Breaking news: 2020 research on Catholic media shows very few Catholics engage with the Church online — print still most effective

Fewer than 17 percent of parishioners access any of the following Catholic outlets: websites, email, social media, television, radio. By far, what reaches the most Catholics is print.


Recently, in light of the pandemic, a diocese shut down its print publication. The reason given by a diocesan official seemed reasonable enough: “We are focusing on connecting with people where they are, which is online.” Makes sense, right? After all, with dioceses and parishes across the country offering ways to watch Masses online, pray rosaries and participate in online catechesis, it would seem the transition to digital engagement is here. However, no Church leader would ever say digital engagement is an equal or adequate replacement for participating in person. Similarly, while pastors appreciate the growth of online giving, they wouldn't eliminate the offertory collection at Mass. Yet, some people are concluding that growth in digital engagement is the signal that the age of print is over, or worse, that print is dead. This thinking is flat-out mistaken.

The fact is that most Catholics are indeed online, but very few engage with the Church there. When diocesan leaders close down their print publication, they think they will save money and reach more people digitally. They won’t, and here’s why.

Brand-new research conducted by FAITH Catholic looked at how parishioners consume Catholic media. The study was conducted in February 2020 and comprised a random sample of 1,029 registered parishioners from more than 20 dioceses from across the United States. The research is a follow-up to similar research conducted by CARA, and shows similar results.

Parishioners from around the country were asked: Where do you receive information about the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church?  

  • 41% Catholic print publication   
  • 17% Catholic television or radio  
  • 14% Catholic website
  • 12% Catholic email  
  • 12% Catholic posts on social media

Why don't most Catholics engage with Catholic online and broadcast media?
Unless the diocese invests in placing Catholic content into the home, very few Catholics will access Catholic content on their own. The reason is simple enough. Although Catholics engage with all sorts of secular media — like watching television, visiting websites, reading email and following social media — very few choose to engage with Catholic offerings on these outlets. That is because Catholics would have to make a conscious effort to find, follow and choose Catholic outlets. They would have to sift through all the other content on those platforms to find something Catholic. Most parishioners do not do this.

Then there is the problem of engagement overall. CARA reports that only 22 percent of registered parishioners attend weekly Mass. Therefore, if 78 percent of Catholics are not fully engaged with being Catholic, it’s not surprising that a similar percentage do not choose to watch Catholic television, listen to Catholic radio, visit Catholic websites, open Catholic email or follow Catholic social media.

See for yourself. As a diocesan leader, you can ask for some basic analytics.

Website: How many unique monthly visitors does your diocesan website have?

  • If the monthly number of unique visitors is more than 14% of your Catholic population, your diocese is doing very well. But few dioceses reach that many Catholics with their website.

Email: Take the number of parishioner email addresses your diocese has, and look at the open rate compared to your total Catholic population.

  • The average open rate for religious nonprofit email is 18%. A few of your emails might have a high open rate for one reason or another. Look at the average open rate rather than high or low outliers. The number reached by that open rate is how many people your diocese effectively reaches by email. If it is regularly more than 12% of your Catholic population, your diocese is doing well. Again, most dioceses do not reach that many people by email.

Social Media: How many are you engaging compared to your Catholic population?

  • With YouTube, how many views does your average video get in comparison to your Catholic population? How many Facebook or Twitter followers do you have compared to your Catholic population? How many people are reached by an average post? Compare that average to your Catholic population. If your average video views, post reach or number of followers is more than 12% of your Catholic population, you are doing well. Again, even if you double that reach, you are still not reaching very many people. For most dioceses, your bishop’s message and the Good News of Jesus Christ is going largely unheard if you rely on online efforts.  

The only way a diocese can affordably and reliably get Catholic content into 100% of parishioner homes is by mailing a diocesan print publication for free.

Because most dioceses have the mailing addresses of 100 percent of known parishioners, they can deliver a diocesan print publication to all known Catholic homes. No other form of Catholic media can deliver Catholic content to that large of an audience —  because the television viewer has to choose to tune in, a website visitor has to go find the website, and a Twitter or Facebook user has to follow your diocese or bishop. Not very many Catholics are doing that. But every parishioner has a mailbox. The value of diocesan print is the ability to deliver Catholic content into homes because parishioners do not choose to access Catholic content on their own. That’s why a diocesan print publication can provide vital direct support — air cover, if you will — to aid parishes looking to engage parishioners. About one-quarter of dioceses in the United States reach into 100 percent of parishioner homes. Delivery is one part. What to deliver is the second.

Magazines in dioceses that publish with FAITH Catholic are read by 81% of recipients:
Getting into Catholic homes isn’t enough if the publication is never opened or is thrown away. FAITH Catholic’s client magazines are read, saved, and shared. Remember, only 22 percent of parishioners attend weekly Mass. In those dioceses that use FAITH and reach into all parishioner homes, the average who say they have read the most recent issue is 81 percent. There is no better way for a diocese to communicate, inspire and evangelize. Dioceses that use FAITH Catholic have magazines that are proven to have high interest, connect people to their faith, help them learn about Catholicism and share their faith with others.


Dioceses that publish magazines with FAITH Catholic 
2020 Readership Survey Results Summary*:         
      

  • 81% read the most recent issue    
  • 74% read every issue (3 of 3)
  • 64% spend at least 15 minutes with an issue
  • 44% saved an article or issue

What parishioners say about their diocesan magazine from FAITH Catholic:

  • 88% say my diocesan magazine makes me feel more connected to my Catholic faith
  • 74% say it improves my understanding of the teachings of the Church 
  • 78% say it gives me a greater sense of association with other Catholics 
  • 63% say it inspires me to use my gifts and talents at my parish and support it financially
  • 71% say it helps me explain my Catholic faith to family and friends 
  • 80% say it inspires me to be more interested in spiritual growth  
  • 83% say it increases my awareness of programs offered by the diocese

Age of readers:  

  • Age 30 to 49 who find the magazine interesting:  82%
  • Age 50-64 who find the magazine interesting:  85% 
  • Age 65 or older who find the magazine interesting:  80% 

*2020 readership survey results are averages taken from dioceses that publish with FAITH Catholic and use the FAITH content framework along with local diocesan content.

To learn more about FAITH Catholic custom magazine publishing services for Catholic dioceses and organizations, contact Patrick M. O’Brien at (517) 853-7601 or patrick@faithcatholic.com.