challenge.

“It’s a moving target, the media du jour is changing constantly and while email was very popular for connecting with youth a few years ago, then it became Facebook, and from what I’m hearing from youth minsters, that’s falling out. Now kids are turning to Twitter,” Horace said.

Natalie Scott, director of youth ministry at St. Anne Church in Grants Pass, updates a Facebook profile she created as a place for parishioners to check in about activities.

“Teens don’t read bulletins, they barely pay attention to flyers, but what they do pay attention to is Facebook,” Scott said.

Unfortunately, keeping the site up-to-date is sometimes too time-consuming to fit into Scott’s busy schedule.

Jason Kidd, coordinator of youth ministries at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, keeps the church social media fresh by consulting experts – the young people who use social media. He has established a trained youth publicity and communications committee.

“They know it better than I do, and they are on it more frequently,” Kidd said. “It’s an opportunity for them to serve and give back while not having a giant commitment.  They can do the work from their computer at home or from their phone.”

Members of the youth groups share photos from church events, which in turn drums up interest from their friends. Using Facebook to advertise events, or to let people know about prayer requests, has been great, Kidd said.

“All of a sudden you’ll see 500 likes and 50 comments from people saying they are praying. That’s incredible,” Kidd said.

Parents also pay attention. In fact, they’re often the ones sending requests for Kidd to post more photos of the activities in which their children participate.  

“It is by no means a replacement for community and relationships, but it is a starting point to reach kids where they are,” Kidd said. “And they are there for hours every day.”