A few years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be participating in any sort of social networking activity. I was familiar with the terms “Twitter” and “Facebook”, but I believed that they were only used by young people who no longer understood how to interact face to face. However, as with so many of my preconceived ideas, I discovered that there is more to social networking than meets the eye. After using Twitter and Facebook for over a year, I have come to the conclusion that these tools are a highly effective way of following Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Furthermore, these services are free and can easily be used by any Catholic who has access to a computer.
Having been involved in Catholic evangelization for several years, starting at the local parish level and now on a much broader scale, I am always on the lookout for new ways to spread the “Good News”. I have utilized many methods ranging from my Internet website to national radio broadcasts. Each of these techniques has their benefit and I believe in using a combination of them in order to maximize my outreach. For instance, there are some people who listen to the radio, but don’t have access to the Internet. There are many who won’t read the Catechism, but will listen to someone speak about its contents. Therefore, if you want to reach a greater number of people, it’s best to use a combination of resources.
Even though I believed that Facebook and Twitter were colossal wastes of time, I finally decided to sign up for a Facebook account solely to connect with classmates and friends from my past. In a matter of days I realized how I could also use this tool to spread the teachings of the Catholic faith. About one month letter, I was speaking to a fellow Catholic and he suggested that I also start using Twitter for my ministry. I reluctantly took his advice and, approximately one year later, I am happy to report that both of these sites have proved to be valuable evangelization tools. As with any activity, social networking can be abused and turned into a waste of time. However, there are ways to utilize it for good purposes. Based on my own personal experience, here are a few suggestions for utilizing social networking sites as evangelization tools. I will concentrate on Facebook and Twitter, but these suggestions can be applied to other sites as well.
Pray with your online friends – One of the greatest blessings of social networking is the ability to pray with your online friends. On my Facebook fan page, I regularly ask for prayer requests and invite my followers to join me in praying for these intentions. Using this technology allows me to pray along with people in many different countries and provides an excellent reminder of the universal nature of the Church. I have also used Twitter to send out emergency prayer requests, which were instantly “re-Tweeted” and seen by a vast audience.
Join or follow Catholic groups/users – While it sounds simple, this is a very effective way to proclaim your Catholic faith. By following other Catholic users on Twitter or joining Catholic fan pages/groups on Facebook you can easily show your friends what is important to you without saying a word. Users of social networking sites are constantly monitoring who/what their friends are following. This can be a powerful witness and may be just what your friends need to see.
Include some religious links or messages – While it’s fine to tweet or post a message about what you had for lunch or that “work is boring”, why not mix in a religious message from time to time? It can be as simple as linking to a video or blog entry. If you want to be a little bolder, you can try posting a quote from a saint or the Bible. Depending on your audience, you may wish to be prudent and intersperse these messages with your routine posts. By doing so, you won’t alienate anyone who may not be ready for an abundance of spirituality.
Create a Catholic Facebook fan page/group – If you want to expand your evangelization outside of your circle of friends, you can easily create a Facebook fan page or group. There are many good Catholic pages and groups in existence, but there is always a need for more. You can make your page about the Catholic Church or a particular saint or religious figure. While there are subtle differences between Facebook groups and fan pages, they both allow you to attract followers who can read and reply to your posts. There is no fee for either and you may be surprised how many people will become members/fans. Once you create this page or group, the best way to attract followers is to make sure that you put out meaningful information. While you can always mix in messages about your current travels or personal opinions, I recommend that you use your group/fan page to send out short, pithy messages that will inspire others. I find that brief quotes from scripture, the saints, and inspirational figures such as Fulton Sheen and Mother Angelica work well. Many people are in a hurry nowadays and enjoy these brief spiritual messages.
Tweet inspirational quotes – While some people criticize Twitter’s 140 character limit as being “too short to say anything useful”, I totally disagree. As an example, consider the following quotes, all of which are within the limits:
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me (Jn 14:1).”
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28).”
“You may be the only Jesus your neighbor will ever see (Mother Angelica).”
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ (St. Jerome).”
While you certainly can’t elaborate or use lengthy passages, I have found Twitter to be a useful tool for spreading Catholic teaching. In addition to short quotes, you can also provide links to websites or blog entries which provide additional information. All of my blog entries are “tweeted” and my followers can easily click on the link to read the entire message.
As with books, television or radio, social networking can be abused and turned in to a time wasting activity. However, with a little creativity we can utilize its features to spread the gospel in a way that would make St. Paul proud. If he were alive today, I could almost imagine the following tweet being sent to his followers:
Grace 2 u & peace from God r Father & the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 1:7)!