Some rather sobering, even shocking data is available over at the CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) blog. The data stunningly refutes the claim that the way to reach young Catholics is via the Internet.  I must say I was more and more startled as I read the data, thinking, “This can’t be so.” But the bottom line seems that if you are a Catholic, reading this or other Catholic blogs for information or encouragement about your faith, you are a very rare bird. If you are under 30, and reading Catholic blogs and news sites, you are the rarest of birds.

Let’s look at the data. The text from the CARA report is in bold black italics, my comments are plain text red. The full CARA post is here: CARA on New Media

Millennial Catholics (born after 1981) represent about one in five adult Catholics (19%) and….are sometimes described as the digital or new media generation. Many in the Church assume that the way to connect with this emergent generation of Catholics is not through traditional print media, television, or radio, but online—through blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accessed on smart phones, tablets, and e-readers. The hope is often stated that we may be able to use new media to get this generation “back into the real world pews” that are more often populated by their parents and grandparents.

Yes, this is surely the premise in every discussion I have had, with anyone who has an opinion, and it is surely my own. It is widely assumed that within ten years paper books as we know them are going away, Catholic newspapers will all but disappear, and all Catholics will contribute their money to the parish electronically. The basic premise is that we are at the end of an era, and that many such things are simply going to disappear as younger people take their place. But not so fast, says the data. The landscape is a bit more complicated and pace of change less like lightening and more like a slow walk.

The Catholic Press Association (CPA) of the United States and Canada recently commissioned CARA to conduct a national poll of adult Catholics to measure their media use. CARA partnered with Knowledge Networks to conduct the survey in May and June 2011. The survey was completed by 1,239 self-identified Catholics who were 18 years of age or older (resulting in a sampling margin of error of ±2.8 percentage points)….. 1200 is a pretty normal sample size.

The findings from these studies suggest that the emerging picture for new media use by Catholic adults overall—and especially among the Millennials is not as promising as many hope or assume. The problem is…the Internet is a much more vast space and is navigated by search and social network….You likely won’t even get it on their computer screen or iPhone unless they are interested in it and looking for it.

It’s the same lesson we have to learn in evangelization. The “build it and they will come” days are over. We have to open our Church doors and go out and meet and engage people, not just hope they will come. We have to be in this work for the long haul, and realize that relationships, and connections are just as important, as spiffy content. Developing interest is more the key than simply being “out there” with jazzy stuff.

First, the study shows that only a slight majority of Catholics (52%) pay “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of attention to national news….In the new media age, they don’t have to. Thirty years ago many had only over-air television reception with three networks, and local radio and newspapers to choose from. The news was an inescapable part of the broadcast. With the development of cable television, satellite radio, the Internet, e-readers, etc. the content available to most has now expanded exponentially. In this new media environment, many have “narrowcasted” themselves into their interests—whatever these may be—and have largely tuned out the world that is not of their immediate interest. Entertainment has often trumped news, information, or other content when making these choices. Attention to news is lowest among young Catholics.

I wrote an article here at this blog on this very topic almost two years ago: Living in a Self Selected Universe. A paradoxical effect of the “global communication age” is that many people increasing set up their own world to live in. Shared experience is becoming more and more rare. Most people I know NEVER watch the news anymore, unless something shocking has happened. Otherwise they listen to music, have a steady diet of sports, or watch their favorite shows, and check in on only a very highly selective set of Internet sites that suit their pre-programmed interests. So, while more of everything is available, less is actually consumed or experienced, that’s the paradox.

What about use of religious and spiritual content?….When it comes to Catholicism, more often than not, traditional media still have a much broader reach in a “new media” age. Despite what conventional wisdom or anecdote may suggest, Millennials do not overwhelmingly prefer reading content online compared to print. A third of these respondents indicate a preference for online content (32%), while another third prefers reading print (33%). Thirty-five percent do not have a preference either way.

And here is a really big surprise. I am not surprised that younger Catholics do not read or view, a lot of Catholic content. We have to work on that. But I AM surprised that those who do, show no substantially higher preference for “new media.” In fact it would seem that more are content to make use of traditional printed media. I am still convinced that the number preferring new media will continue to grow, but am most surprised it is not far higher.

While 22% of adult Millennial Catholics have read a print copy of their diocesan newspaper in the last three months (compared to 26% of all adult Catholics) only 4% of those in this generation have sought this out and read it online. Seventy percent of Millennials have no awareness of any of the major national print Catholic magazines and newspapers. Only one title, Catholic Digest, garners more than 7 percent awareness among Catholics under 30 and this publication has among the lowest web traffic of any title listed, 423 visitors per day at the time of this post.

And here is double bad news. Not only do most Catholics not read or view Catholic materials, but having them in the “new” format has not helped. The bottom line remains that most Catholics are simply not that interested in what their Church or the faith teaches or offers. Secularism is very deep among even “pew sitters” it would seem, many of whom check off the “God-box” on Sunday and have little recourse or interest in their faith otherwise. Rare indeed, are those who go to Mass these days (27%) and rarer still are those who invest time in the faith and what the Church offers later in the week.

This disinterest in Catholic media also means that most Catholics who do hear about the Church, hear it through a secular and usually hostile media or format. That breads another whole set of problems.

Of those Catholics who do read religious or spiritual content, most are doing so in print, not online. Catholics are also more likely to watch religious or spiritual video content on television than online and to listen to religious or spiritual audio over the radio or on a CD than in online podcasts. Fascinating. I am feeling very odd and “different” right now.

Of the new media offerings, Millennials are generally no more likely (accounting for margin of error) than older Catholics to say they have done anything online or through the use of e-readers related to religion or spiritually.

I have sensed this for a while now too, that the so-called age gap is mistaken, and that most of my readers, and those who listen to my Podcasts, are closer to me in age (I am 50) and that those who are much younger, may be out on the Internet, but not at Catholic sites, or sites like mine. Frankly the same is true of my more than 4,000 Facebook friends. The majority are closer to me in age.

The news on YouTube is not much better….the Vatican’s channel ranks #3,562 on YouTube in video’s viewed globally…..Search for any video including a “Catholic” reference and sort by “most views.” But be very cautious as there is a vast amount of offensive content (with many, many views) and you’ll find much of it to be designed for entertainment rather than anything informational, educational, or devotional.

Yes, it really is a terrible experience to search on YouTube for anything Catholic. Some of the most hateful, anti-Catholic stuff is out there. Some of it is semi-pornographic or just plain lewd. It seems there are a lot of people on YouTube who really, I mean really, hate the Catholic Church. I also have a YouTube page and I get some of the most hateful comments on very innocent videos I post. YouTube is a real “wild west” kind of environment and it is very clear that anti-Catholic videos are far more popular than videos which celebrate or promote the Faith. Sad, really.

The current discourse surrounding Catholic new media is often very rosy and optimistic. The data just do not match this conversation—yet. There certainly is no shortage of very successful Catholic blogs with significant followings…But these typically do not reach audiences to where they would be considered mass media. The survey results indicate that only 6% of Catholic adults (and 8% of Millennials) read a religious or spiritual blog in the three months prior to being surveyed. But what can be concluded is that creating content for new media does not mean people will use it. The era of broadcasting is over. In a narrowcasted world, people have to be aware of and want to visit and use your content. Right now not enough Catholics seem interested or aware. Pretty straight-forward and cogent conclusion!

Although Millennial Catholics are using new media frequently, they have yet to use it for religion and spirituality in any great number. Will they ever? How can this be achieved? Those are unanswered and difficult questions for now. Is it the content? Is it the crowded media environment? Is it a culture consumed by pop media and entertainment? Is it secularization? This study generated just as many questions as it did answers. New media will require new research and a new understanding.

I am interested in what you think, and especially your answer to some of the questions raised here at the end.

Yes, if you are reading this blog or other Catholic sites, you are WAY above average :-)  Yes, you are a rare bird. Please keep reading and encourage others to read Catholic sites. Otherwise, most of what they get is through hostile and secular sources. Many of the bigoted, and hateful anti-Catholic YouTube videos have millions of views. Many pro-Catholic videos are luck to break 5000 views. Do the math, and once again we realize, it’s not a new medium that’s going to spread the faith alone. It’s evangelization, pure and simple. Tell someone about the Lord and the faith, and draw them to the sites that will nourish their faith. It’s old fashioned, one to one, person to person, word of mouth Evangelization that wins the day in the end.

Photo Credit above: Wirral PC Repair

Here’s an example of old fashioned evangelization. It does not exclude the new media, just ensures its success.

75 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    I am 74 years old and am computer literate. I receive an inordinate amount of email, largely political, but also from vendors that I use on the internet and from some Catholic sources. I have subscribed to the National Catholic Register and purchased some books from Catholic web sites – thus stimulating their emails.

    As the CARA study shows, I do not spend much time reading any blogs, let alone Catholic ones, although I stumbled upon this one form an NCR daily Update. My preference is to hold a physical book, turn its pages and be able to return to it as time allows rather than sitting in front of a monitor screen squinting at small print and having to retrieve it if necessary. What I have found very useful is searching for specific Catholic information that I want to know, such as a papal encyclical or about the life of a particular saint, etc. I have note encountered the hate messages you described, but understand the its existence because of the homosexual abuse, the depth of which felt by the laity is not understood or or yet fully recognized by the clergy. The new media are helpful and their use will certainly trend upward, but there is no substitute for sitting in a beautiful church, smelling the incense and hearing glorious choral and organ music, while learning about the faith from a homily.

  2. ThirstforTruth says:

    I have to agree with much of what has been said here in response to this most enlightening article. The one thing I would like to add about Catholic blogspots ( I am over 70 yrs of age so was properly catechised making
    me more responsible, I believe, for sharing the faith) is in reference to the comboxes…finding many deteriorate
    (usually off-topic) into opportunities for Protestant, anti-Catholic rants that invite most uncharitble and often plain un-Christian responses back at them. There are several of these that repeat their diatribe on many of the popular blogs…this one not being one of them. Perhaps because it is written by a priest…and that priest is good at administering his blogspot. Thank you Monseignor..and God bless you in all your endeavors. The Church is graced I am sure by your efforts.

  3. ThirstforTruth says:

    I also meant to add that I visit several Catholic websites that I find most helpful and informative as well as plain interesting and thought provoking, I send them via email to friends that have left the faith but are still in seeking mode as well as members of my Bible group and other older Catholics.It is a way for me to send articles of interest to my far away grandchildren , and daughters. I think it is for many of my generation an un-awareness of what is available to them online (especially for my Bible group) and an unfamiliarity with this technology that limits their interest. I will be forever in the debt of a Catholic friend who taught me ( not without its frustrations) the “ins and outs” of cyberspace. To me this whole technology is one more proof! of God’s magnificent omniscience and omnipresence. I have even gotten my convert husband online…he used to say he had no interest but that is no longer true! For us the best websites to explore are always the Catholic/Christian sites where information about our faith abounds. Isn’t it odd that in this day of instant communication and available info online so few Catholics are really informed about their faith? Perhaps the numbers correlate with the mass going Catholics.There is grace for the journey in cyberspace for those who practice their faith and make use of the grace-giving sacraments. A little thought about ministry might be parish classes for the computer illiterate?
    It would require some equipment of course but lots of used stuff is out there…and most local libraries offer
    computers for the public.

  4. deogratias says:

    None of the CARA study findings surprise me at all. But I don’t think anyone should be overly discouraged and be tempted to shut down their online operation. Quite simply, PERSONAL evangelization efforts will nearly always precede a journey through the maze of online Catholic offerings. What is disheartening is that so few people, “pew sitters” for example, allow themselves the time-consuming, but life changing pursuit of Way, Truth, and Life.

  5. Fischer says:

    Deogratias hit it on the head. The problem isn’t the medium. The problem is the pure lack of interest. If there was great interest, you would have a greater flow of users into narrowcasted Catholic content. You don’t have that flow because people aren’t taking the time to explore their faith, online or offline.

  6. Sal says:

    First i heard of the CARA study and truly bless to you Msgr Pope, a child of our Lord spreading this awareness. I personally feel the problem begins at home. We the practicing Catholic live by three rules, 1-Study Our Catholic faith, 2-Practice Our Faith, 3-Share Our faith. We are the leaders for our future generation and the example we set today, determines their faith. The internet is a mass endless source of good and evil information no different as Our Lord teaches us through the Bible(Good and Evil). Without the proper guidance and a clear understanding of the voice of the shepherd we fall to satan bondage with little or no clue for recovery. I have made many journey into the internet and being a slow learner have found the vast rewards it can truly provide in Our Catholic faith. I am part of the Catholic Mens Fellowship (CMF) in Los Angeles, California, and our members range from age 21-78. We are the instrument of Our Lord, and one need to surrender oneself in order for his voice, NOT OUR’s to be heard. Proverbs 27:17, “As Iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow men”

    God bless all of you for your great comments!
    Your Brother in Christ!

  7. Carol Wolney says:

    I was in my 60’s when I first used a computer. At 77- I recently moved and could not wait to get reconnected. I signed up for about 3 Catholic websites and tend to support and make sure I see the “LifeSiteNews” which handles “Truth” on every Catholic issue. The other sites I ‘scan’ but don’t read due to “same old same old”. Better part of what is taking place is while the older Catholics like myself, are finding it hard to live as a “good Catholic” with the media that we have, there are many more who DO use the internet to research and find out about the ‘things’ fo the Faith. I am also a Secular Franciscan and have children who are also SFO members. They “Care” and use the internet in the best way possible for their answers.
    So, don’t color everyone with the same crayon!!
    Sincerely,
    C. Wolney

  8. Sal says:

    No coloring intended. Truly you have have been blessed with such a wonderful family and my prayers go out to you and the family.
    God Bless!

  9. Charles Teachout says:

    I wonder what percentage of the “Millenials” show up for Mass. Is there a correlation between that number and the number who bother to read Catholic material online? The Catholic online media is in relative infancy, I think. Give it time to develop a “bite”. It seems to me, from what limited observation I have, that young people need more guidance on values and morals that the secular educational system and the online world does not generally offer. Moms and dads matter as much as ever. They need to take continued interest in the faith life of their grown up children, continue to evangelize them! Unless God touches them personally through their loved ones, young people may not have the drive to see beyond the superficial BS of the street media online. The consequences of having a generation of ignorant victims of secular propaganda are scary as ever.

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  11. Deacon Alex says:

    One quick insight on these findings, without reading previous comments, suggest that social networks may be a good place to evangelize, but this is done through personal relationships with personal pages, using one’s sphere of influence and witness rather than an organizational Facebook page.

    Deacon Alex

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