September 7, 2018

Religious Education Supplement

Catholic streaming services change the way parishioners grow in the faith

A laptop computer, smartphone and tablet show video and audio faith formation resources available on Formed.org, a Catholic streaming service that is a ministry of the Denver-based Augustine Institute. (Photo illustration courtesy of the Augustine Institute)

A laptop computer, smartphone and tablet show video and audio faith formation resources available on Formed.org, a Catholic streaming service that is a ministry of the Denver-based Augustine Institute. (Photo illustration courtesy of the Augustine Institute)

By Sean Gallagher

Hundreds of millions of Americans and others around the world now watch television through streaming services in which shows, movies and sporting events are accessed through the Internet on smart phones, tablets and smart TVs.

A decade ago, this mode of viewing video content was barely imaginable. Netflix, the leading streaming service around the world, launched in 2007 in the United States. Today, it is available in 190 countries, has 130 million subscribers and produces its own content.

A 2017 Pew Research Center study showed that more than 60 percent of adults ages 18-29 watch television primarily through streaming services. And while a majority of adults still subscribe to cable or satellite services, those providers are now losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers on a yearly basis while Netflix, in just the first quarter of this year, reported a growth of 1.96 million viewers.

This massive trend in the broader society is also affecting the way in which the Church forms people for the faith.

With the advent of VCRs and DVD players starting some 35 years ago, parishes often purchased videos to help members learn more about the faith.

In just three years, though, thousands of parishes across the country, including many in central and southern Indiana, have started using Catholic streaming services like Formed, Ascension and Word on Fire Engage.

Michelle Fessel, a pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish in Lanesville, has seen a tremendous change in how the members of the New Albany Deanery faith community she serves grow in their faith since the parish began subscribing to Formed three years ago, shortly after the streaming service was launched.

“When I first got to Lanesville, we barely even collected e-mail addresses of parishioners,” Fessel said. “Very few people had it. It was unreliable.

“Now we’re at a point where parishioners are downloading the Formed app and telling me that, when they’re traveling on trips, they’re doing faith formation in the car or listening to it in an airport. It’s a way of reaching people that I would never would have expected when I came here 10 years ago.”

St. Mary isn’t the only parish in the archdiocese that has subscribed to Formed. There are currently 44 faith communities across central and southern Indiana, nearly a third of all archdiocesan parishes, who are subscribers.

That’s in part because the archdiocese, along with more than 40 other dioceses, has entered into a partnership with Formed in which the archdiocese promotes the streaming service to its parishes and the parishes receive a discount on its annual subscription.

Formed, a ministry of the Augustine Institute in Greenwood Village, Colo., was launched in September 2015. At the time, it offered a handful of faith formation video series and movies on Catholic topics made available through Ignatius Press.

Today, Formed partners with 50 content providers to offer more than 100 movies, more than 100 books, scores of videos and audio recordings on the faith for adults and children, and sacramental preparation videos. Much of this content is also available in both English and Spanish. The service is considering offering content in other languages, including Vietnamese.

People primarily access Formed when their parishes subscribe to it, and then the parish shares with its members a log-in code for the site. More than 3,800 parishes in the English-speaking world are now subscribing to Formed with more than 620,000 current users. Formed expects to reach 1 million users by the end of the year.

“When you look at how many people access the Internet every day, the percent is huge from teen to young adult. However, even when you go over age 65, it’s still 64 to 66 percent of that age group, mostly using a mobile device,” said Jim Knowles, manager for diocesan partnerships at the Augustine Institute. “People are accessing the Internet every day. Not everything on it is good. So if we’re able to give an alternative that’s going to help people grow in their faith, that’s what we’re here for.”

Fessel is pleased at the number of older St. Mary parishioners accessing Formed.

“We expected millennials, busy working adults who don’t have time to come to the parish campus for a Bible study or faith sharing group,” she said. “But what we found is a lot of retired and homebound parishioners have taken advantage of the subscription. That was a surprise to us.”

To facilitate parishioner use of Formed, St. Mary has had a “bring your technology to church” weekend where less tech-savvy members brought their smart phones or tablets and got help from other parishioners to access Formed. Some parishioners even went to the homes of homebound members to do this.

“I know we can reach people who never would have been able to come to the church,” Fessel said.

And that’s not just the case with homebound parishioners. Fessel also said that engaged couples who live out of state but plan on having their wedding at St. Mary can access videos through Formed that complement the marriage preparation program in which they’ll eventually participate at the parish.

“This is the way we reach out to families in a technology-based culture,” Fessel said. “This is as current and as practical as any faith formation product we could have found.”
 

(For more information about Formed, visit formed.org.)

 

Related: Other options are available for Catholic streaming services

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