NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A significant gap in the use of the Internet and computers is emerging between large congregations and small congregations, a recent study has found.
Ellison Research, a full-service marketing research firm in Phoenix that conducted the research for the January/February issue of Facts & Trends magazine, reported that nine out of 10 Protestant ministers have access to the Internet either at home or at work, but only about half of all churches maintain a website in this growing technological age. Facts & Trends is published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“As the American public becomes more and more reliant on technology in everyday life, they will logically expect churches to have things such as websites, streaming audio or video on the site, or study materials on video or computer software,” Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, said. “Small churches often don’t have the budget to pay for technology, or the staff or volunteers to implement it. The increased use of technology in churches has a real potential to widen the gap even further between small churches and medium or large congregations.”
In a survey of 700 Protestant pastors nationwide, 91 percent said they have access to the Internet — reaching across all ages, church sizes and denominations — researchers said.
But only 52 percent of those pastors said their church maintains a presence on the World Wide Web where surfers can access information ranging from service times to ministries offered. The breakdown by church size was striking: 88 percent of churches with 200 or more people attending worship services on a typical weekend have a website, while 60 percent of churches with 100-199 in attendance have one and just 28 percent of small churches are on the Web.
A pastor’s age also factors into whether his church maintains a website, Ellison found. Among ministers under 60, 56 percent have a church website, though among ministers 60 or older, 35 percent have a site.
When asked to rank which particular use of technology would be most important to the work of their church over the next five years, doing research on the Internet topped the list with 34 percent of pastors choosing that answer. About one of every four ministers said using Bible study software, maintaining a church website, using PowerPoint or other graphic presentations in worship services, being able to show DVDs or videos and using e-mail to communicate with church members would be important uses of technology in the coming years, the study said.
Again, the size of the church gave some indication of whether its pastor would rank a certain use of technology high. Forty-nine percent of large church pastors said building and maintaining a website would be extremely important, but only 16 percent of small church pastors said so. Similarly, 42 percent of large churches thought communicating with members through e-mail would be important while 13 percent of small churches saw that as a great need. The most worthwhile uses of technology for pastors of small churches was cited as Bible study software and doing research on the Internet, according to the Ellison study.
“Some technology is not appropriate for all churches,” Sellers said. “A PowerPoint presentation in morning services wouldn’t fit with the worship styles of many congregations, for instance.
“But pastors need to take a hard look at where technology might no longer be a matter of style or a luxury for the congregation, but an expectation,” he added. “For example, with a majority of Americans using the Internet, it’s amazing that over one out of four medium and large churches don’t have any presence on the Web — particularly with many churches trying to figure out ways of attracting younger people, who are particularly likely to use the Internet to gather information and explore their options.”
Among Southern Baptist ministers of all ages, 24 percent said a church website will be “extremely important” in their church’s ministry over the next five years, and 25 percent selected that description for using the computer to send e-mail messages to the congregation. Thirty percent said the use of graphics in worship services would be vital, while the same percentage listed use of DVD or video clips. Ellison found that 27 percent of Southern Baptist pastors considered Bible study software to be extremely important and 30 percent said using the Internet for research is necessary.
Ellison Research said its sample of ministers included only those who are actively leading churches and is accurate to within plus or minus 3.6 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.
The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations. Respondents’ geography, church size and denomination were tracked for appropriate representation and accuracy.
More data from this study is available at http://www.greymatterresearch.com/index_files/Church_Technology.htm.