Ryan Scheel spoke about the importance of using today’s technologies to bring Catholic tradition into the world during his keynote address Jan. 14 at Gigs, Geeks and God Conference, which was held virtually.
As the founder of uCatholic and chief operating officer at Fuzati, Scheel has spent his career figuring out the best ways for the Catholic Church to market itself to an ever-changing society where people relate to one another more virtually than ever before, but he didn’t always have that passion.
Born and raised in Cleveland, he found himself involved in ministry accidentally. Though he came from a Catholic family, the world and its distractions overtook him and it wasn’t until his mid 20s, after the birth of his first child, that he found his way back to the faith with the help of his grandfather. Describing him as his model in the faith, he said that his grandfather embodied what GK Chesterton said, that “the most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and his ordinary family.”
As he looked at his newborn, Scheel knew what a deep role the faith had played in his upbringing and he wanted to give that solid foundation to his own family. That’s how one day he found himself accepting his grandfather’s invitation to play poker with the men from the Holy Name Society, a group that his grandfather had been involved with all his life.
As his faith grew, he began to notice that he was the only person younger than 50 in the room at those meetings and he began to wonder what would happen if more men his age weren’t drawn into the group. As he worried about the legacy of what had laid the bedrock for his identity and character fading away, he began to feel God’s call.
He didn’t believe it at first. He said he was the last person someone would have thought of for a life in ministry, but he knew marketing well and knew that God calls us all to use the gifts we’re given to glorify and advance the kingdom; so he took unsteady steps forward and waited to see what God would do.
It was an easy transition for him to put the secular marketing he did for technology solutions, finance and real estate into practice to work for the Church. Months passed and the Holy Name Society grew, then other groups began to approach him for help, snowballing to the point where he spent more time working pro bono for churches than he did for profit at his actual job. It was clear to him then that his passion and his life were leading him toward the Church and full-time marketing work for its preservation and growth.
In 2008, he founded uCatholic, a company dedicated to providing traditional Catholic information in a modern world. Since 2016, he’s been the chief operating officer of Fuzati, an integrated marketing firm that serves Catholic organizations and apostolates.
In his speech, he answered the question, “What is technology for?” by focusing on two main points: taking tasks and making them more efficient, and by reaching out to people.
“There are so many things we can do with technology to help automate our life,” Scheel said, but first parishes have to harness that energy and turn it into something powerful.
“The Church is behind the times in technology but that’s not always been the case,” he said. He spoke of how for most of its history the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of technology and science, whether it was astronomy, philosophy, chemistry, or genetics. Examples include Maximilian Kolbe using the printing press to Fulton Sheen on the radio, and Mother Angelica on cable TV. He pointed out there’s been no massive movement toward digital technology and that it’s the church’s right and duty to be at the forefront, and take its place in the great digital space and use technology in ways that disrupt the world for Christ.
He likened modern-day technology to the Roman road system, built by men whose aim it was to subjugate the apostles and the people of Judea, but those who worked for God used the roads to fly in the face of fear, against the institution that built them, to convert them, and spread the gospel anyway. “We have to be like that,” Scheel said. “It can be turned on its ear.”
He thinks the Church can compete following its call to be a sign of contradiction in a world rife with loose morals and an empty soul. By using technology to connect with those who need to hear the message of the Church, and share its beauty and truth, he thinks parishes can offer what no one else in the world can offer but that taking that step toward reaching out virtually is vital.
He thinks that by knowing how to reach certain demographics and investing money in connecting with your audience in a meaningful way, technology can be indispensable to a parish and greater Catholic community.
“Now is the time to invest in technology and bring the people who left Church during the pandemic back,” Scheel said.