Social media use among young clergy persons

Survey at Transition into Ministry gathering

May, 5, 2011

Click here for Survey results (PDF, 1.7 MB)

Executive Summary

In May 2011, the New Media Project surveyed a group of 68 young clergy persons gathered for the annual meeting of the Lilly Endowment’s Transition into Ministry (TiM) initiative. We are grateful to both Chris Coble of the Lilly Endowment, Religion Division, and Laura Mariko Cheifetz of the Fund for Theological Education for making the survey possible.

This was the New Media Project’s first survey of social media use among young clergy persons. We intentionally asked for write-in answers instead of asking multiple-choice questions because we hoped to glean some insights from how the pastors responded in their own language. The next step will be to build a multiple-choice survey that can gather more precise data for easier analysis from other young clergy persons.

The results of this survey, though imprecise, are still fascinating. We asked four questions and gathered a wealth of information. For example, of the 55 people who answered the question, “What networks—particularly clergy networks—do you participate in that use social media,” 34 (62%) provided information about more than one network for a total of 72 networks named. 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. Of the 72 networks, 48 (67%) use Facebook as the primary platform. That clergy themselves are going to Facebook for their own networking suggests how they might regard Facebook for ministry (see below). Also telling: 32 (46%) of the 72 networks named are used by the pastor for the purpose of friendship. Another 14 networks (20%) are used by the pastor for preaching and sermon preparation and feedback, and another 14 (20%) are used for exploring ideas and sharing vision.

Not surprisingly, when asked about their use of social media in their personal lives (beyond just networks), 97% of the 66 young clergy persons who answered the question named Facebook as one of the platforms they use overall. And what was the one purpose for personal use of social media identified by all respondents? Staying in touch, friendship, keeping connected (100%).

When it comes to using social media in ministry, however, the purposes for using particular tools are much more varied—communicating with various groups, 78%; publicizing events, 48%; connecting keeping in touch, 27%. The number one platform for social media tools used in ministry—Facebook (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 in ministry, the pastors named 21 different areas of ministry. The number one area—pastoral care, 50%.

The four questions asked in the survey are as follows:

  1. What networks—particularly clergy networks—do you participate in that use social media? (name, platform, type, open or closed, purpose)
  2. What social media tools do you use in your personal life? (platform, purpose)
  3. What social media tools do you use in your ministry? (platform, purpose)
  4. In what areas of ministry do you use social media?

The age range of the pastors who answered this survey was 26 to 53 years. In the group, 61% were under the age of 30, and 94% were under the age of 40. The average age was 31. All respondents were members of Protestant denominations—Baptist, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Reformed Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church.

Since May 5, 2011, we have administered this survey in this form to two other groups of young clergy persons, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program and the Young Clergy Women Project’s board of directors. The 20 respondents in the two groups named 33 networks that use social media, emphasizing again how prevalent social media use is for networking by clergy. However, the overriding purpose for such networks was not friendship as with the TiM group, but professional networking and support. Perhaps the higher age average among the second group, 38, when compared to the average age of the TiM group, 31, might account for some of the difference. Further interviews would be needed to make conclusive comments about this, however. We hope that such analysis will be forthcoming when we begin using the multiple-choice version of this survey.

Survey results (PDF, 1.7 MB)