Imagine that it is 1954, and you and your family have just settled in to watch Archbishop Fulton Sheen during his weekly episode of Life Is Worth Living. During this particular episode Archbishop Sheen focuses on the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith. Everyone in your family room is enthralled as the Archbishop eloquently describes the the spiritual implications of receiving the Eucharist and its role in our spiritual development.
Well, that was 1954. Commercial television had only been developed a decade earlier, and was just beginning to grab a hold of the American public’s attention. In that time period of U.S. history, there were not thousands of cable channels, there was no Internet, and there certainly were no smart phones. Needless to say, things have changed… a lot. We’ve gone from the dawn of TV to the dependence on phones we call Androids and iPhones. According to a Pew Internet Study, today there are more mobile phones (327 million), than there are people in the U.S. (310 million). But who cares, what does it mean, and how can we make good use of it?
There are a whole bunch of people who care. In fact, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have made it their business (quite literally) to put a significant amount of their research and development budgets into grabbing as much share of the mobile market as possible. If that doesn’t mean much to you, then just take a poll of your particular parish or organization. Ask one simple question: Who accesses the internet via their cell phone? According to the same Pew study, 49% of your parish will say that they use their cell phone to access the internet. That’s half of your parish. That’s a number you should care about.
What Does It Mean?
The fact that half of any given parish is connecting to the web online means that we have a tremendous opportunity (responsibility?) to engage them with the Gospel message in a way that would make Archbishop Sheen leap for joy. This means that we have to be proactive about using this means to connect to this group of people. Cell phones provide the quickest way to deliver information immediately to the target audience.
If you think I am making this up, then stand next to most high school or college students with a smart phone for fifteen minutes. You will hear so many beeps and dings that you’ll think you’re standing next to R2-D2. This “R2-D2 phenomenon” is not just reserved for teens and 20-somethings. The same is true for the 30+ crowd, but the difference is that they have learned how to silence their phones. Those beeps and dings represent text messages and notifications from friends, Facebook, Groupon, Twitter, Draw Something, Google+, and a plethora of other apps. The question then becomes, “Where is Christ/the Church in all of this?” Which leads us to…
How Can We Make Good Use Of It?
There are many opportunities to make good use of this situation. But it requires the right frame of mind. First of all, if we are going to make good use of this technology, then we are going to need to become creative. We can’t just simply send out text message reminders about Mass times. We need to get involved in those beeps and dings. The means to do this is found in many of those tools that I listed above. Posting a note on the parish’s Facebook page once a week is good, but if the goal is to try and compete with all of the other noise that is coming through these phones, then parishes should make a strong effort to place someone in charge of being active on Facebook, Google+ and/or Twitter on a daily basis. If that sounds monumental, then start with a smaller step. But make daily social media activity the goal. I could go on about this for a long time, but I’ll save that for another article.
Another means of making good use of this new mobile evangelization is through immediate communication via text message. There are lots of options out there for group text messaging solutions (just Google those four words). So, find a solution that fits you, and then use it often. Here are just a handful of ways that I have thought of or seen parishes/schools using group text messaging:
- Reminders for important events
- Requesting volunteers
- A quick note to encourage a moment of prayer
- Cancellations of events
- Prayer chain notifications
But that’s just a start. The opportunities to utilize such a valuable means of communications are truly only limited by our imaginations.
Thinking back again to what life was like in 1954, I am struck by the enthusiasm with which Archbishop Sheen embraced the new medium of television. He was truly a forerunner to the yet to be announced call of John Paul II for all of us to “Put out into the deep.” To evangelize, catechize and reach out to our fellow parishioners in ways that are new and innovative. Getting your parish or organization involved in mobile communication is the frontier of the new technological evangelization.