Grotto Network celebrates two years of delivering powerful stories online

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Notre Dame’s Grotto Network, a digital platform for young adults, celebrated its second anniversary in November. The site launched with the premise that though the millennial and Gen-Z generations are drawn to service, solidarity, and spiritual longing, they tend to be distant from religious institutions.

Josh Noem, senior editor for Grotto Network, notes that half of Catholic teenagers no longer identify as Catholic by their 20s, and for those who do, only one in 10 attend Mass weekly. The Grotto Network was meant to serve as an open door back into the Church. To reach its audience, Grotto successfully leverages digital media—operating a website, along with several social media channels—to reach adults, roughly ages 18-34.

“Grotto’s aim is to help the Church use digital media to start a conversation and build a relationship with these young adults, especially those who were raised Catholic but are no longer practicing,” Noem says.

“It’s crucial that the Church learns how to meet this group of people and walk with them because increasingly, they don’t find what the Church has to offer relevant or compelling and they are missing from our pews and from our social mission. If we truly have good news to share, we need to go to the ends of the earth to share it—for today’s younger generations, that effort has to include Instagram. That’s where they are—that’s where they invest their time and attention.”

Grotto is meant to appeal to the faithful, the questioning, and the confused. Rather than preaching, it tries to welcome readers, wherever they are on their faith journey, in an approaching and compelling manner. The subject matters are diverse, too. Articles detail how to create a better fitness routine, how to date intentionally, and what to say to someone with cancer. There are bi-weekly minidocumentaries. There’s a section with free downloads and resources, and cultivated playlists for listeners. The group also publishes a series with the hashtag #GrottoMoment on social media, which often includes inspiring quotes by saints and religious figures.

The wide variety of offerings are intentional, Noem explains. As digital algorithms narrowly curate what people see online, Grotto’s breadth prevents it from being funneled only to the already-faithful. Instead, it can appeal to many.

“In essence, we are giving the Church tools to open her doors and walk around the neighborhood—to share life with these young adults. Yes, we want to draw them back to faith, but we have to love them for who they are first. If we treat them like a project or a problem to be solved, they’ll smell that inauthenticity,” Noem says. “We are innovating a new way to do that digitally—to do what Pope Paul VI called ‘pre-evangelization.’ We’re sharing insights about topics of concern for this audience, but from the perspective of our Catholic values. We don’t always make those values explicit, but they inform the way we approach the stories we tell.”

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And it appears to be working. Early in 2020, the site surpassed 1 million visitors, with some of the top pieces garnering tens of thousands of clicks.

As it kicks off its third year, Grotto will bolster its role as a conduit between its digital audience and in-person ministries at dioceses, parishes, and campuses. It will partner with ministers to share the site’s content to continue to accompany the next generation of Catholic faithful.

At its launch, Father Jenkins said, “For 175 years, the University has sought to educate the minds and inspire the hearts of young people. Grotto Network is our effort for this time as we—in partnership with many others, but especially local parishes— employ technology with which this generation is conversant, help millennials live richer lives, experience the joy of the Gospel and use their talents in generous service to others.”