By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 12, 2015
COLLEGE PARK—In his keynote speech at the Catholic New Media Celebration June 7, Greg Willits brought up topics that could be barriers or keys to success in evangelizing through modern media.
Willits, who is the executive director of the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries of the Denver Archdiocese, is also an author, speaker and radio and podcast host. He and his wife, Jennifer, were former members of St. Pius X Church in Conyers. Willits is the founder of the New Evangelizers apostolate. For the past 10 years, the Willitses have been evangelizing through new media, including podcasts and a blog via their website, gregandjennifer.com. Throughout the decade, Willits said they have learned a great deal from their mistakes. He asked those in attendance to consider their own regrets.
“Can God take those difficult situations and make something better from them? Can he do it? Do you believe that?” Willits asked. “Because a lot of what we’re going to be talking about is going to hinge on that.”
At his 2005 address for World Communications Day, Pope John Paul II said, “Modern technology places at our disposal unprecedented possibilities for good.”
“Unprecedented possibilities for good,” Willits said. “If you feel unsure of where you’re supposed to be going in Catholic new media, if you’re unsure if you’ve made mistakes and you’re not quite sure what you’re going to be doing going forward, keep this in mind.”
“Your life changes. New opportunities come your way. Surprises from the Holy Spirit will show up. … What good can come from the mistakes of your past to lead to greater fruit for the future?” he asked.
The new media discussion took place the day after the 2015 Eucharistic Congress of the Atlanta Archdiocese, so participants could also attend the congress. The first Catholic New Media Celebration was held in Atlanta in 2008.
Willits centered his talk on four elements that he believes affect the future of Catholic new media: charism, collaboration, community and compensation.
A charism goes beyond an interest, Willits said.
“For a charism to be a charism, two things must be evident. Fruit—people are voluntarily coming up to you and saying ‘that thing that you did really touched me—really made a difference to me,’” he said. “And then joy—you must be deriving some pleasure from it. It needs to have both fruit and joy.”
Everyone can have a part in bringing people to Christ, Willits said. Whether behind the scenes or in front of the microphone or camera, those in digital media need to find what God has called them to be.
“Everything we do—everything that we have—needs to be directed back to Jesus Christ. The fruit that we are creating needs to be focused on Jesus Christ. Whatever superpower we have, that we’ve been gifted with, needs to be in service of Jesus. We seek fruits for him, not for us.”
Prayer in finding one’s charism is essential.
“If you’re not praying for your endeavors and what God is leading you to do, if you’re operating on your own assumptions and you’re not consulting with the guy who gave you the gifts, then you need to rearrange your priorities before you podcast. You need to be praying before you put pen to paper,” he said.
All kinds of Catholic media are needed
Willits then focused on collaboration. It’s important to find someone to trust who will tell you the truth about the quality of your work, he said.
“Collaboration is us being accountable with each other,” he said. “We need to be talking to each other. Because if we are a roomful of gardeners in the vineyard of Jesus Christ, we need to be telling each other when our blades are not sharp. We owe it to be Jesus to be honest in that way.”
Willits found a true community of people who edify him when he found his fellow members of Catholic digital media. And there’s room for all types in this community.
“There is not one size that fits all in terms of Catholic media. Both sides are needed—the goofiness as well as the seriousness, the theology, as well as the risk-taking. All sides are needed. Don’t allow your community to turn into a competition.”
Compensation can be an uncomfortable conversation, Willits said. But Catholic creators need to be able to afford to create and care for their families.
“There’s not one sure-fire, magic-bullet way of supporting ourselves, but we, as Catholic communicators and Catholic community and Catholic collaborators, need to start sharing different ways of making money, so that we can help the creators focus on creating,” he said.
Willits said those in Catholic media need to face the awkward conversations about compensation.
“We need to work together to overcome the stigma that for some reason that it’s wrong for Catholics to bring in money because guess what? We have to spend it (to create), too.”
Willits believes that by focusing on the “four C’s” of charism, collaboration, community and compensation, members of Catholic media will be successful.
“We will see huge changes in the world of Catholic media and by those huge changes, we’re going to see Catholic new media reach its full potential in the new evangelization of bringing countless souls to Christ.”
Willits was the morning keynote speaker for the Catholic New Media Conference, which also featured breakout sessions about blogging and podcasting. People attended the conference from other states as well as the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Samantha Smith, who recently began her new role as the administrative assistant for the Office of Communications in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, was hoping to broaden her knowledge of how to reach a large audience.
“I came to get a different perspective of how to communicate with churches,” she said. “I think we need to balance the ways we communicate with churches so they can communicate better with their people.”
JonMarc Grodi, manager of the Coming Home Network International, said that this particular conference enables a stronger sense of community.
“Like any good conference, this one yields a lot of new material and ideas. But this does it almost in a retreat-like way,” he said. “It’s almost like one big Catholic think tank.”