A Facebook generation of clergy

Posted Sep 23, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Verity A. Jones


Young clergy are using Facebook in their personal and professional lives at an astounding rate. In a recent survey conducted by the New Media Project, 97% of the young clergy surveyed said they use Facebook in their personal lives, and 83% said they use Facebook in their ministry. What are they using it for? Communication, worship preparation, sermon writing, and pastoral care. The fact that so many young church leaders use social networking tools like Facebook suggests a major shift in the practice of ministry and the support and nurture of pastors, we believe.

The clergy surveyed were part of the 2011 annual gathering of participants in the Lilly Endowment’s Transition into Ministry initiative. It was a young group: Of the 68 clergy surveyed, 94% were under the age of 40 and 61% were under the age of 30. The average age was 31. The results and an introductory summary are available under this site’s Resources tab for Surveys.

All of the young clergy using Facebook in their personal lives indicated that they use it primarily for the purpose of friendship, with descriptions like “maintaining friendships and connections,” “staying in touch,” “keeping up with friends.” Aside from the practice of ministry, these young clergy people seem to be using Facebook for their own well-being, or at the very least to help maintain relationships.

What’s more, 47% of networks using social media in which the clergy participate were specifically identified as clergy networks, such as denominational groups (36%), regional groups (20%), or other informally organized networks such as seminary alumni groups (13%). Young clergy are using social networks (Facebook and others) for a variety of purposes: Forty-six percent of the networks named are used by the pastor for the purpose of friendship, which is not surprising given how many use Facebook for this same purpose. Twenty percent of the networks named are used by the pastor for preaching and sermon preparation and feedback, and 20% are used for exploring ideas and sharing vision. Thirty-four of the 55 people (62%) who answered the question naming such networks actually listed more than one network. It is significant that almost two-thirds of the young clergy who answered this question participate in more than one network that uses social media.

When it comes to using social media in ministry the purposes for which the young clergy surveyed use particular tools are much more varied—communicating with various groups, 78%; publicizing events, 48%; connecting keeping in touch, 27%. And most are using Facebook to do it (83%).

When the pastors were asked to think first about an area of ministry in which they use social media instead of the application of particular social media tool to ministry, the pastors named 21 different areas of ministry. The number one area was pastoral care. Fifty percent of all those survey listed pastoral care as one of the areas of ministry in which they use social media.

Networks may not be new to ministry, whether they are for vocational support or for nurturing congregational life. But increasing numbers of young clergy use social media to do both. What might that indicate for how pastors might thrive in ministry?

Verity A. Jones is the project director of the New Media Project, and a Research Fellow at Union Theological Seminary.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Meredith Gould 31 Jan
    Important post, Verity. Goes to my theory that social media is revolutionizing ministry at a rate of speed not normally found in the world of church. Thanks be to God...and technology.

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