From "maintenance to mission"
Twenty years ago, Bishop Carl Mengeling and Father Charlie Irvin opened an office in the Diocese of Lansing to start FAITH magazine. FAITH was a new idea in diocesan media and a direct response to St. John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization.
Over these two short decades, FAITH magazine grew into FAITH Catholic, America’s largest publisher of Catholic magazines, and one of America’s largest Catholic media and marketing services companies. From one magazine in 1999 to its present multimedia company, FAITH Catholic has grown to serve 39 dioceses and 19 Catholic organizations. FAITH Catholic publishes 60 print periodicals that reach a combined circulation of 2,203,710 – more than any other Catholic publisher in North America. FAITH Catholic’s 284 products and media outlets include 58 digital publications, 61 websites and 84 other products sold to parishes the world over. FAITH Catholic’s MassTimes.org and the MassTimes app continue to be the gold standard for parish and Mass times information, serving millions annually. Our crisis communications services have helped dioceses and Catholic organizations face the current clergy abuse crisis. Our integrated marketing has helped Catholic schools, agencies and more.
The vision that sets FAITH Catholic apart is content evangelization – the idea that the primary purpose of Catholic media is more than news and information. It’s evangelization. FAITH Catholic’s vision is that Catholic content helps form disciples who will be better evangelists, and provides disciples with content they can use to evangelize. This thought leadership is making a difference. Recently, a bishop told me the work we are doing is part of the monumental task of moving the Church from maintenance mode to mission. Another bishop told me that eventually all dioceses will move this way.
As thankful to God as we are for the past 20 years, we are focused on where the Holy Spirit will lead us into the future. There is a great need for us to truly learn how to be better content evangelists. I don’t think we are there yet. Have we truly used and invested in modern media to present the Church’s core message that Jesus Christ is the source of happiness in this life and the next? Do we truly see our vital responsibility to grow the Church?
How do we move from publishing and public relations professionals working for the Church to disciples who know how to use content to evangelize? As that bishop mentioned, it is a movement from maintenance to mission.
I believe that all Catholic communicators, whether in dioceses, Catholic organizations or parishes, need to see ourselves first and foremost as content evangelists. We first have to change the way we see ourselves before we can change what we do.
At FAITH Catholic, we know we can’t get there alone. All the systems that train, equip, support and value Catholic communicators need to become resources that support content evangelists.
First, there needs to be a change in academia. I know of no academic program for content evangelization. Students learn either secular marketing, journalism and public relations or they learn theology and pastoral practice. Usually, they’re trained and skilled either on the communications side or the ministry side, not both.
Second, the academic and pastoral research is lacking for what actually works to evangelize in 2019 in the United States. How can we train the next generation of communicators to evangelize if we don’t know what works in evangelization? There is no shortage of those who consider themselves evangelization experts. They sell books on the topic, and many in the Church follow their advice, but data to measure true growth in discipleship, and hard numbers for results in increased engagement are scarce. The fact is, we need to know more about what works.
Third, communicators need to be supported in associations specific to this call. Currently, there are organizations to support many aspects of ministry and those for communicators. An exciting development would be a combination to help communicators become evangelists, and help evangelists learn best practices in communication.
Finally, we need to remember that we are not alone in this work. Let us serve one another, help one another in seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to figure this out. One of the greatest joys over the past 20 years is working with the talented group of communicators in dioceses and Catholic organizations that FAITH Catholic serves. The Holy Spirit is working in each of them. I have learned from each of them. Together, we learn from the Spirit at work in the Church.
Soon after our founding, we realized that FAITH was more than just another media outlet. What we truly were was a services company, at the service of not just dioceses and Catholic organizations. We are at the service of the largest question the Church faces — how to participate in Christ’s call, the great commission? In 2019, how do we “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”? MT 28:19.
The answer is we do it together. And we do it together in Christ.