Good Evening, My name is Misty Campbell-Olbert and my presentation is on Communicating Beyond the Pulpit: A Look at Social Media in the church setting. My thesis project looked at why the number of parishioners in churches is dwindling and posed the question, “Could new technologies and social media be effective in assimilating and retaining parishioners?”
To start the Action Research, I needed a question that leaders could pursue to improve their organization. I chose Grace Fellowship Church and the question of what could the leaders do to ultimately change the current trend of the dwindling numbers.
Many authors have studiedand profiled this phenomenon. These are just three of the more recognizable authorities on the subject. They have come to the conclusion that churches just cannot stay with old mindsets.
Roger Dudley states:
Christine Wicker notes:
Knowing that this is an issue that is prevalent in churches, Leaders need to devise and implement a plan to reverse this trend. How exactly should they go about doing it though. My first thought when looking at Roger’s previous quote was that something needs to engage the younger generations to make them want to go to a church or stay with a church that they may be at because their parents went there. What about looking at common everyday tools that they use. Thus, the idea to study technology and social media to see if they would be influential in enticing these younger generations to come to and stay with a church.
We first need to look at what social media is. There are some common misconceptions about the term social media. It is not just Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. Those are a component, but social media is a way of communicating to others through technology mediums. In essence it can include texting, skype, email, blogs, wikis, and the more popular social networking sites. I came across this definition by the Forester firm and I think it eloquently explains the concept of social media.
In this study, I not only looked at the background and history of social media, but I also looked at the history of Social Groups as they related to churches. The first Church as we know it in the Bible was actually a small social group.Jesus himself formed the first idea of a Christian Church. He did this with a small group of men, the twelve disciples (Matt. 4:18-22, Luke 6:13-16 New International Version). In fact many of the churches in the beginnings were small home-based groups. These home bound small groups allowed individuals with similar interests to gather and grow together through stronger bonds that could not be achieved in large settings of mass people. Eventually this biblical background laid the foundation for the more modern day idea of cells within churches. A noted researcher in the field of church beginnings, Joel Comiskey, prepared a dissertation on the History of Cell Churches. He discovered through his studies that these cells provided for nurturing, support, and a general sense of community. So with this in mind, could technology and social media be a viable alternative for creating small groups outside the church walls? This leads into the first of the three questions profiled in this study…
Before diving into the statistics, I want to present an overview of the methodology and a few of the demographics. This was an action Research project that will be cyclical, just as action research should be. Although results and recommendations were reported, this topic is an ever-changing field and will need to constantly be readdressed as questions arise. The study used both qualitative and quantitative means through primary and secondary data collection. The secondary data included literature and past studies on the topic. It also involved both subjective and objective information using a set questionnaire with responses that could be physically calculated and a follow-up interview with some open response questions.
48 questionnaires were given out and 47 were received back for a return rate of 98%. The sample population was randomly generated and interesting enough, the ratio of males to females was nearly 50-50.
The more important demographic category however was the age groups. Now to the findings in relation to the three questions…
Communicating Beyond the Pulpit Misty Campbell-Olbert Please see below for notes accompanying each slide. A Look at Social Media in the Church Setting
Issue at Hand Church numbers are falling especially among the younger generations.
Christine Wicker in her book: The Fall of the Evangelical Nation - The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church Roger L. Dudley in his study - Indicators of commitment to the church: a longitudinal study of church-affiliated youth Steve Wright in his book - : Decide for Yourself, Student Ministry Working?
The Question is “why?” and what can church leaders do about it?
“In a major quantitative, ecumenical study of church disengagement and reentry, based on the 1978 Gallup survey of unchurched Americans, Roozen (1980) estimated that about 46% of Americans drop out of church participation at some time in their lives, with the peak occurring during the teenage years. Probable causes for the increase at this stage were lessening of parental influence as peer pressure and the emancipation process increased, plus the feeling that the church had little to offer that was relevant or interesting.” Roger L. Dudley "Indicators of commitment to the church: a longitudinal study of church-affiliated youth". Adolescence. FindArticles.com. 27 Aug, 2009. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2248/is_n109_v28/ai_13885818/
“Who’s to blame for all this? Not the bible, not God, and not the churches. Modern life, changed circumstances, the new realities that we live among are to blame. Evangelicals tried to fight the modern world and the world won” (Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, p. 4).
Could common technology and social media play an integral roll in creating a sense of community and help bring in members as well as keep them by making church “relevant or interesting”.
What is Social Media? Forrester defines social computing as "A social structure in which technology puts power in communities, not institutions." We also believe that three tenets define social computing: 1) innovation will shift from top-down to bottom-up; 2) value will shift from ownership to experience; and3) power will shift from institutions to communities? http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2006/02/forrsters_socia.html
Three Questions…Can technology and social media create a sense of community?Can technology aid in assimilation of individuals to a church?Can technology and social media influence retention of parishioners at a church?
Has communicating with this group through the Internet allowed you to get to know people that you otherwise might never have met?
“The Internet is being used by congregations to strengthen the faith and spiritual growth of their members, evangelize and perform missions in their communities and around the world, and perform a wide variety of pious and practical activities for their congregations. Many believe the Internet has helped these faith communities become better places” (Larsen, 2000, p. 2).
If Grace Fellowship and its members did NOT communicate through the Internet, do you think the group would function __________ than it does now?
“When polled specifically about email usage, which is a collaborative Web 2.0 tool, the results were overwhelmingly positive in the effect it had on the idea of building a stronger community, not just within the organization, but also within the surrounding community as well. 91% say email has helped congregation members and members of the staff stay more in touch with each other – 51% say it has helped a great deal and 63% say email has helped the congregation connect at least a bit more to the surrounding community – 17% say it has helped a lot” (Larsen, 2000, p. 2).
Percentage of Respondents using email to communicate with a group on the internet
How Important is the use of email by the church you attend?
Church E Church C Church B Church D No Church Church A Assimilation (Recruitment)
Have you used the internet to find a new church, congregation, or worship group?
How did you FIRST find Grace Fellowship’s web site?
Did you belong to Grace Fellowship BEFORE you started communicating with them through the Internet?
Were you looking for a church to attend when you looked at Grace’s website?
Participants usage of searching for religious information on the internet
Email - 100% Important Website - 100% Important Facebook – 60% Important, 40% Not Important (interesting to note that both the 18-25 and 61+ age groups ranked this as 100% Important) MySpace – 33% Important, 67% Not Important (interesting to note that 83% of the 18-25 year old category marked this as Not Important which is typically the demographic that uses MySpace) Linkedin - 29% Important, 71% Not Important (interesting to note however that the 61+ group was 50-50 on this item) Twitter – 45% Important, 55% Not Important Video and Audio Downloads – 83% Important, 17% Not Important (interesting to note that both the 18-25 and 61+ age groups ranked this as 100% Important) Videos on YouTube – 71% Important, 29% Not Important Multimedia in Worship Service – 93% Important, 7% Not Important Videos for Announcements and News in Worship Service – 90% Important, 10% Not Important Text Messaging for Communication - 60% Important, 40% Not Important Photo Sharing for Events and Mission Trips – 74% Important, 26% Not Important Active Blog – 72% Important, 28% Not Important
Conclusion “Technologies will come and go, but the power built on the relationships created by social computing will endure.” http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2006/02/forrsters_socia.html
Big Ahas Facebook – 60% Important, 40% Not Important (interesting to note that both the 18-25 and 61+ age groups ranked this as 100% Important) MySpace – 33% Important, 67% Not Important (interesting to note that 83% of the 18-25 year old category marked this as Not Important which is typically the demographic that uses MySpace) Linkedin - 29% Important, 71% Not Important (interesting to note however that the 61+ group was 50-50 on this item) Video and Audio Downloads – 83% Important, 17% Not Important (interesting to note that both the 18-25 and 61+ age groups ranked this as 100% Important) Active Blog – 72% Important, 28% Not Important
Biggest Aha It is interesting to note one of the follow-up questions posed to the interviewees dealt with special sermons held throughout the year that involve text messaging as part of the sermon itself. The results were fascinating in the fact that it did not seem to matter if the individual had a texting plan or not, the participants overwhelmingly (100%) liked the idea of the integration of this common technology. The responses were as follows: “I liked the spontaneity.” “I liked seeing other people’s thoughts expressed - and subsequently addressed.” “I feel like the idea/use of current technology/texting will draw in younger people.” “There was/is nothing I disliked.” “Like for instant feedback.” “I think it is a great concept to keep up with the way the younger generation communicates. Also, it gives people an anonymous way to be more actively involved in the service. It is interesting to see the opinions and questions others have.” “I really like it that Mike can incorporate the congregation in these special sermons. I think at first they needed to tweak the process quite a bit, but after getting a few months of experience with using the program, I believe it runs more smoothly compared to when they first started using it.” “I like if you have questions during the service you can ask right away and get answers right away” “I think the services are fine and it is great for Pastor Mike to be able to answer people's questions immediately. I don't text, so I don't participate in this part, but I like hearing the questions and his answers.” “I like this, it lets you feel more involved with the sermon.”
Interesting Fact Pope embraces social media: will it help? May 7th, 2008 Lois Kelly Posted in Conversational Marketing, Leadership, Musings | Pope Benedict plans to text thousands of young Catholics during World Youth Day in Sydney in July; the church plans to also set up a Catholic social networking site and use digital prayer walls. The goal: make the Catholic church more relevant to younger churchgoers. Good for the rather conservative Catholics to use new ways to connect — especially in view of the declining number of members of the Catholic Church in many Western countries like the United States and Belgium. According to a recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study: Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration. The question for the Pope, as it is for all marketers, is whether using social media tools can help attract and keep members without also changing the message and experience.