Communications Day cuts to heart of the message

| October 25, 2011 | 0 Comments
Communications Day

From left, Kelly Wahlquist of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute at the St. Paul Seminary, Bonnie Delaney, Sandy Rosetter and Jackie Jager, all of St. Joseph in Waconia, react to a humorous moment during Archdiocesan Communications Day Oct. 13 at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Fundamental mission of church is evangelization

Archbishop John Nienstedt welcomed about 525 parish and school leaders and priests to Archdiocesan Communications Day Oct. 13 and told them the church must use all means of communication to continue its mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“We are committed to embracing social media,” he said during the gathering at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie with the theme “Ever Ancient, Ever New.”

He added that the archdiocese is working on unified protocols to ensure better communication with parishes, schools and parishioners.

The local church, he said, has three “high-level goals” of improved communication:

  • evangelization and re-evangelization, the fundamental mission of the church;
  • fostering improved communications between the chancery and parishes, schools and other organizations; and
  • making a commitment “to telling our story — maintaining good public relations and providing accurate information about the events and initiatives of this local church.”

The day — a collaborative effort of The Catholic Spirit, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Coalition of Ministries Associations — included sessions featuring several national speakers.

After the introduction by Archbishop Nienstedt and Father Peter Laird, vicar general and moderator of the curia, the morning session included a video on the theology of communication.

The session continued with comments followed by a question-and-answer session with John Allen Jr., senior National Cath­olic Reporter correspondent who is frequently seen on CNN addressing Catholic issues; Paul Henderson, director of planning and operations with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Department; and Lino Rulli, host of “The Catholic Guy” show on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

Heart of church’s mission

The archdiocesan strategic plan, announced a year ago, was developed to make the name of Jesus Christ known and loved by “proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed through vibrant parish communities, quality Catholic education and constant outreach to the poor and marginalized,” the archbishop said.

“Communication . . . is at the heart of the church’s mission through­­out the world,” he said.

The archdiocese, he said, is in the process of hiring a new communications director who will oversee a newly reorganized communications office that will coordinate all print, electronic and video efforts.

“We’ve developed a model, with your input, of how the office can better interact with and support par­ishes, schools and other organizations within this local church,” he said. Regional meetings to hear the communication needs in the archdiocese will take place early next year, and training sessions in new media will be offered by the end of 2012.

John Allen Jr., left, Paul Henderson and Lino Rulli answer questions from attendees at Archdiocesan Communications Day Oct. 13. (Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit)

Father Laird followed up the archbishop’s comments, saying that beyond the communications office, the archdiocese is re­vamping its website,  which will have a consistent message through graphics and text, to make it more helpful and accessible.

“To use some secular language . . . we at the archdiocese have to get clear on our ‘brand value,’” Father Laird said. “It’s really the Gospel.” The hope is that when people see the new archdiocesan logo, they “will find in the brand of our archdiocese — the local church — a value that they intuitively and readily think of so they can pass on the faith to a new generation.”

In January 2012, he added, the archdiocese will launch a “new brand” for schools and put its foot into social media.


Face challenges with patience and availability

John Allen Jr.

Senior National Catholic Reporter correspondent who is frequently seen on CNN addressing Catholic issues

John Allen Jr. outlined the challenges the church faces  in getting out its message.

One example he offered was the overwhelming negative messages about the clergy abuse crisis in 2002. During the same year, the Catholic Church educated 2.3 million children, many of whom were poor and not Catholic. The church also provided $600 million in health care at Catholic hospitals and clinics, and 10 million families were served by Catholic Charities.

“The church must be in the content business” because word of that outreach does not reach the outside world, he said.

To be successful, Allen said the church must use qualities such as patience, availability, universality and humor.

Too many Catholic parishes today seem to be made up of people who think alike, so they aren’t talking with friends who have a different point of view, he said.

“We need a grassroots determination to build zones of friendship,” he said. “Dialogue can’t accomplish anything if people don’t want to talk.”

But don’t wait for the church to create a program, he said.

“Think of yourself as the architects of these zones in the church” because change begins at the bottom.


Leaders called to dialogue

Paul Henderson

Director of planning and operations with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Department

Paul Henderson told participants that the role of church leaders is changing.

Developments in new media, which encourage interactive participation among users, are changing the role of leaders from being gatekeepers to facilitating and mentoring communication and dialogue.

Catholics are mission-driven, he said.

“We want people to develop a deeper relationship with Christ,” he said. The framework for that mission includes:

1. leading through the vision of mission;

2. creating a message and content that impacts people and:

3. engaging people.

The vision drives the action, he said. So, you must begin with the end in mind, find the right people to deliver the message and be willing to take a risk. Although more bishops are blogging and using other social media, the USCCB needs to help them create a unified approach.


Almost too old to comment

Lino Rulli

Host of “The Catholic Guy” on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio

Rulli provided a personal and humorous perspective on the under-40 perspective, adding that in just days he would no longer be among that group.

To reach people from 18 to 40, church communicators must remember what it is like to be their age, he said. Young adults need to have someone they can relate to, someone who understands questions like, “Why is it important to go to Mass every Sunday?” and “Why should someone go to confession and tell their sins to a priest?”

Rulli’s answer: “I want to be right with God. I want to know there is a plan for my life and peace in my life.”

“Youth can relate to this,” he said.


Rules of the new media road

Matthew Warner

Founder of flockNote.com, TweetCatholic.com and a National Catholic Register blogger

Lisa Hendey

Blogger  and founder of CatholicMom.com

Noting that 80 percent of Americans use social media like Facebook and Twitter, Hendey and Warner presented five new media rules of ministry communication:

1. The parishioner is in control.

Communicators must respect parishioners’ time and attention and make it easy for them to connect, Warner said. Church communicators must speak to people in ways they want, often through social media, and listen more than talk.

2. Your website matters.

It’s the “home base” for new media efforts and leaves a lasting first impression about a parish or school.

3. Reach people where they already are.

Having a social media presence alone is not enough. There must be engagement and dialogue with social media users to make connections and create meaningful relationships.

4. Don’t give up.

Parishes and schools should tap into local talent and resources for help and ideas, Hendey said.

5. Engage their hearts first.

Technology will not bring people back to the church, people will, Warner said. Church communicators can seek to inspire others and build meaningful relationships through social media and other means.


Cultivate the positive

Lou Carbone

Author of “Clued In, How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again & Again” and founder of Experience Engineering, Inc.

Carbone spoke about the importance of personal experience and its impact on how people feel about a business or organization like the church.

A self-identified “satellite Catholic” who has struggled with the changes in the church following the Second Vatican Council, Carbone told a heartwarming story of how a priest created a positive experience for his daughter who sought to get married in the church. Such positive experiences are what the church needs to cultivate, he said.

Video of the speakers from Archdiocesan Communications Day and a theology of communication video will be featured on the website soon. The latter video is narrated by Father Jan Michael Joncas, a priest of the archdiocese and associate professor of Catholic studies and theology at the University of St. Thomas.

Also visit the website to view other resources from Archdiocesan Communications Day, including the PowerPoint presentations of some presenters.

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