By Ida Smith-Williams and Cynthia Woolever
Worshipers receive email from work associates, friends, family members, and, of course, that guy overseas who needs help depositing a million dollars in his bank account. Do worshipers also get emails from their congregation?
About four out of ten worshipers say they receive email from their congregation. And about four out of ten report that they get email from their congregation's leader (pastor, priest, or rabbi).
We wondered if getting email from the congregation or leader had anything to do with the congregation's denomination or the size of the church. The short answer is "yes!"
Evidently, Catholic priests rarely send emails to their parishioners. Only 16% of Catholic worshipers said they had gotten an email from their priest in the past year. But about half of Protestant worshipers said they had received an email from their minister. More mainline Protestant worshipers (61%) got an email from their pastor than did conservative Protestant worshipers (42%).
Perhaps Catholic priests rely on administrative staff to send emails related to the parish. But the evidence doesn't support this notion. Only one in four Catholic worshipers said they had received an email from their parish in the past year. Protestant worshipers were twice as likely to get an email from their church (50% of mainline worshipers; 45% of conservative Protestant worshipers).
Are Catholic priests less likely to be wired than Protestant pastors? Are Catholic worshipers less likely to be wired than Protestant worshipers? Or is the difference in the email-send-out-rate simply because of church size? (Catholic parishes are much larger on average than the typical Protestant church.) There is some evidence to support this argument.
Almost two out of three worshipers in small churches (where fewer than 100 people attend worship services) said they had received an email from their pastor. The percentage of worshipers in mid-size churches (with between 100 and 350 attending worship) reporting emails from their pastor was almost as high (60%). But less than a third of worshipers in large churches (more than 350 attending worship services) receive email from their congregational leader. It's interesting that small-church leaders use email to reach out to their members more so than large-church leaders.
But one could argue that it still counts if the worshiper gets email from the congregation (even if it's not from the pastor specifically). This size comparison for this type of email use are interesting, too. Worshipers in small churches report getting fewer emails from the congregation than from the pastor (64% say they received an email from the pastor; 43% report receiving an email from the congregation). In a small church, the pastor often takes care of many of the administrative tasks, and he or she may be the only staff person. In mid-size churches, the pattern is the same—their worshipers get fewer emails from the congregation (51%) than from the pastor (60%). Finally, the email pattern among worshipers in large churches reverses. One-third of large-church worshipers get email from the congregation, slightly more than the percentage that report getting email from the congregation's pastor or other key leader (29%).
Some experts believe that social networking has replaced email as the most-preferred form of electronic communication. If so, some congregations and worshipers may end up just skipping the email-stage of electronic communication altogether!