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 studied and 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…
The first question was, “Does technology and social media create a sense of community?”From the study it was deemed that Social Media clearly has a place when creating a sense of community that would have not otherwise been possible for some because of distance, time constraints, or conflicting schedules. There were several questions posed on the questionnaire with regards to community. One of the participants in the follow-up interviews stated perfectly what social media and technology can do for churches – “I have been able to get to know some people thru FaceBook from church that may attend a different service and wouldn&apos;t otherwise gotten to know”.This is what creating a community beyond the church walls is all about and what is overwhelmingly evidenced in the data from this study.
The first one was “Has communicating with this group through the Internet allowed you to get to know people that you otherwise might never have met?” The results are shown. As you can see, the results were overwhelmingly positive (62%, yes) when it came to the internet and social media providing a sense of community and allowing people who had never met before to connect with each other easily through these tools
Pew Internet did a study on the Internet’s influence on religious organizations and wrote a report called Wired Churches. The survey results strongly suggested a sense of community through use of the Internet. In this slide you can see a quote by the head researcher, Elena Larsen. Following with the statement that many believe the Internet has helped these faith communities become better places, this study asked, ““If Grace Fellowship and its members did NOT communicate through the Internet, do you think the group would function __________ than it does now?” …
Just as discovered in the PEW Internet Study, participants feel that communication through the internet is a large influencing factor for churches. 39% of the respondents believe that Grace would be worse off if they did not provide a means of communication through the internet, while 10% feel it would be the same, 28% are not sure, and only 2% feel that it would be better.
Larsen’s study included the use of email. Her results as it relates to email creating a sense of community are presented here. Similar results were seen in my study as well.
The statistics for this slide were compiled from the question: “Do you ever send or receive email with this group (meaning a group that they visit on the internet) or its members?” In every age category, the response was over 50% (18-25, 55%; 26-40, 80%; 41-60, 75%; and 61+, 52%), revealing that all of the participants felt that email was an important form of communication and an alternate means to face-to-face communication with the group members.
More statistics on email were also compiled in a question on “How important is it for the church you attend to communicate by email?” The response was overwhelmingly 100% for importance, with 83% of the participants saying it was “Very Important”.
The next questions addressed in this study was, “Can technology aid in assimilation of individuals to a church?”The participants were asked, three key questions on the initial survey, “Have you used the internet to find a new church, congregation, or worship group, How did you FIRST find Grace Fellowship’s web site?, and Did you belong to Grace Fellowship BEFORE you started communicating with them through the Internet?” The results are presented on the next slides.
41% of the participants had looked for a new church online
There were a variety of answers for how the participants had found out about Grace’s website. The first four categories show that the internet is key in assimilation. The study could not determine if the participants had made a decision on a permanent church or were visitors when replying that they heard about the website during the worship service.
and 34% of participants communicated with Grace through the internet before attending.
In follow-up interviews, I was able to delve into the past question “Did you belong to Grace Fellowship BEFORE you started communicating with them through the Internet?” a little deeper.The follow-up question was, “Were you looking for a church to attend when you looked at Grace’s website?” 57% of the follow-up interviewees had not attended or had not decided on a permanent church prior to looking at Grace’s website. While these statistics overall do not show a majority, they still show a large percentage of the population seeks out information for a permanent place of worship online.
It is also interesting to note in regards to assimilation that 79% of the participants said that they had used the internet to look for information on religious faiths both their own religion (87%) as well as information on other religions (70%). Although, this study could not determine whether these individuals were a part of a religious organization before they participated in these online activities, a conclusion can be made from the results on the slide that there is a need for a strong presence on the internet for Grace Fellowship and other Churches, if they wish to be sought out for assimilation.
The influence of retention using social media tools was highly evident throughout the results of the survey. One of the follow-up interview participants summed up this section very well, “While I don&apos;t think that using social media should be the central focus of a church it definitely helps my overall experience because that&apos;s what I&apos;m used to in everyday life.” Comfort with everyday tools that individuals are accustomed to seems to play an important role in both retention and assimilation.
Thisslide shows there is a strong preference from the majority of the participants that technology and social media are available at the church that they attend. The question asked was, “How important are each of the following to you in the church you are looking to attend or already attend?” From these findings, it is extremely important for Grace Fellowship to implement and continue to utilize a variety of technology and social media to not only help in assimilation, but also to keep their current parishioners.
Based on the results of the survey, technology and social media are tools that are readily used by all ages and should be highly considered when implementing an assimilation and retention plan within the church setting. The respondents agreed that it would be hard to give up many of the common technologies introduced over the last 5-10 years and are widely utilized today. In addition, a sense of community created by these tools is an advantage to church organizations. Looking at the three key questions for this study, Technology and social media support the establishment of a community culture within the organization, which in turn helps in assimilating and retaining parishioners. Also, the fact that almost all technology and social media is considered open source (free for the provider and usually the receiver) makes these tools a cost-effective and unique means for “marketing” of churches. The use of technology and social media also enables religious organizations to save on valuable resources as it allows for participation amongst all of the parishioners and this contribution helps free up the Church Leaders to focus on their weekly goals. As the study shows, to ensure that a church remains viable, these technologies must be implemented.If Church Leaders, not just at Grace Fellowship, but any religious organization can embrace this thought process, the stakeholders will have confidence in them and a strong and viable organization will arise.To end, the quote by Charlene Li on the slide is wise information for Church Leaders while embracing a technology initiative.
Communicating Beyond the Pulpit Final Thesis Research SummaryPresentation For Slide Share
Communicating Beyond the Pulpit<br />Misty Campbell-Olbert<br />Please see below for notes accompanying each slide.<br /> A Look at Social Media in the Church Setting<br />
Issue at Hand<br />Church numbers are falling especially among the younger generations.<br />
Christine Wicker in her book: The Fall of the Evangelical Nation - The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church<br />Roger L. Dudley in his study - Indicators of commitment to the church: a longitudinal study of church-affiliated youth<br />Steve Wright in his book - : Decide for Yourself, Student Ministry Working?<br />
The Question is “why?” and what can church leaders do about it?<br />
“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.”<br />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/<br />
“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”<br />(Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, p. 4). <br />
Could common technology and social media play an integral role in creating a sense of community and help bring in members as well as keep them by making church “relevant or interesting”. <br />
What is Social Media?<br />Forrester defines social computing as "A social structure in which technology puts power in communities, not institutions." <br />We also believe that three tenets define social computing:<br />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?<br />http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2006/02/forrsters_socia.html<br />
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?<br />
Has communicating with this group through the Internet allowed you to get to know people that you otherwise might never have met?<br />
“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).<br />
If Grace Fellowship and its members did NOT communicate through the Internet, do you think the group would function __________ than it does now?<br />
“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).<br />
Percentage of Respondents using email to communicate with a group on the internet<br />
How Important is the use of email by the church you attend?<br />
Email - 100% Important<br />Website - 100% Important<br />Facebook – 60% Important, 40% Not Important (interesting to note that both the 18-25 and 61+ age groups ranked this as 100% Important)<br />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)<br />Linkedin - 29% Important, 71% Not Important (interesting to note however that the 61+ group was 50-50 on this item)<br />Twitter – 45% Important, 55% Not Important<br />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)<br />Videos on YouTube – 71% Important, 29% Not Important<br />Multimedia in Worship Service – 93% Important, 7% Not Important<br />Videos for Announcements and News in Worship Service – 90% Important, 10% Not Important<br />Text Messaging for Communication - 60% Important, 40% Not Important<br />Photo Sharing for Events and Mission Trips – 74% Important, 26% Not Important<br />Active Blog – 72% Important, 28% Not Important<br />
Conclusion<br />“Technologies will come and go, but the power built on the relationships created by social computing will endure.”<br />http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2006/02/forrsters_socia.html<br />
Big Ahas<br />Facebook – 60% Important, 40% Not Important (interesting to note that both the 18-25 and 61+ age groups ranked this as 100% Important)<br />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)<br />Linkedin - 29% Important, 71% Not Important (interesting to note however that the 61+ group was 50-50 on this item)<br />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)<br />Active Blog – 72% Important, 28% Not Important<br />
Biggest Aha<br />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:<br />“I liked the spontaneity.”<br />“I liked seeing other people’s thoughts expressed - and subsequently addressed.”<br />“I feel like the idea/use of current technology/texting will draw in younger people.”<br />“There was/is nothing I disliked.”<br />“Like for instant feedback.”<br />“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.”<br />“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.”<br />“I like if you have questions during the service you can ask right away and get answers right away”<br />“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.”<br />“I like this, it lets you feel more involved with the sermon.”<br />
Interesting Fact<br />Pope embraces social media: will it help?<br />May 7th, 2008 Lois Kelly Posted in Conversational Marketing, Leadership, Musings |<br />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.<br />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:<br />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.<br />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.<br />