Bishop Robert Barron has pioneered a “digital strategy” for the American Church. His Word on Fire Catholic Ministries reaches millions of viewers with inspiring, informative content. Barron and his team are savvy: their videos are sharp and well-produced, rivalling any secular multimedia outlet.
Now they are tackling a major challenge to the Church that has evangelists stumped: how to re-engage with lapsed Catholics. Seventy-five per cent of American Catholics don’t attend Mass regularly. Even with the 25 per cent who do show up on Sunday, only about seven per cent are otherwise involved in parish life. Those tight-knit communities where churches were the centre of social life have disappeared. Older Catholics remember when meeting one’s future wife at Mass and taking her to a parish dance was the norm of courtship. For a younger generation, it’s virtually impossible to imagine.
Barron has just launched “Word on Fire Engage”, which allows parish staff to send videos to all of their congregants simultaneously. Viewers are then invited to ask questions and take quizzes – anonymously, if they prefer – with the hope of reintroducing them to the beauty of the Faith and the church community.
We might chuckle at the initiative’s millennial phrases such as “Happiness Engineer” (ie tech support). And the idea of spamming one’s entire congregation may appear counter-productive. But the reality is that traditional media isn’t always effective in reaching out to the lapsed. Television shows such as Journey Home and Catholics Come Home, spotlighting converts and reverts, are reasonably popular with the devout. But it’s harder to imagine someone who is indifferent to the Faith tuning into EWTN in order to be re-evangelised.
A more aggressive and interactive method that consciously distances itself from traditional Catholic media may be the key to filling out the pews between Easter and Christmas.