Church and new media – is that possible? Many associate the adherence to traditions with the Church as an institution. The Church arrived in the digital age and takes advantage of it as a communication channel and means to carry out its mission.
How Pope Francis Uses of Social Media
This process became particularly dynamic due to the printing of books, without which Protestantism would not have been possible. Church radio and broadcasting of services on television have of course been around for a long time. Church services can now also be streamed online. There are also online services that collect individual intercessions that are later included in the church’s prayers. There are instructional videos on church websites to clarify complex religious terms. Even the confession can be filed on online portals.
Religion must be communicated and communicated, accessible to its followers and thus enable participation. So why shouldn’t the Church use the common repertoire of new communication media to better reach the younger generation? A church community and a network community, such as those in the social network Facebook, are not that far apart. The Facebook community donates at the click of a mouse – much like a religious community – closeness, orientation, comfort, meaningfulness.
Vatican Marketing Campaign
Nowadays every little club, every sales, every company has its own Facebook page. That is part of it. The most important thing is that the page does not function purely as a collection of advertisements, but rather that the message to be conveyed is credibly conveyed and entered into a dialogue with interested parties. A mixture of target group approach and marketing. The Vatican proves to be a true luminary in dealing with digital communication. The Vatican has a rich digital offering. Official apps like The Pope App and Radio Vaticana provide believers around the world with information, news, and videos. There is also an app for the Vatican Museums. The Vatican TV station CTV has its own YouTube channel. And if you always wanted to ask Pope Francis a question, just visit the websitewww.askpopefrancis.com and send it in. He will answer some questions in his book, which will be published in a few months and will be published in different languages.
In spring 2016, Pope Francis showed that he was very up to date with his joining Instagram (@Franciscus). While he had previously tweeted 140-character messages to his 10 million followers on the English-language account alone (@Pontifex) since 2012, he ventured into new territory – with success. Here, too, 3.5 million people follow him who want to experience the life of the Pope in the language of images. They are pictures that create emotional closeness and make the pontificate more tangible. Pope Francis praying, with children, or preaching. The caption in different languages. St. Peter’s Square suddenly appears very close.
Of course, one should not imagine that Pope Francis is sitting personally on the smartphone and thinking about the appropriate hashtags for the new post, his social media team does that. However, he should decide on the sentences and pictures that his employees present to him. With these steps, the Vatican’s social media strategy wants to change the old-fashioned perception of the church leader and show how important social media are in reaching different target groups. Pope Francis himself said about the photo network that pictures spoke particularly strongly to him.
Digital entry paired with institutional exit?
Interactive services with streaming and Twitter comments from the participants in front of the screen and a Pope on Instagram demonstrate this in an exemplary manner. The Christian Church makes use of both the technical possibilities of the Internet and its socio-communicative function. But so far so good. Nevertheless, various questions arise about the importance of using digital opportunities in the church: Can digital community be equated with personal encounter in the real church at all, or can one replace the other, or is digital community just another form of “ alone together ”, the social condition, which the media sociologist Sherry Turkle defines as a characteristic feature of digital society? Don’t the faith and the church get lost in the vast virtual entities? Or can social media services and digital church work be a pioneering model to get young people excited about the church? A theological position determination of the Internet would be needed.
First of all, it should be noted critically. Despite the media update, the church is faced with a high number of withdrawals. After the significant slump in statistics in 2014, which can be seen as the result of the abuse scandal, the affair over Limburg’s bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and the announcement of a new church tax collection procedure for property income, the number of people leaving the company is indeed decreased, but the number is still high. In 2015, a total of 391,925 Christians, 181,925 Catholics, and 210,000 Protestants left the church. Just because faith is digitized bit by bit does not automatically mean that the number of church followers goes through the roof.
Nevertheless, it seems important to further consolidate and expand the presence on the Internet and on social media platforms. Religion has also gone into films and documentaries which you can watch on Netflix (how to get American Netflix in your area.) Because the network is not only to be seen as a pure communication tool, which complements media such as print, radio, and television but also includes its own mediality, which is linked to a general change in society through digitization, which the Church is involved in tries to participate in the mentioned means.