By David Gibson
June 25, 2009 - Tom Peterson has discovered an effective way to utilize media in the effort to spread the message of the Catholic Church in the U.S. Peterson is the creator and president of CatholicsComeHome.org, a Web site and marketing campaign that was recently honored by the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management with its Best Practices Award at its annual meeting on June 24 in Philadelphia.
A Catholics Come Home ad campaign in English and Spanish was conducted during Lent 2008 in the Phoenix Diocese. Catholic News Service reported that six months afterward, statistics showed a 22 percent increase in Mass attendance in at least nine sample parishes. Throughout the diocese, “the average increased Mass attendance – returned and new Catholics – was 12 percent.” There were some 92,000 returnees.
The Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, experienced similar success with its 2009 Catholics Come Home campaign.
Televised Catholics Come Home ads are expected to appear in more than a dozen dioceses in the months ahead. In 2010, Catholics Come Home hopes to go national with network ads.
The award from Leadership Roundtable, a network of clergy and laity devoted to the advancement of best practices in finance, management, and human resources in the Catholic Church, honored Peterson for bringing skills honed during a 25-year advertising career to Catholics Come Home, a lay Catholic organization faithful to the church’s teaching. Leadership Roundtable recognized the organization’s effective use of media to invite Catholics who drifted away from their faith or left it for a specific reason, and others who never were Catholic, to make the church’s acquaintance today.
Peterson says he is convinced that people will not open their minds and hearts to listen to you until they know “you love and care for them.” So he wants empathy and sincerity to characterize the ad campaigns developed by CatholicsComeHome.
Today Peterson applies experience acquired through his earlier career to everything from public speaking to TV presentations, from direct-response advertising to copywriting.
Peterson’s journey over several years from an advertising career to a full-time vocation focused upon evangelization has roots in a 1997 men’s retreat. There he experienced “an awakening,” he says.
“My journey did not start through intellectual reasoning or some bright idea I had,” he explains. He felt called in a new direction.
Ads like those used in the Catholics Come Home campaign should be “concise and inviting,” Peterson believes. Because people are “so distracted” and busy, communicators must “get to that core message that appeals to their hearts and minds quickly, but in a warm and inviting way.”
Peterson advises church communicators that “putting forth a creative message in a relevant way is paramount.” Moreover, communicators need to give it their best. “In the secular world, if you put forth your best efforts, good usually comes of it. But too often we give our leftover time to God,” he observes.
Finally, compassion is essential. “We really need to put ourselves in the shoes, the mind-set, feel the hurt of those who have not been at church,” Peterson stresses.
For CatholicsComeHome, evangelizing means spreading “the good news every chance we get through effective means.” By “harnessing TV and the Internet,” the message reaches “people where they are” -- in bedrooms, dorm rooms, offices, Peterson notes.
Its Web site (www.catholicscomehome.org) is vital to this organization’s endeavors. TV is its “prime vehicle,” but in following up at the Web site, people discover inviting video presentations and informative faith resources.
People who aren’t Catholic hear via the Web site that the church may not be what they believed it was. The site speaks with practicing Catholics, encouraging them to learn “what holds people back from the church” so as to be “more empathetic and understanding when the time comes to speak with them.”
Numerous Web-site testimonies by individuals who found their way into a parish reflect the organization’s down-to-earth approach.
A woman says plainly, “I was afraid to come back.” Another tells, with surprise, of discovering the Bible’s importance in Catholicism. One man confesses a drug addiction brought him to his knees; he now calls himself “a new person.”
The words of a woman who just “gradually quit going” to church will resonate with many. She says: “It’s not as scary as I thought it was. … It’s a much more open and warm place. And it really is about love.”
Catholics Come Home is reaching young people too, says Peterson. Nonetheless, the organization will revamp its Web site to improve communication with them
Peterson also comments, “To be relevant to people under 30, we need to employ new digital technologies.” Will Twittering, then, take up residence at Catholics Come Home? Perhaps.
Peterson envisions Twittering as a way to communicate “quick, easy-to-understand jewels of information” that people, in turn, can share with others.