So, you’re excited about your faith and want to share it. You want to evangelize! You realize that much of the world has moved online and fear that will be a great place to share it. But how?
I’ve seen everything. I saw a Twitter account with fewer than 100 followers claiming to be at the forefront of social media evangelization. On the other hand, Common Catholic Girl told me that she started simply as a way to express her Catholicism, which her friends at Auburn didn’t understand. She is now one of the strongest Catholic voices evangelizing young people on Twitter.
Before I get into the five tips, I want to make a note about the term evangelization. I will use evangelization in the broad sense to include both those who bring people into the Church and those who help Church members deepen their relationships with Jesus. I think we need both types. A mystical blog like “St. John of the Cross Today” will help Catholics deepen their prayer life. “The Over-Caffeinated Housewife” might draw a lot of moms in who are not Catholic, and then they begin considering the faith from how this mom weaves her faith and life together.
If you’re a homemaker with three little tykes, don’t be afraid to write a mommy blog. If you’re a theology nerd, don’t be afraid at coming off nerdy. (Some of my best friends are nerds.) Write about what interests you and might interest others as well. Don’t feel obliged to use official vocabulary – explaining something in your own words is WAY more helpful and it’s personal. If you follow the official explanation too closely, you sound inauthentic or pushing a party line. If you aren’t good at one-liners, don’t go on Twitter where you’ll need 10 tweets to say something. Use your own voice.
You have a voice but you may need to discover it. Just start writing about what interests you, and generally after a few blogs or a month on Twitter, you will realize where your interests are.
Don’t be afraid if your voice changes with you. My own blogging began as a youth ministry discussion while I was studying theology in Rome. Then over the past year, my blog has moved more towards a cross in explaining theology in simple terms, Catholic punditry, and Catholic social media.
If you want to reach young people, your own voice is particularly important: millennials value authenticity over a slick presentation. I appeared in a video produced by Elite Daily that really stressed authenticity by using a raw shooting style (Elite Daily a secular website for those who think BuzzFeed is for old people). Millennials loved it while those in my parents’ generation wondered why it couldn’t be smoother.
Another important aspect for evangelizing is that the authentic voice for many of you will mix your faith with some other aspect of life. In this way you can reach that subculture with the Gospel. We need Catholic wine tasters, Catholic model railway enthusiasts, Catholic fishermen, and Catholic cyclists who bring the Gospel to those parts of society.
Beyond all these things, you will likely not be motivated to keep a blog up if you’re trying to be somebody you aren’t. This is a challenge. If you write about what interests you, it’s much easier to think of material and write it well.
Say what you want to say and sit down. Don’t couch yourself in long, boring rambling or use filler phrases. If you are an expert on gun control say “Gun control is (or is not) pro-life” not “I think that it might be true that, um, gun control is often embroiled in some way with the pro-life cause.” Clarity is charity in writing.
Make a clear thesis statement and outline as this will force you to put strong sentences in your blog. When you sit down to write a blog, it is often best to write an outline that includes the powerful statements you want to begin each section with. You can fill out the details later. If you just begin from the beginning, your blog can easily become rambling and lack of boldness.
Boldness also makes you sound authentic: people who really believe things state them in clear, unequivocal terms. Politicians who are more worried about possibly offending anyone than stating in their beliefs use convoluted terminology.
Boldness is also shown by taking strong and courageous stances. Defending Catholic moral teaching usually involves a bold stance. Even at times, assuming you are an expert in the field, you need to take bold stances within the Church. Right now there is a vigorous but healthy debate regarding “spiritual friendship” as a method of ministry to those with same sex attraction. Those on both sides help us understand the issue by taking clear and bold stances. They also show how we can take a bold stance while keeping decorum and charity that seem uncommon in modern politics, especially online.
Don’t say anything online you wouldn’t say in person with CNN running a live feed of it. You may be seen as the Church’s voice. Don’t step beyond your competence: if you have studied little theology you can summarize Scot Hahn but don’t try and speculate about theology you only vaguely understand. A paragraph ago I mentioned a debate in the Church where I didn’t take sides as I’m not sure and don’t consider myself an expert in that field, even though my question led to an informative blog on Spiritual Friendship.
Prudence also involves consultation as you might have a speculative insight, check with an expert, and post once he says it’s fine. I have a friend who used to be a newspaper reporter and he reviews my blogs whenever they might be controversial: that way I avoid saying things that could be misinterpreted.
That leads us to another aspect of prudence: do not cause controversy unnecessarily. Sometimes you need to state something that will be controversial and feel free to do so as long as it’s backed up. For example, linking breast cancer and the pill, or claiming there is no link is controversial, but if you’re a medical researcher who’s investigated it, you need to tell us.
On social media, timing and avoiding misinterpretation are important too. For example, right after a mass shooting, post prayers and condolences for a few days before posting political comments about it. Social media is up-to-the-minute but we need to consider how what we post might be interpreted differently – I haven’t deleted many tweets, but almost all have been because in my attempt to be concise, I left myself open to interpretation that was objectionable.
Distinguish between fact and opinion: it is a fact that a homosexual orientation is not sinful in itself; anything you say about what causes that is opinion. You are free to have opinions but it is extremely important to distinguish Church doctrine from your personal opinion. Your personal opinion might be that everyone should pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily, but there is no obligation on Catholics to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily.
Never attack the hierarchy directly. Even in those rare occasions you need to correct anyone in authority in the Church, be very careful about competence and keep it on ideas not persons.
Avoid joining the dark side of the Catholic blogosphere: I can name at least three relatively popular Catholic blogs which I avoid like the plague, because the majority of their content is about what’s wrong with this parish, that Bishop, or such and such Catholic institution often on very flimsy grounds.
Always look for the positive. The Church is being attacked by so many; we need to build her up. If your blog doesn’t build up the Church, don’t post it.
The technical capacities to deliver news that have expanded over the the last 25 years have also increased how many people see each negative news story. The Church is meant to be a beacon of hope. Providing a positive perspective allows us to give people hope in this imperfect world.
Check and recheck what you write; nothing throws most readers off a blog like bad grammar or typos. Every paragraph, every sentence and every word needs a purpose. Blogging is conversation but it is a formal conversation like a political debate or round-table forum over a casual conversation where small errors are easily forgiven – social media can tend a little towards casualness (I’ll tweet a typo about every 2 months or so and apologize as soon as I notice it with no lasting problems).
Also, be meticulous about designing your blog interface. When someone comes your blog, that interface takes on the equivalent role the same way that your outfit and how you carry yourself does when you’re meeting people. Do you want to come across as a businessman, an engineer or a flower girl?
Even though you’re writing with your own voice, it is important to be meticulous in choosing what you write about. If every blog involves lessons you learned from burning eggs, you’ll probably lose a good portion of your audience. On the other hand, if you have an expertise in some field, and something about that field has been in the news, you can probably make a valuable contribution even if you planned another topic this week.
Meticulousness also means keeping up a certain frequency in blogging. If you blog independently, you need to write at least once a week or many people will forget about you. If you join the group blog, you can often write less frequently but it is still important to keep some regularity. On the Catholic Stand, I’m required to have a blog post every fourth Wednesday but can submit another one or two during the month.
I don’t think these five tips for evangelizing via blogs and social media are guaranteed to make you a super-blogger, or get you 10,000 followers on Twitter. But these recommendations should help set you in the right line for evangelizing through these means. Everyone needs to apply all five tips but since the first tip is being yourself, the others will vary in application from a polemical pro-life blog to reflections on thankfulness.
Author’s Note: I have to thank two friends, John Yep and Fr John Bullock, LC, who each asked me for tips in this area in the past month and forced me to think through this and systemize it.