by Ida Smith-Williams
Three-fourths of all congregations today have a congregational Web site (77%). This is up from 2001 when not even half of congregations (43%) maintained a Web site. A Web site is like an individual’s business card or like the Yellow Pages were in the 1970s for businesses—they are electronic billboards, if you will. Web sites advertise information that people want to know such as the congregation’s name and location—the who, what, when, where, why, and how. A church’s Web site gives a glimpse of the congregation’s “front door.”
Besides attracting potential visitors, Web sites are used to communicate with attendees (77% of congregations with Web sites use them for this purpose). They help worshipers know what is going on in the congregation. Congregational Web sites may also feature: a church calendar (83% have a calendar of events on their site); a list of volunteer needs or service opportunities (54%); online newsletters (52%); and sermon transcripts in audio, video, or written form (48%). Fewer congregations feature online discussion groups or Bible studies (6%), an online giving option (9%), or a member directory (11%) on their Web site.
Are there differences in what types of congregations have Web sites and which do not?
Faith group: Mainline Protestant churches are most likely to have Web sites (79% do), followed closely by equal percentages of Catholic parishes and conservative Protestants churches (72%). These percentages have increased from 2001 when half or fewer in each group had a Web site (mainline Protestants, 53%; Catholics, 47%; and conservative Protestants, 37%).
Size: Congregations with larger worship attendance are more likely to offer Web sites: 81% of large churches with 351 or more in worship and 86% of mid-size churches with 101 to 350 in worship, but only 68% of churches with 100 or fewer in worship have Web sites.
Age of congregation: Nearly all churches organized since 1980 (97%) have Web sites, compared to three-fourths (75%) of those organized prior to 1980.
Growing churches: Interestingly, churches that grew in worship attendance over the previous five years are no more or less likely to have a Web site than those that either lost worshipers or had no change in worship attendance.
Are there differences in how congregations use their Web sites?
Yes. As the table below shows, Catholic parishes are more likely than non-Catholic churches to use their Web site to communicate with attendees. Compared to Protestant churches, Catholic parishes are also more likely to have a church calendar (96%), an online newsletter (67%), a list of volunteer needs or service opportunities (61%), and online giving options on their Web site. Compared to other types of churches, conservative Protestants churches are more likely to offer sermon transcripts (56%), online discussion groups or Bible studies (12%), and a member directory (16%).
How Congregations Use Their Web Sites
|Communicate with members
|List volunteer needs
|Online discussion groups
As computer technology continues to change, it will be interesting to track how such changes will further affect congregational life across the country.