Email, Websites, and Facebook Pages: Major and Marginal Users

In the past decade, religious communities have embraced electronic communication in a big way. As the latest report from Faith Communities Today (FACT) by Scott Thumma indicates—“The use of both websites and email by congregations has more than doubled in the past decade.”

One of the surprising results is congregational use of Facebook (over 40% of the congregations in the study report its use). Given the young age of Facebook—only four years of general public use when the study was conducted in 2000—the adoption rate is stunning. At the same time, use of church websites has leveled off—about three in four congregations maintain a website.

The following figure from the report reveals that many congregations take a “both/and” approach with electronic technology—one in three churches have both a website and a Facebook page.

Figure 4 100
Thumma points out that few congregational websites are interactive and many are not updated regularly. On the other hand, Facebook pages are more dynamic, easily updated, and interactive for “friends” of the page. However, Facebook features do not suit congregations particularly well for reaching out to potential worshipers as much as a well-designed website does.

Use of email. Email communication is the most adopted technology by congregations. With few exceptions, eight or nine out of every ten congregations report using email to conduct church business, stay in touch with members, or contact visitors. Here are some of the top users (percent of congregations reporting use):

  • Unitarian Universalists (100%)
  • Baha’is of the United States (100%)
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (98%)
  • Episcopal Church (98%)
  • Mennonite Church USA (97%)
  • Reformed Church in America (96%)
  • Churches of Christ (96%)
  • Christian Reformed Church (96%)
  • Church of the Nazarene (96%)
  • Southern Baptist Convention (95%)
  • United Methodist Church (93%)
  • Roman Catholic Church (91%)
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (86%)

Facebook use. In only seven of the 27 participating denominations and faith groups did at least half of congregations indicate they had a Facebook page. Certainly, Facebook puts the congregation and its members and “friends” in the public domain, which means some potential for compromised privacy for individuals. Here are the seven groups where at least half of congregations reported having a Facebook page (percent of congregations reporting use):

  • Assemblies of God (69%)
  • Unitarian Universalists (66%)
  • Church of the Nazarene (60%)
  • Southern Baptist Convention (57%)
  • Nondenominational (56%)*
  • Muslim (52%)*
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (50%)

*Author Scott Thumma notes low response rate for these groups and warrants caution for data interpretation.

About one in four (26%) Presbyterian congregations use Facebook pages to represent their church.

Congregational websites. As the chart above illustrates, some congregations utilize multiple electronic formats for outreach and mission. The average adoption of websites as a tool across groups is 74%. Several denominations and faith groups show adoption rates that exceed this overall average. Here are the 11 groups in which website use exceeds the average (percent of congregations reporting usage):

  • Unitarian Universalists (97%)
  • Orthodox Christian (92%)
  • Episcopal Church (91%)
  • Reformed Church in America (92%)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (81%)
  • Christian Reformed Church (80%)
  • Churches of Christ (80%)
  • Nondenominational (78%)*
  • Southern Baptist Convention (78%)
  • Roman Catholic Church (76%)
  • Mennonite Church (76%)

*Author Scott Thumma notes low response rate for these groups and warrants caution for data interpretation.

In comparison, about two in three Presbyterian churches (64%) maintain a church website, slightly below the overall average.

Marginal users. FACT researchers developed a three-point scale of Internet and computer-aided technologies—no or marginal technology use, modest use of technology, and major use. The scale became a tool to rank congregations in each of the participating denominations. Here are the faith groups with the highest percentages of congregations identified as marginal users of electronic technology:

  • Conservative Judaism (83%)
  • Reform Judaism (78%)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (66%)
  • Muslim (65%)*
  • Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (59%)
  • Roman Catholic Church (58%)

*Author Scott Thumma notes low response rate for these groups and warrants caution for data interpretation.

The project rated less than half of congregations in the remaining 21 groups, including Presbyterians, as marginal users. One in three Presbyterian churches (35%) were identified as marginal users in this research.

Benefits of adopting new technology. Technology is just one tool among many for congregations seeking to build on their strengths. Scott Thumma links the adoption of technology to church innovativeness, distinctiveness, vitality, and numerical growth. Compared to others, more congregations that are technologically savvy are innovative, different from other neighborhood churches, and experience vitality and church growth.

Where does your congregation stand in this picture? Is your church among the early adopters of technological strategies? If your congregation makes use of technology, do church leaders engage in ongoing conversations about how this tool enhances congregational life?