Hey evangelizers! Here is a chance to check out a great new parish website for Queen of the Rosary Parish in Elk Grove, IL. It has been boldly re-designed from the ground up with evangelization as the primary purpose. If you'd like to be inspired, be sure and take a look and then meditate on webmaster Keith's rationale for the changes. (Keith notes that the site is still somewhat of a work in progress.)
The current state of affairs in new media and digital communication presents the Church with both a call to service and an opportunity for evangelization. In the midst of growing technological advancement and cultural change, Pope Benedict XVI says that the Church must live out a “diakonia of culture in the present "digital continent," traversing its paths to proclaim the Gospel, the only Word that can save man.” In following the Great Commission of Jesus, found in Matthew 28:18, the Church must therefore use technology to proclaim the Gospel to the digital nations while simultaneously illuminating various forms of digital communication with the light of the Gospel itself. It is an interesting twist on the old adage that “the medium is the message.”
At the parish level, new media and digital technology offer tremendous opportunities for evangelization and the formation and equipping of disciples for their particular mission. On a technological front, the interactivity of Web 2.0 tools allows for more than just passive “reading” of information. Rather, technological innovation currently supports the possibility of participation and dialogue while users engage with the tools, media, and content of a parish website. This allows for an online component to broaden a parish’s reach in terms of both evangelization and formation (including the recruitment of students and parent involvement related to a parish school).
Sociologically, an interactive, new-media-enriched online presence will become increasingly necessary as more of the Millennials (roughly, those born between 1980 and 2000) and the following group, the D-Gens (Digital Generation) come of age. These young men and women are what educational writer Marc Prensky calls Digital Natives, and they have a fundamentally different approach to learning and life because:
They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today's average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading*, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives.
Due to their developmental experience with this technology, Digital Natives not only prefer digital over more traditional forms of media, but they think and process information differently than their predecessors. Communicating effectively—whether it is marketing a particular program or the value of a parish school, or sharing the fundamentals of the gospel—requires a radically more interactive approach. This is also somewhat true for many members of Generation X, who bridge the gap between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (those who are not fundamentally at home in a digital culture), most of whom come from the Baby Boomer Generation.
In the current life of the Church, most Gen X’ers and Millennials represent “Lost Generations,” a demographic gap in the makeup of our parishes. According to recent CARA studies, 13% of those Gen X’ers who self-identified as Catholic attend Mass at least once a week, and only 10% of Millennials who self identified as Catholic attend at least once a week. The urgency here is that in 2009, 50% of Catholic adults are either Gen X’ers or Millennials, and that number will only continue to grow. And yet, these groups have the lowest engagement with religious practice of all the generations currently alive. In order to reach them, we will have to preach the Gospel in a familiar idiom, utilizing the social communication tools of the day. God, it turns out, is a God of bytes, as well!
 Benedict XVI. Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, October 2009.
 Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October
2001) Page 1.
 Weddell, Sherry. Whither RCIA? Part Two: Millennials Rising. Intentional Disciples
(http://blog.siena.org/2009/08/whither-rcia-part-two-millennials.html) August 2009.
The website's transformation was spearheaded by Keith Strohm, one of our traveling trainers and a passionate evangelizer. When Keith is not roaming the country for us, he works as Director of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry at Queen of the Rosary Parish in Elk Grove, IL. In his other spare time, Keith is husband of Debbie, father of Siena (Yes! Siena is named after the Institute and winner of CSI's first Incredibly Cute Baby Award), aspirant in the Chicago diaconate formation program, MDiv student, and a published writer. (Ok, I got tired just writing that paragraph.)
What do you think? Do you know of other great parish websites that are designed to be instruments of evangelization? Inquiring minds want to know . . .
*What I want to know is - does reading on a Kindle count as reading?