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.