Digital media, including social media, presents both unique opportunities and serious challenges to Christian evangelization. This is the focus of the Word on Fire Institute’s third issue of its Evangelization & Culture Journal. Subsequently, several pieces on the blog this week will offer observations and constructive ideas for how to best use new media as a missionary tool.

A few years ago, I spoke to hundreds of priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago about evangelization and digital media. Throughout my talk, their eyes were glowing. I could sense their excitement as they saw the potential new media held for their parishes and ministries.

Afterward, one of the priests approached me. He said that he was excited after my presentation, but he still had a troubling realization: “I have no clue where to begin.”

That’s not unusual. Our priests are brilliant, our parish staff members are hardworking, but when it comes to new media most don’t know the first move to make. Which social media platform is best for our parish? What sort of content should we create? What format? What length? What style? Should we create a podcast? An app? A website? Where do we even begin?

Thankfully, way before the social media revolution, St. Pope John Paul II gave us a prophetic answer to this problem. In his 1990 World Communications Day message, he said: “Young people especially are readily adapting to the computer culture and its ‘language.’ This is surely a cause for satisfaction. Let us ‘trust the young’ (Communio et Progressio, 70). They have had the advantage of growing up with the new developments, and it will be their duty to employ these new instruments for a wider and more intense dialogue” (emphasis added).

There’s the answer, and it’s just what I told the priest in Chicago: trust the young. Priests and parish leaders will make tremendous strides with new media when they trust young people, those who grew up around these tools.

There are almost certainly several young people in your parish who are incredibly savvy with Instagram, YouTube, podcasts, websites, blogs, and other social media. Their fingers incessantly peck at their cell phones and laptops all day long and they feel right at home in this digital world.

So trust them. Ask them to help your parish start a podcast or launch a Facebook page. Invite them to moderate the parish Instagram account or help the pastor start a blog. Institute a Digital Ministry Team and stack it with young people.

By “trusting the young,” you’ll accomplish two things at once. First, you’ll strengthen your parish’s online presence. You’ll take advantage of the young people’s talents and gifts within your own community.

Second, you’ll make it easier to evangelize these same young people. We know from surveys that once young people take on active leadership roles in a parish, they have a tighter connection to Christ and the Church, and are more likely to grow up and remain strong in their faith.

So if you’re not sure where to begin, or if you’ve already started but want to take your parish’s online presence to the next level, do what John Paul II suggests: trust the young.

(And if you’re looking for a powerful way to evangelize your whole parish with digital media, you should definitely check out our Word on Fire ENGAGE platform: https://engage.wordonfire.org.)