(SNR) - Last Saturday, Sept. 14, the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln launched a social media apostolate with its first official Facebook pages and Tumblr account.
Facebook is a popular social networking site where people connect online to their family, friends, co-workers and others who share their interests. It’s used by a wide spread of ages, from 13 on up, but it’s currently most popular with 18- to 29-year-olds, according to the Pew Research Center.
Tumblr is an up-and-coming micro-blogging site that has high appeal for young people ages 18 and older. A microblog is an Internet-based personal or organizational journal of short entries and photos.
Both forms of social media are opportunities for the diocese to reach out to both Catholics and non-Catholics in a new way that is relevant to the modern lifestyle. In fact, both have free smartphone apps, enabling Catholics who use that cellular technology to stay in touch with the diocese and with their Catholic faith no matter where they go.
In his column last week, Bishop James D. Conley said this apostolate will focus on, "proclaiming the Gospel to those who might not hear it in a Church or in their families."
The diocese’s Facebook presence now includes an official page for Bishop Conley and a general page for the diocese itself. The Tumblr account is a general blog for the diocese.
"We’ll start simply, by being present in the ‘digital continent’ to witness to God’s love," the bishop wrote. "But over time, we’ll find ways to provide presentations of the Gospel in multi-media formats, and to facilitate real dialogue, discussion, and, an invitation to the Christian community."
These efforts are in keeping with Pope Francis’ own forays into social media. Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope to send a "tweet" on Twitter (another social media platform where comments are limited to 140 characters and spaces), but Pope Francis is the first to make a concerted effort to use his Twitter presences to engage the world at large, even answering questions posed to him via tweets.
In recent weeks, Pope Francis took his call for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for Syria to the Internet, tweeting regularly his prayers for world peace, which were retweeted by Twitter users from virtually every continent.
For the occasion of the 47th World Communications Day last January, Pope Benedict XVI said social media can be used to build community between families and forge new friendships.
"If the networks are called to realize this great potential," the Holy Father wrote in his message, "the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves."
JD Flynn, communications director for the diocese, said that this is the spirit behind the new social media apostolate.
"The purpose of these pages is to increase visibility for the ministries and mission of the diocese," he said.
Within hours after launching, the diocesan Facebook page already had hundreds of "likes" (meaning that other Facebook users had connected to the page and would see updates from the diocese in their own newsfeeds). Bishop Conley’s official page had virtually the same number.
Samantha Spargo, who will be moving back to the Diocese of Lincoln from New York with her husband and daughter at the end of the month, said she was very encouraged to see that the diocese had started a Facebook page.
"I am really looking forward to having so much information about the diocese at the tip of my finger," she said.
She believes that the diocese will be able to reach people who might not otherwise stay involved with all the events and ministries.
"I use social media every day, and honestly because it is so easy and fast, many times it becomes a major news source for me," Spargo said. "This is going to be a great way to encourage involvement, and it will help me stay up-to-date on events, volunteer opportunities and news in Lincoln."
Facebook and Tumblr users can expect to see regular updates from the diocese.
"Social media is most effective when it is used frequently and visibly," Flynn said.
Facebook and Tumblr accounts are free and users can control what content they see. Facebook users can search for "Catholic Diocese of Lincoln" and "Bishop James Conley" and click the "Like" buttons to start getting updates in their news feeds.
Likewise, Tumblr users can search for "Catholic Diocese of Lincoln" (or go to dioceseoflincoln.tumblr.com) and click the "follow" button.