Using social media as an evangelization tool

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Lindsay Steele
Colleen Darland, Sarah Adams and Patrick Schmadeke discuss social media evangelization at St. Vincent Center in Davenport last month. Schmadeke is director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Darland is the office’s administrative assistant, and Adams served as a summer project associate.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

This summer, the diocesan Office of Evangelization has been researching methods to help parishes, schools and chancery offices effectively engage people, especially younger adults, on social media.

“We wanted to look at social media as an opportunity to evangelize,” said Patrick Schmadeke, diocesan director of Evangelization. “There is a collective awareness that we need to have an active presence online.” Upon formation of the Evangelization Office earlier this year, “this was an immediate need that was recognized … Bishop Thomas Zinkula recognized this need, and others recognized this need.”

The office hopes to release a set of resources later this year for diocesan entities to use to expand their circle of influence among people ranging from believers to non-believers.

To help with this task, the office hired St. Ambrose University graduate Sarah Adams as a summer project associate. Adams, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, is working on a Master of Theological Studies degree through St. Louis University. “Sarah has a very clear understanding of ministry as well as the needs of young adults and is able to blend these two skills naturally,” Schmadeke said. “Engaging in the digital world effectively is part of what the church of the future needs to do.”

For Adams and the Evangelization office, which includes Administrative Assistant Colleen Darland, the first task was to get an idea of how diocesan entities are using social media. “It’s important to see what is happening on the ground in parishes, schools and chancery offices currently.

This gives us a baseline to move forward with intentionality,” said Darland. “We greatly appreciate the work they are doing,” Adams said, noting the strong effort that entities throughout the diocese put into their social media presence.

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The second step of the process included adapting already established frameworks, including those created by Grotto Network and theologian and retired Bishop Edward Braxton. These tools helped specify the kinds of content that might be appealing to a range of target audiences. For example, an inspirational and encouraging Scripture passage would be more likely to gain the attention of a nonbeliever, whereas a post geared toward building community in a parish would be more attractive to people already engaged in the church. “By specifying different audiences, it helps us meet people where they’re at; it doesn’t replace in-person ministry, but it’s a door to it,” Schmadeke said. Adams said they learned that posting on social media doesn’t have to be perfect, but posts should be intentional. “Walking with people on their faith journey is what we want to do.”

The final step, in process, is development of a framework to help refine efforts on social media already underway around the diocese. In the coming months, the Evangelization office hopes to establish itself as “a resource for digital evangelization in the Diocese of Davenport,” Schmadeke said.

The Evangelization office will not require diocesan entities to follow the framework, but offer it as a resource to help them reach their goals. “They know the needs and the specific content that would appeal to their particular communities better than we do,” Adams said. “The frameworks we’ve curated help unify our efforts and mission: meeting people with joy, love and acceptance, and bringing people to Jesus.”


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