For every new skill one might wish to acquire, there’s an online class taught by a well-known person willing to share his or her hard-won expertise — for a price.
Now a group of Catholic educators and evangelists are launching a free master class on how to effectively use social media to invite people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The University of St. Thomas Houston in cooperation with Word on Fire Institute has released the first video of a new series featuring successful Catholic social media influencers. This master class, titled “The New Evangelization and New Media,” will showcase Catholics who have attracted a significant following sharing the joy of Gospel through digital media.
The first episode will feature former America’s Top Model contestant Leah Darrow, who left behind a modeling career upon converting to Catholicism. Using Facebook and other digital platforms, she has connected with thousands of young women inspired by her story.
Future episodes in the series will cover social platforms with a wide range of audiences, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and the gaming platform Twitch. Among the influencers to be featured in subsequent episodes are gamer Jonathan “BeardedBlevins” Blevins, Australian singer-songwriter and YouTuber Fr. Rob Galea, and mom-blogger and Word on Fire Fellow Haley Stewart.
Who is this series for?
Dr. Richard Ludwick, President of UST Houston, explained to Aleteia that since influencers operate on different social media platforms, which cater to different demographic groups, evangelizing using social media is something that is open to all Catholics — not just young ones.
“We hope all Catholics will find an episode to both identify with and take them a bit out of their comfort zone. We want our older Catholics who may engage on Facebook to see the value of posting with the Good News in mind and also to see why it’s important for young people to engage on platforms like Twitch to evangelize to a group who may not hear the word of God often,” he said.
With so many people on social media every day, “the New Media” are a tremendous opportunity for evangelization, according to the producers of the series.
“Even if someone isn’t specifically on social media, they have a friend who is telling them about something they saw on social media. The reach is endless,” said Ludwick.
“From lapsed Catholics, to atheists, to active Catholics not living in right relationship with the Church, to extremely devout Catholics giving their life in mission, to all Christians and other religious traditions,” he said.
How do influencers reach the “nones”?
With as many as 30% of Americans self-identifying as “nones,” unaffiliated with any religious group, Catholic evangelizers have their work cut out for them.
When asked how someone who doesn’t consider themselves particularly religious would end up following a Catholic social media influencer, Ludwick explained that the successful ones attract followers because of their interests, not simply because of their faith.
“They essentially talk and entertain their audience while not shying away from any faith questions that come up in their chat. Each of these influencers are effective because they desire to be fully who God created them to be and love their core interests. This is what draws their audience. Once you see their content, you see that it’s integrated deeply with a pure Catholic message that is a part of all they do,” said Ludwick.
As an example, he said Darrow, the former model, who has over 79,000 followers on Facebook, “speaks about true beauty and what that means. Young women will identify with her message for more than just a spiritual reason. She gets right to the heart of the culture with her content.”
Author Haley Stewart, who will be featured in an upcoming episode, attracts a group of followers who might have landed on her Instagram page (over 17,000 followers) because they were attracted by her writing, enjoy her Word on Fire book club, and relate to posts about her family life.