As I begin our conversation today, I want to locate myself at this table. I am a Baptist Pastor’s Kid; married to a United Methodist Minister; seminary trained academic and consultant who is a candidate for ordination in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church teaching at a United Methodist University. Simply put I am a Church Nerd. Although the majority of my research and consultancy examines communication strategy and crisis in the life of the Church my work, especially the focus of my research over the last 15 months has focused on the role of social media in the role of doing church.
My research partner Dr. Greg Armfield, one of the leading and most cited scholars on religiosity and internet use and I researched the internet usage of a Large Midwest United Methodist Congregation. We found that much to our surprise congregants weren’t looking up scriptures or working on Sunday school lessons—they were using the internet to relax; catch up with friends, news, sports, run their fantasy football leagues basically everything but connect with the church. We were especially surprised because the religiosity (the intensity of religious belief of this congregation was significant in terms of belief, behavior and religious commitment. At the time, we both wondered if our findings were impaired either by not having a diverse enough sample or the possible influence of clergy attitudes and use of the internet. Basically, I wondered if there was a relationship between a Pastor who preached against the internet and the use of the internet by their congregation. As scholars we knew that it would only be a matter of time before either a) someone would find an error with our research method or our conclusions
We were both gratified by the fact that our research methodology and our conclusions have remained a) the foundation for current research and consistent with the findings by numerous scholars over the last 5 years which is a lifetime in the academy. The latest study from Pew’s comprehensive study last November spent considerable effort to understand the usage of both the religious and the non-religious of social media. Of the 2 out of 3 Americans who use facebook, twitter, linked in, etc, they do so for fundamentally the same reasons we found in 2006—Companionship and Entertainment and
When Pew split out the usage of religious Americans they found that their reasons for using social media were not significantly different than non religious Americans. Most interesting was that their research found that religious individuals reported no significant impact of social media on their religious connections with their Churches. It didn’t strengthen or weaken it. Consequently, the internet just became another not better means of doing the business of organizing church. We can use email or Google or yahoo groups to organize ourselves rather than sign up sheets or telephone calls. But if we weren’t that excited about our Sunday school class before facebook we are no more like to be excited about it after facebook. Now one of the thing that Pew (and we believed) needed to be controlled for was the difference in median ages. The Average age of religious Americans is 49 years old, so it is possible that these uses of the internet and social media will change if we examine the behaviors of the 18-25 year old demographic.
In 2011 we rolled out a national survey of 18-24 year olds and their religious attitudes, information seeking behavior, and religious identity. To ensure we knew what to measure we spent several months in focus groups and individual interviews. In January we pretested our survey with college students from around the country and found that rather than preferring the anonymous world of the internet for questions of faith and religion…they preferred richer (face to face channels) but interestingly they still would rather go to the internet than to their local pastor.
Our survey data indicates that all internet resources are not the same for this demographic—the vast majority indicated that they would go to a denomination website. Interestingly despite the rise of a considerable number of content clearinghouses of outstanding religious content, a very small percentage of this demographic view them as sources of information on matters of faith. The very low percentage of this group willing to use Facebook for faith information gathering perhaps is indicative of Facebook’s use as a social connection site rather than an news and information site.
Our interviews and focus groups indicated that there is great ambivalence about the attempts of churches, youth pastors, and senior pastors using Facebook and twitter to reach this age group. An overwhelming majority of our interviewees indicate an unwillingness to conflate their social networking and their religious lives as one interviewee pointed out: the last thing I want to see on Facebook is my senior pastor. That’s my space.
The &quot;Rethink Church&quot; campaign was designed to reach young adults who may not be familiar with church, want to make their lives more meaningful, and have a deep yearning to connect with God and with a community of support. Worldwide, more than 300,000 volunteers were mobilized to serve more than 5 million people for &quot;Rethink Church&quot; programs over the past two years. More than 40 percent of volunteers were not affiliated with any church. This May, up to 400,000 volunteers are expected to participate in programs in 16 countries. In El Paso, Texas, volunteers – 82% from outside the church – delivered 16 tons of food to 1,200 people and provided health screenings to 400.
How social media is changing the communication of the church
TWEETING JESUS: How Social Media is changing the communication of the churchDr. Maria A. Dixon, Associate Professor-Organizational Communication Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas #mobilefaith
A Nerd who loves Church edia W he social m re d o Ho w can the brand when 18-2 4 yea h? they c hange the Churc abou have r old ceptio n of t chu ques s goper rc h a t nd fa ions ith? How has socia l media change d the way that Pastors comm Churches and unicate with th e Pew? Why and how do congregations use the internet and social media?
Today…..• How and why Congregations and 18-24 year olds are using social media (and how they don’t want the Church to use it)• How social media can impact the public brand of the Church• How social media can help the Church collaborate with the world to do good
The View from the PewCongregational Uses of Social Media
When Congregations click…. • Our study found that congregations use social media/internet to meet 4 primary needs: – Entertainment – Companionship – Escape – Information Seeking Armfield, Dixon, Dougherty, (2006) Journal of Communication and Religion
When Congregations click….• Pew Research Center reports: – 66% of Americans use social media • To stay in touch with friends • To stay in touch with family • To re-connect to old friends • To connect and collaborate with those who share the same hobbies and interests • To find a relationship • To gather news and celebrity gossip Pew Internet Study on Why Americans Use Social Media 11/15/2011
When Congregations click….• Pew Research Center reports: – 58% of religious Americans use social media • 11% use twitter – Only 22% has said that it has had any effect on making them more involved in their religious organization – 72% say that social media has had no effect on their religious involvement Pewinterest.org/reports/2011/social-side-of –religion 11/23/2011
On the outside not looking in…..• 18-24 year old religious information seekers on questions of faith were most likely to go to : – 70% Parents or Mentor – 85% Friend or Peer – 55% Internet – 47% Clergy Dixon, Armfield, and MC2012 (2012)
On the outside not looking in…..• When they do go to the internet for information : – 38% are most likely to go to a denomination website – 9% are most likely to go to a Wiki or Wikipedia – 2% are most likely to go to Facebook
Seriously, we don’t want to“friend” our pastor….• 18-24 year olds express great unease about the church and social media :“There is a line between our social and religious lives”“I need my pastor to be the adult not my friend on Facebook’“Let me decide how I want to connect with you” Dixon & MC2011 (2011)
Social Media and the Brand of the Church:JESUS.COM VS. JESUS, INC.
Social Media has changed the way theChurch plays telephone….For the Good …. For the Bad…• Aftermath of Haitian Earth • Loss of ‘containment’ on Quake controversies and scandals• Announcement of major • Shortened window to mission initiatives address ‘vacuums of information’• To create buzz for new service offerings • Struggle for relevance in a very crowded field of information sources
Social Media can ‘Rethink’ a Church’s Brand• Rethink Church campaign video - YouTube
Creating Connections andCollaborations even with the world…• Through their Rethink Church Campaign, The United Methodist Church has…. – created an online presence that transcends the denomination – utilized Social Media for what congregations and the seeker demographic use it for– information, advocacy, and involvement – created the Impact events that have brought the world and the Church together in service– serving over 5 million lives with more than 42% of volunteers NOT members of the United Methodist Church in 2011
Final Words from the Church Nerd…• The Church cannot afford to confuse changes in Channel with changes in Content• Evangelism and Pastoral Care are still FACE TO FACE functions and no website or Facebook page can substitute for the actual Body of Christ• Your congregation will use the internet to gather information about the things you want them to and the things you would rather they not• The advent of social media means that every church and every denomination needs to have great concern for their brand and have a strategic communication plan that includes the use of social media to handle Crisis, Calamity, and Controversy
#mobilefaithWhere you can get this data…. • The Relationship between Religiosity and Internet Use by Greg Armfield and Lance Holbert (Journal of Media and Religion) • Organizational Power and Religious Individuals Media Use by Greg Armfield, Maria Dixon, and Debbie Dougherty (Journal of Communication and Religion) • The 2011 Use of Social Media and the 2011 Social Side of Religion by the Pew Research Center (www.pewresearch.org) • “United Methodist’s attracting young people to religion” http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/united-methodists-attracting-young-adults-to- • To know more about the 2012 Religious Information-seeking survey of 18-25 year olds please contact: email@example.com or @mariadixon