Who actually uses this stuff?

Posted Aug 21, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Lerone A. Martin


A recent nationwide survey revealed, among other things, that white evangelical Protestants stand out as the most likely to use social media and technology for religious purposes.

The survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), interviewed a random sample of adults, eighteen years of age and older. The results show a digital religion landscape that is spiked, not flat.

Nearly half of all Americans log in to their Facebook accounts multiple times a week. However, the study revealed that only five percent attest to following a religious or spiritual leader on Twitter or Facebook and six percent reported joining a religious or spiritual group on the social mediums. “Outside of religious services,” the survey concluded, “most Americans are not relying on technology to connect to religious leaders and institutions or to generally practice their faith."

However, evangelicals are, in many ways, the exception to this rule.

The use of technology in churches is almost even among Protestants. Among evangelicals who attend church regularly, 49 percent stated that their church uses television and multimedia displays during worship services compared to 40 percent of mainline Protestants. Catholics, however, tallied at only 11 percent. Audio and visual transmission media, it seems, is increasingly commonplace among Protestants.

However, the higher rate of technological utilization in worship, as well as the familiarity with the same, seems to lend itself to higher levels of religious engagement with social media. This religious culture of technology, one could say, encourages the use of new media.

For example, roughly 40 percent of the white evangelical Protestants stated that their church has an active Facebook page or website where people interact, compared to 29 percent of white mainline Protestants and 13 percent of Catholics.

In addition, this culture of technology contributes to the popularity of podcasting and religious commodities. Twenty-five percent of evangelicals admitted downloading a podcast of a sermon or having listened to and/or purchased a digital sermon, compared with six percent of mainline Protestants and Catholics.

Moreover, 19 percent of white evangelical Protestants reported that they have posted status updates on their Facebook page or another social networking site concerning church attendance, compared to six percent of white mainline Protestants, and two percent of Catholics.

I’m curious; do these numbers seem to be reflective of our contemporary religious climate? And if so, what accounts for such a spiked digital religious landscape?

Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO.

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.

2 Comments

  1. 1 Anonymous 31 Jan
    I'd be interested in a break-down of age. Intuitively we think that younger people must be using social media for religious connection more than others. But I bet its a complicated picture. If you have 1000 friends, and 300 "likes" --how carefully are you going to stop to listen to a sermon or read and comment on a blog post? You're basically flying by. There is the too-muchness of the stuff-- a fact we'll have to wrestle with. Not so much with older people, who may have 100 friends, and a handful of other connections, but young people -- they're managing a ton of stuff.
  2. 2 Bruce Nuffer 31 Jan
    When I was in graduate school in the early 90's, one of my colleagues was working on his dissertation in 19th Century missionary literature (don't ask my why). But I vividly recall that one of his findings was that evangelical protestants apparently have always embraced new types of technology quickly. His example, of course, demonstrated how evangelicals appropriated printed books as a means of evangelism. But his research also demonstrated that with all other forms of technology--particularly those from the 19th century onward (phonographs, radio, television, film)--evangelicals were always early adopters, with evangelism being at the core of their intent.

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