Many churches and synagogues have found new energy and purpose through use of the Internet, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which contradicts fears that the Internet is isolating users and replacing traditional communities with virtual ones.
Most of the 1,309 responding congregations say their use of Web sites and email have helped the spiritual life of their faith communities and bound members closer together. The report, “Wired Churches, Wired Temples: Taking Congregations and Missions into Cyberspace,” shows that many congregations offer a wide array of material on their Web sites that range from simple brochure-type material, such as directions to the church, to space for prayer requests and features that allow global mission work.
“These responses show that email and the Web are being used by many real, not virtual, congregations to sustain and deepen their members’ faiths, to enrich their worship, to evangelize, and to fulfill their missions,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. “These very traditional places tell us that their use of these 21st Century technologies has made a difference for the better.”
Among the survey’s findings:
- 83 percent of those respondents say that their church’s use of the Internet has helped congregational life — 25 percent say it has helped a great deal.
- 81 percent say the use of email by ministers, church staffs, and congregation members has helped the spiritual life of the congregation to some extent — 35 percent say it has helped a great deal.
- 91 percent say email has helped congregation members and members of the staff stay more in touch with each other — 51 percent say it has helped a great deal.
- 63 percent say email has helped the church connect at least a bit more to the surrounding community — 17 percent say it has helped a lot.
Some 471 of the respondents to the survey were ministers and rabbis and they were asked about their own personal use of the Internet.
“A striking number of the clergy at these churches have turned to the Internet to get material for sermons, worship services, church-education programs, and their own personal devotions,” says Elena Larsen, Research Fellow at the Pew Internet Project. “They use the Internet like many others as a vast library in which to hunt for material that matters most to them.”
Most of the respondents to the survey are eager to use their Web sites to increase their presence and visibility in their local communities and explain their beliefs. They are much more likely to use the Web for one-way communication features such as posting sermons or basic information about the church, rather than two-way communications features or interactive features such as spiritual discussions, online prayer, or fundraising. The most commonly used features on these Web sites include:
- 83 percent encourage visitors to attend their church.
- 77 percent post mission statements, sermons, or other text concerning their faith.
- 76 percent have links to denomination and faith-related sites.
- 60 percent have links to scripture studies or devotional material.
- 56 percent post schedules, meeting minutes, and other internal communications for the church.
The survey sample consists of congregations in the US who voluntarily responded to an email invitation to fill out an online questionnaire.