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Hartford Seminary

New Study Examines Technology and Internet Use in American Congregations

For Immediate Release

HARTFORD, CT (March 7, 2012) ? Internet technologies are being used by a large majority of American congregations, and those that do not use these technologies are likely to be perceived as out of sync, a new report has found.

Ninety percent of congregations embrace email for communications, 69 percent have websites, and more than 40 percent use Facebook, a staggering rate of adoption since the general public use of Facebook was only four years old when the survey was conducted.

These are among the findings in a new Faith Communities Today 2010 report titled ?Virtually Religious: Technology and Internet Use in American Congregations.? FACT is releasing this latest analysis to help congregations understand how internet technologies can contribute to their vitality.

The author is Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion and Director of Distance Education at Hartford Seminary.

?Properly employed, technology can make members? daily lives outside of the worship service richer with religious meaning,? Thumma wrote. ?It can function as a medium to carry one?s faithful living into everyday life ? whether sharing prayer requests on Facebook, tweeting about a recent sermon, surfing to religious websites, or actually participating in online worship services.?

?Ministry should be, even must be, a technological hybrid venture in this day and age. But technology is not an end in itself. It has to be employed strategically and intentionally as a component of the overall ministry effort of the congregation. It is not a matter of having a webpage, a Facebook account or projection screens, but of using these to enhance and expand the activities and communal life of the congregation,? Thumma wrote.

The report is one in a series produced by The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP), based on a 2010 survey that analyzed responses from 11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States. The survey updates results from surveys taken in 2000, 2005, and 2008 and is the latest in CCSP?s series of trend-tracking national surveys of U.S. congregations. Overall, the FACT survey series includes responses from more than 28,000 congregations.

Among the findings:

  • The intentional use of internet technologies allows congregations to do more with fewer resources, which is important when so many Oldline Protestant congregations are facing declining membership numbers and financial uncertainty.
  • While the number of congregations with websites has increased from 33 percent to 69 percent between 2000 and 2010, the number with websites has declined in the past two years. This potentially is attributable to the growth in Facebook use, in place of websites.
  • For the most part, the technologies are being used by congregations to communicate to membership rather than take full advantage of the interactivity of the technologies.
  • The size of a congregation is the primary factor in its level of technology use.
  • Likewise, the wealthier the congregation, at any size, the more likely it is to be employing technology.
  • Not surprisingly, age has a profound influence on the use of technology. Robust technology use is diminished if the membership is older, the pastor or primary clergy person is older, and the congregation itself is older.
  • There are several key reasons why there is a direct correlation between adoption of technology and vital, growing congregations: Adoption of technology, particularly social media, indicates innovativeness. Increased use of technology enhances distinctiveness and competitive edge. Congregations with a greater use of technology are more likely to describe worship as innovative, joyful, thought-provoking and inspirational.
  • Per capita giving increases as the use of technology rises. This applies to congregations of all sizes.
  • While greater use of technology nurtures growth, it is not a guarantor of growth. Other factors, such as conflict, may adversely affect vitality of a congregation no matter how sophisticated the use of technology is.

?The intentional and strategic use of technology by congregations demonstrates that faith and ministry are relevant and congruent to the contemporary context especially for younger generations,? Thumma wrote. ?This may not happen without pain and conflict, but any growth and change can cause discomfort. Avoiding this possible painful effort may well mean closing a congregation?s virtual doors to a new high-tech generation.?

Links to view the report and related material are available at: http://faithcommunitiestoday.org/2011-Technology-Internet-Use

Hartford Seminary and Faith Communities Today will hold a webinar for journalists, religion communicators, denominational staff, and clergy on Tuesday, March 13 at 11 a.m. The webinar is open to invited participants; to reserve a slot, go to https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/628214362. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information on how to join the web conference.

Faith Communities Today surveys and publications are products of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a collaborative, multifaith coalition of American faith communities affiliated with Hartford Seminary?s Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

FACT/CCSP offers research-based resources for congregational development that are useful across faith traditions, believing that all communities of faith encounter common issues and benefit from one another?s experiences. It also informs the public about the contributions of congregations to American society and about the changes affecting and emanating from one of America?s major sources of voluntary association ? local congregations. For more information on CCSP, visit www.faithcommunitiestoday.org.

About Hartford Seminary and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research: Hartford Seminary focuses on interfaith relations, congregational studies and faith in practice. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research has a 30-year record of rigorous, policy-relevant research, anticipation of emerging issues and commitment to the creative dissemination of learning.

For more on the Seminary and the Institute, visit the websites (www.hartsem.edu or hirr.hartsem.edu) or contact David Barrett at (860) 509-9519 or dbarrett@hartsem.edu.

Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford Seminary, is available for interviews; contact him at sthumma@hartsem.edu or 860.509.9571.

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