According to a study just released, the size of a church -- and even the age of its pastor -- factor into how much that church is using the power of the Internet to enhance its ministry efforts.  The findings, in many ways, are consistent with a similar survey conducted three years ago by a different group.

Ellison Research says its study indicates that 91 percent of Protestant pastors have access to the Internet and use it for church business.  A majority of them say the most important aspect of that usage is for conducting research; other aspects of note include building or maintaining a church website, and staying in contact with church members and missionaries via e-mail.  But barely half of all the pastors surveyed say their church maintains a website.

Back in 2001, Christian pollster George Barna found that one in three Protestant churches in America (about 110,000 congregations) had a digital presence in the form of a website.  His estimate at that time -- that about 40,000 more churches would establish a website in the next year -- seems to have been accurate, based on the Ellison survey.  Barna also found that nine in ten senior pastors in Protestant churches used a computer at home or at the church -- a finding consistent with the more recent tally on Internet use among clergy.

But as the Ellison study points out, the larger a church's congregation is, the more likely it is to maintain a website.  According to Ellison Research, almost 90 percent of churches that typically have 200 or more people attending worship on Sunday morning have a website.  That compares with 60 percent of mid-size churches (100-199 people) and 28 percent of small churches.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, acknowledges the probable reasons behind the disparity, but also offers a word of caution.

"Small churches often don't have the budget to pay for technology, or the staff or volunteers to implement it," he says.  "[But] the increased use of technology in churches has a real potential to widen the gap even further between small churches and medium or large congregations."

Interestingly, the older the church's pastor is, the less likely it is that church will have a website.  Ellison reports that among ministers under 60 years of age, 56 percent are at a church that has a website; whereas just 35 percent of pastors older than that lead a church that has a web presence.

So What?

Why the concern about something as commonplace -- or as "worldly," some might say -- as a website?  Sellers suggests it may be a matter of what today's church-goers are beginning to expect in this age of information accessibility.

"[P]astors need to take a hard look at where technology might no longer be a matter of style or a luxury for the congregation, but an expectation," he says.  He says it is "amazing" that one out of four medium and large churches do not have a web presence -- "particularly with many churches trying to figure out ways of attracting younger people, who are particularly likely to use the Internet to gather information and explore their options."

Such a consideration could be critical to a church that wants to graduate from the "small" category to the "mid-size," or from the "mid-size" to the "large."  For example, Barna noted in 2001 that teens -- typically more computer-savvy than the older generations -- have a "very different profile of cyber faith interests" than their elders.  He found that "activities such as reading devotional passages online and submitting prayer requests were of much greater interest to younger people."

Barna also projected a vast, growing audience that would be turning to the World Wide Web for items of a religious nature.

"By the end of the decade," Barna stated in 2001, "we will have in excess of ten percent of our population [a number he estimates to be has high as 50 million individuals] who rely upon the Internet for their entire spiritual experience."  Some of those people, he says, will not have ever had any connection with a faith community -- "but millions ... will be people who drop out of the physical church in favor of the cyberchurch."

And when they go to "cyberchurch," says Ron Sellers, those individuals seeking spiritual input will be looking for specific things.

"As the American public becomes more and more reliant on technology in everyday life, they will logically expect churches to have things such as website, streaming audio or video on the site, or study materials on video or computer software," the Ellison spokesman says.

Barna noted the appeal of such technological features back in 2001 -- and the challenge it offers to churches.  He pointed out that born-again Christians tend to spend more money on consumer electronics annually than they give to their church, more time watching television than in spiritual devotions, and more time "surfing the Net" than in prayer.

"Clearly, there are many issues related to time management and personal priorities that must be addressed," the pollster stated.  But technology, in his opinion, is not to blame.  "The Internet did not cause such dilemmas and weaknesses -- but its growing significance in people's lives does magnify the challenges."

Ellison Research (www.Ellison research.com)
Barna Group (www.barna.org
)


 

© 2005 Agape Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.