Tag: internet

#delete Facebook

So, I did it. I deleted Facebook — the app, the link, and my account. I hope you’ll continue to follow my blog, but it will no longer appear in your Facebook feed. Thanks.

 

Losing Our Religion Online

Surfing-the-Internet

The more we’re online as a society, the less religious we are.

That’s according to MIT’s Technology Review which features a new study by computer scientist Allen Downey of the Olin College of Engineering. Downey concludes that “Internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation.”

Downey’s study analyzed statistics from 9,000 respondents to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey in 2010. In 1990, only about 8 percent of the U.S. population checked the “none” box when asked about their religious affiliation. By 2010, the percentage of “nones” had risen to 18%.

The increase in the religiously-unaffiliated has sparked numerous articles from church thinkers about the reason for this sudden shift. After all, America is and has been among the most religious of all nations worldwide. Evangelicals particularly have increased their profile in the public arena.

However, despite America’s conservative turn, Downey’s data confirms an almost parallel increase in internet usage and lack of religious affiliation.

In 1990, Internet usage was virtually zero. Although the Internet was active, individuals had to access it through portals like AOL or Compuserve. However, in 1994, two factors boosted internet usage. First, new servers were added to increase the traffic capacity of the World Wide Web. Secondly, the Mosaic web browser, the first popular internet interface, facilitated the quick ascent of Internet usage. In 1995, Netscape’s browser added search capability which revolutionized internet surfing. From that point, Internet usage in America climbs dramatically.

Coincidentally, at about that same time, the percentage of the religiously-unaffiliated — the “nones” — also begins to rise in an almost identical arc.

However, as in most studies, Downey identifies more factors in play in the increase of the religiously-unaffilliated than just an increase in Internet usage. Downey concludes that 25% of the rise in “nones” can be explained by a decrease in those who are raised in a religiously-affiliated home. In addition to religious orphans, 5% of the increase in “nones” can be attributed to an increase in the number of college-educated Americans.

Downey’s study contends, however, that the increase in Internet usage explains at least 25% of the increase in the religious “nones.” After adjusting for other factors such as age, rural or urban residence, and socio-economic status, Downey is convinced the data points to Internet usage as the new cause for the drop in religious affiliation.

What does this mean for churches and denominations? I think the study has three implications:

1. It’s not the Internet’s fault. The increase of the “nones” may be one of the unintended consequences of the Internet, but religious institutions should not begin a campaign to demonize Internet usage. After all, Internet access is an essential component of our increasingly digital lives. From email to Twitter to Facebook to search functions, the Internet is our always-on gateway to the world of information.

2. The Internet enables communities of like-minded individuals. Prior to the internet,  atheists and agnostics were a stark minority in typical American communities. Now, however, atheists and agnostics can find supportive communities online. An individual no longer has to believe in God to find social acceptance.

In addition many people identify now as “spiritual, but not religious” — meaning that they see no need of an institutional expression of their personal faith. These individuals would also be classified as “nones.” These spiritual “nones” can now cobble together their own spirituality from websites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, finding spiritual aphorisms that function as their new inspirational texts.

3. The convergence of Internet usage, religious orphans, and higher education holds clues for religious institutions. The first and most obvious thing this triad of correlations says to me is that religious institutions cannot live in the past technologically, theologically, or educationally if they hope to reach today’s “nones.”

Downey also noted that younger groups reported more “nones” than older groups. That is not a surprising result, as younger adults are more Internet-savvy, better educated, and less likely to be raised in a religious household.

Finally, one interesting footnote to Downey’s findings is this: adding together the 25% of the “nones” who were not brought up in religious homes, to the 5% who are college-educated, and the 25% attributed to the rise in Internet usage, we are still left with about 45% of the increase in “nones” unexplained.

The opportunity for churches and denominations in regard to the unaffiliated might be in figuring out the reason for the other 45%. Rather than railing against the Internet, colleges, or homelife, Christians might be better served to investigate what in our contemporary way of life contributes to loss of faith for about 25-million of our fellow citizens.

Gather Your Online Congregation Now

Today I was talking to a friend, Jim Stovall, who teaches journalism at the University of Tennessee, and is a pioneer in developing and teaching web journalism.

In our conversation about how the internet is changing newspapers and journalism, Jim said, “I tell my students to start now, to become entrepreneur journalists, by using the internet to build an audience. Then, when they graduate, they’ll carry that audience with them wherever they work.”

Jim’s statement got me to thinking about churches and what seminary does to prepare you for ministry. While seminary does give students the opportunity to “try out” ministry through internships and “field work,” it usually ends there.

But, if Jim is right (and I know he is about journalism), why shouldn’t ministerial students begin to gather their congregations now, online?

Here’s what I believe an internet presence does for those preparing for vocational ministry:

  1. Provides valuable experience in writing, editing, and communicating. Pastors are primarily in the communication business. Okay, business may not be a good description, but what we do is communicate — well or poorly — the Gospel. We preach, teach, counsel, pray, encourage, and lead — all of those actions are types of communication. Maintaining a consistent, quality web presence is good training for anyone, but especially for communicators.
  2. Creates opportunities for handling both criticism and praise. Many of my conversations with pastors deal with pastors who have handled either criticism or praise inappropriately. Consistent bloggers learn to tone down the temptation to “flame” their critics, and also receive praise with humble restraint. Learning to handle both in real-life ministry situations is invaluable to successful ministry.
  3. Helps sharpen your message. Jim also said that people go to specific websites to find information they cannot find anywhere else. When you’re thinking about your online message, ask yourself, “What am I trying to convey to my audience, and how is that different from what’s out there now?” Obviously, my niche is small churches and small church leaders. Narrowing your focus to families, singles, parents, youth, music, and so on, and becoming an authority in your field will help sharpen your ministry, and focus your energy.
  4. Gathers your community. The big point is that now, before you graduate from seminary, take a church staff position, become a pastor, or plant a church, you can gather an online community. That community can help shape your ministry, and even lead to opportunities for ministry itself, such as a conference speaker, author, spiritual director, or consultant.

Of course, even those of us who are serving churches can enjoy the same benefits, and I have in the six years I have been writing Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.

Both ministry and journalism are changing, and the internet is disrupting our notions of what a newspaper is, and what constitutes a congregation. We have never before lived in an age where anyone can have access to everyone. Not even Billy Graham, who has preached to more people in more countries than anyone in history had the opportunity for communication that we do today. Whether newspapers and ministers will seize this opportunity remains to be seen.

What do you think? Have you begun or expanded your ministry on the internet? And, if so, what does that look like? What are the criteria for an effective web ministry, in your opinion? Fire away in the comments. Thanks.

Survey Says: 5 Types of ‘Digital Moms’ Your Church Should Reach

According to a new survey, over 84% of mothers online — some 27-million women —  can be grouped into 5 “digital mom” categories.  However, these tech-savvy mothers use the internet, social media, gaming, texting, and other online content in different ways and for different purposes.  Churches can benefit from the insights of this new study by the marketing company Razorfish, and the world’s largest mom-centric website, Cafe Mom.

The survey discovered these five “digital mom” types:

1. The self-expressor mom.

Typically in her early thirties with one preschooler, and possibly more on the way, this mom is as likely to be stay-at-home as employed.  She balances the most limited household budget of all 5 types, and so needs to shop for value.  This mom is a highly socialable networker, and has a higher than average number of friends in her online social network.  She both creates and participates in online polls as one of her favorite ways to engage with others.  Her social network page is often decorated with digital badges, photos, and playlists which communicate her style.  Marketers can involve the self-expressor in their online brand campaigns by appealing to her artistic and individual sense.  She seeks the advice of real-world friends on parenting, but then turns to her online friends for addition advice and guidance.  40% of moms fall into this category.

2.  The utility mom.

The utility mom is in her mid-to-late thirties and is raising a couple of tweens.  She is likely to have the most children at home, yet spends the most time online in her social networking groups.  Yet, she prefers to bring her own real-world friends into her online network, rather than make new online friends.  She is more likely to join online groups, particularly if they are local school groups or groups providing practical information.  While she will answer other online polls, she creates little online content herself, and has the fewest online photos posted of any group.  She does like online game and quiz widgets, but values information from her real friends over that of her online network.  The utility mom uses her social network time for both monitoring her own children, and her own enjoyment of playing games or answering quizzes.  This mom is 26% of digital moms.

3.  The groupster mom.

This mom is in her early thirties with elementary school-age children.  As the name implies, she is more likely to join groups or start groups than any other digital mom segment.  But she is also not the most social of the digital moms, receiving more friend invitations than she sends.  She is confident and sees herself as a go-to person for advice, but not necessarily shopping advice.  She depends upon her online friends for parenting advice, although she says she is more influenced by brand programs on social networks when it comes to purchasing.  She also ranks the highest in sending private messages online, and values 1-to-1 communication.  The groupster mom is 12% of the digital mom cohort.

4.  The info-seeker mom.

In her twenties with her first baby, this mom is looking for information. She is among the best educated of all the moms, and is most likely to be a stay home mom.  She is interested in parenting information, which she prefers to get from real friends, but she will also turn to online parents in similar situations to hers.  She values the mom-to-mom conversations online, but while she uses social networks, her primary concern is to get product or parenting guidance.  The info-seeker is 12% of the total group.

5.  The hyper-connector mom.

This mom is the oldest, usually in her forties, with the oldest kids, usually teenagers.  Experienced as a parent, she uses social media more to chat with others, and gain information on products she might be considering.  She also monitors her own teens online usage, and is likely to play video games online with others.  She accesses digital news channels more than younger moms, and also blogs, leaves comments on the blogs of others, and is the highest content creator in the survey.  She is highly active, inviting others to join her online community of moms.  She values this online community more than expert opinions, online reviews or print advertising when it comes to purchasing decisions.  This mom is 9% of the digital mom universe.

Other insights into the world of digital moms includes —

  • All of these digital moms value WOM — word-of-mouth — recommendations, especially when the WOM comes from their online network.
  • While all of these moms use digital media, they do so for different purposes and in different ways depending on their age and the ages of their children.
  • From a marketing standpoint, online advertisers should engage these digital moms, rather than just depend on banner ads displaying on social networking sites.  The same might be said for churches and women’s ministries.

You can download and save the full report here.  The report is 36 pages and filled with charts and text explaining how each “digital mom” segment uses Web 2.0 media.  If you’re interested in women’s ministry, the internet, demographics, or social networking, this report will give you lots to think about.

The future of churches: A network of niches

In the on-going debate “will digital replace books?” the conclusion of many media watchers is an unequivocal Yes and No. Amazon’s Kindle has really become a game-changer, delivering books within seconds of purchase via Sprint’s wireless network.  Problems do exist, as Jeff Jarvis points out, because if you do not have good Sprint coverage in your area, books take hours to download, not seconds.  In other words, it’s not perfect.

So, will digital replace books? Yes, ebooks will replace printed books for many, maybe even most.  But, printed books will still survive in print-on-demand processes that print each copy as ordered.  Books will also survive in niche groups like “Save the Real Books” (which I just made up, but you get the idea).  After all, there are groups for vintage cars, vintage wine, vintage clothing, vintage furniture, so why not vintage book printing?  Digital won’t eliminate printed books, but digital will be another means to acquire and read books.  In other words, rather than one model (printed books), we’ll have a network of niche models from which to choose, including print, digital, audio, digital audio (the new Kindle can read your book to you), digital mobile, and so on.

Which brings us to churches, again.

Using the ebook versus printed book model, what does that say about churches?  I have been saying that we’re counting the wrong things in church (attendance) when we should be counting community engagement.  I’ve also said that church attendance will decrease (this is not an original thought), and we’re moving rapidly toward a post-Christendom era like Europe.

That said, I don’t think all existing churches will die.  For instance, the megachurches spawned by baby boomers will not go away.  I think their influence will diminish and some will go downsize.  But churches will always exist, some will always have buildings and property, and most will always be trying to attract people to them.

But, what I think will happen is new forms of church will emerge from the next generation of church leaders.  These forms are not even thought of yet.  Example: A few years ago who would have thought of LifeChurch.tv with an internet campus, and a bunch of satellite sites?

Lyle Schaller came close in the 1980s when he advocated that small churches use video sermons from outstanding preachers, but Schaller did not imagine that video sermons would be simulcast to remote satellite locations where a live band would lead worshippers in person, cutting to the remote video of Craig Groeschel (or Andy Stanley) in time for the message.

To get back to our question, Will churches of today disappear? Yes and no.

We can be certain of this — we live in an age of discontinuous change and unexpected consequences.  Nobody knows exactly what church will look like in the future because we’re not there yet.  But I have  a feeling it will be multiple models, not one predominant model like we had from WWII until about 1985. That’s about the time the church growth movement popularized church planting by anybody, not just denominations.  That shift resulted in hundreds of new churches, led by entrepreneurial church planters who created different models. That is what I think will happen, again, but this time the new models will be even more innovative than those of the last 25 years.

We’ll still have bricks-and-mortar churches, but also house churches, coffee shop churches, outdoor churches, churches that meet once a month, churches that meet online, churches that consists of groups which interact frequently, and churches that we can’t even imagine yet.  We will also see ‘single market’ churches that focus on the homeless or the physically handicapped or the poor or any niche group you can think of.

In other words, the same thing that is happening in the broader culture will happen in churches, too — more options, more models, a network of niches, rather than a predominant church form.

I am also certain that whatever emerges, church will not ever be the same again. By extension, neither will denominations, cross-cultural missions programs, or Christian education programs be the same again.  These will all change radically, because the current models are unsustainable in today’s culture.

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

A Global and Mobile Future

Thanks to Bobby Gruenewald at LifeChurch.tv’s Swerve blog for bringing this video to our attention.  It’s about 5 1/2 minutes, but you will be amazed.  Watch it.  The future is here.

The internet for everyone?

I ran across this site, internetforeveryone.org, which touts “the internet for everyone.” Not hard to figure that out — their reasoning is broadband access enables everyone to participate in democracy and exercise free speech.  Good argument, especially in light of the fact that only 20% of the world has access to the internet.  In the US, only 35% of families with income under $50,000 have broadband access.  That’s one reason we included a computer lab and wifi access in our new community center.

But back to small churches — does the internet figure in your small church ministry, and if so, how?  In our church, only about a dozen families even use e-mail, so the internet is not a big factor for us.  When we tried to do an on-line church-wide survey, we had to print paper surveys and then enter the results on-line manually because so few of our members use the internet.

But, your church may be different.  Do you use email, a website, text messaging, instant messaging, on-line ads, or any other internet services in your ministry setting?  Does your church have a website?  Does your church provide at least the office area with broadband access?  Is is necessary for small churches?  I’d like to know what you’re doing, and so would lots of other small-church folks.  So, either drop me a postcard, or hey, why not comment here!  Thanks.