Faith Gone Viral

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Yesterday, in preparation for my weekly appearance on The SonRise Morning Show with Brian Patrick, I posed the following topic to my friends on Facebook:

For those of you who aren’t on Facebook, or who missed the conversation, I thought I’d share this here along with my thoughts on a few of the topics we hit on in the comment boxes.  The topic was raised by Matt Swaim, SonRise’s producer and an amazing author.  The main point of discussion — how can we (or should we even try to) capture the energy of “viral” initiatives as a Church? We’ve all heard about the “Homeless Radio Announcer Guy” or the “Dancing Wedding Couple”.  Their stories spread so quickly and with such ferocity that both became overnight sensations.

For those of us who enjoy using social media — blogging, Facebook, Twitter — to share our faith, should we be aiming to “go viral” with the good news of Christ’s gospel?  Or is it more our aim to build relationships, to BE Christ to our loved ones, and to patiently endeavor to spread our faith through one to one discipleship?

I still don’t have the answers, but I learned a few things from yesterday’s conversation:

  1. Dialogue is essential. The news we seek to spread is not a flash in the pan, here today gone tomorrow trend.  It’s timeless, and for all eternity.  People will have questions, and we should welcome them rather than flaming them and sending them packing. Patience is a virtue that’s not popular these days – but in this case, our desired end result is one that’s worth the wait.
  2. Speed is essential. As Church, we must be well versed and adept with the new technologies, so that WE tell our story instead of letting someone else tell it and trusting them to get the facts and our meaning correct.
  3. Quality is essential. Ask Lino Rulli about the state of Catholic media and he’ll tell it to you straight. What we’ve done in the past won’t work in the future. We need to find compelling ways to share our good news in a way that is uplifting, emotional and yes, even fun.
  4. Friendship is essential. My Facebook friend Melanie said it best:

I’m not sure anyone can predict what exactly will go viral. It seems to me that it’s as much chance as anything. I think consistency of message and high quality is more important than trying to chase after an “it factor”. But I do think the effectiveness of social media to effect positive change comes down to relationships and authenticity. It’s got to be about making a connection with people. I think all too often where Catholic’s use of social media goes astray is that they are more concerned about the message and the medium than the people. It can easily slide into an attempt to manipulate people rather than to forge relationships with them. Which is so wrong precisely because the substance of our message is a Person and a Relationship. The only way to really effect positive change is to help people to know Christ, to be the face of Christ to them. To do that we need to be more than a message, rather we need to be fully, authentically ourselves. And I think we need to foster patience, which can sometimes seem at odds with the fast pace of new media. People don’t jump into a relationship overnight, they must grow into it gradually. There must be room for questions, for doubts, for hesitation and uncertainty. I think that by airing our own struggles and doubts we open up a space where we can meet people where they are at instead of seeming like we have all the answers. Melanie B.

Yesterday’s chat on Facebook still has me wondering about what difference my efforts can make in the overall scheme of things, or if my little voice is just one more bit of noise in an already overburdened arena of thoughts and conversation.  I continue to go back to last week’s World Communications Day message from Pope Benedict XVI, and to strive for humulity, for service, and for authenticity in my online communications. In the end, what brings me back to this space time and time again are the friendships I’ve built and the capacity for inspiration and education present online.  I want to learn, to grow, and to find ways to help others.

I’ll likely never create anything that goes “viral”, but if we work together with energy and with attention to the truth and to relationships, I still believe you and I have the capacity to change the world – and to have fun doing it.

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children’s fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa’s articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

6 Comments

  1. Good article and conversation Lisa. I liked what Pope Benedict said in the UK on his visit last year, that the Church’s role is not to make herself appealing to people, but rather to transparently present Christ to the world. Christ can’t be beat for power to attract, as the Son of God, and the treasure worth selling everything in order to have, there is nobody and nothing more attractive. I think as much as we can just present Christ as transparently as possible, we help others to experience Him too.

  2. I agree with what Melanie wrote. To me, the thing that is missing here (perhaps it was mentioned somewhere else) is the “call to action” that has to be there for real change. Clicking a “like” button, or leaving a “me too” type comment doesn’t really accomplish anything. Even something that goes viral really doesn’t do anything if all that happens is a hand off to the next person.

    Social media can be the focal point and the critical part of the mechanism of informing and sharing with people, but it becomes the responsibility of the person who receives the message to actually do the “thing” necessary to make change happen. The message can start the interior conversion needed to accept change, but it has to move on from there.

    I wish I had a better way of stating that.

  3. Steve, I think you stated it well. If you were to read all of those conversations that happened on Facebook yesterday, we hit on that in the middle of the conversation. What I see a need for is the same as what you’ve pinpointed here: that we not just create “feel good” moments, but that we drive real change. That we feed the hungry, care for the poor, and love as Jesus called us to love – each in our own ways of course. I love your comment!

  4. I like what Steve said in his comment. As an introvert, it’s very easy for me to spend too much time writing and reading, blogging and networking, without ever making a positive effect one-on-one, meeting the needs of any one person. And, Lisa, I wonder, like you, if I’m just another piece of the noise, or am I really helping to affect change. There is so much to contemplate and take to prayer!

  5. Wow, thanks, Lisa!

    I like what Steve says about both the need for a “call to action” and the “interior conversion”.

    However, I don’t think that all our endeavors in social media need have an overt call to action. Or at least we should acknowledge that a “call to action” might often look more like an invitation rather than an explicit exhortation. It seems there is a fine line between merely providing a “feel good moment” and thinking that to drive real change we must be able to see quantifiable results.

    I’m thinking especially of a couple of instances of email feedback I’ve received recently from blog readers telling me various pieces I’ve written have touched them, moved them to action or to change. Sometimes our witness isn’t so much what we say as who we are and it is easy to forget how much those relationships can really change people’s lives. Even in ways we’ll never know about. I suspect that for every person who sends an email like that there is at least one other person who reads and is moved but never leaves a comment or sends an email. I think sometimes it pleases God to allow the effects of our actions to be hidden from us just as much as at other times he sends us encouragement to keep doing what we’re doing.

    I suppose I feel like I am called to be present on social media but than mine is a little way. I don’t seek to make a big splash or gain large crowds of followers; but I focus on being myself and writing about my life and my interests, trusting that God will use my words and my presence as he sees fit.

    In that vein, while I can see the dangers Kathleen’s Catholic notes of becoming complacent and thinking that blogging and writing and networking are enough when I’m being called to do more, at the same time I can see how God can make use of my introvert tendencies and that blogging can make a positive one on one effect and can make be the beginning point for a real connection between people.

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