By Ida Smith-Williams
"To be or not to be" may have been the question of interest proffered by William Shakespeare in 1602, but today's question in many churches may be "to blog or not to blog." Congregational leaders are wondering whether electronic technology of all kinds has a place in churches. I can see both sides of the issue.
The facts: An estimated 266 million Americans use the Internet. Eight out of ten U.S. adults go online. The average Internet user is online 13 hours per week. The social networking site Facebook has over 500 million active users. People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than the United States, but not quite as large as China or India.
The questions: New media offers many ways to be in touch with individuals—emailing, twittering, blogging, texting, Facebooking. Do they offer something to congregations? Can they be evangelism tools—a way to bring lost sheep to Christ? Can they help members stay connected with the church?
The answers: Many pastors are using these tools in their ministry. The U.S. Congregational Life Survey (conducted in 2008) revealed that among 693 pastors serving in a random sample of congregations, the majority were wired. Sending or receiving emails was the online activity that the largest numbers of pastors use (96%). Blogging is not common—only 6% said they posted at least weekly to a blog related to the congregation.
But doing all or any of these things takes time, church leaders may argue. With all of the other responsibilities pastors have, including preaching, teaching, counseling, visiting members, visiting people who are sick or homebound, church administration, and more, how would a pastor find the time?
The same survey asked pastors to report how much time they spent in the previous week in a variety of personal activities such as prayer, reading, using the Internet, emailing and text messaging, family life, physical exercise, recreation and hobbies, watching television, and socializing or eating out with friends. Using the Internet (including searching the web, reading blogs or online news, downloading music or videos, and using online social networking sites like Facebook) ranked fourth. On average, pastors spend 5.4 hours per week online—half the time that the average American spends online.
Should pastors use electronic technology? I think it has to be a personal decision, one for each pastor to make with his/her congregation. The role of technology in a congregation has to be one that the pastor is comfortable with and one that fits the needs of the congregation.
The question today may not be whether or not to use electronic technology, but rather a question of when and how, since Internet use in this country has doubled since 2000. More congregations have an Internet presence today, too. Three in four congregations have websites today—up from just 43% in 2001. It is an issue that is not likely to go away.
For additional information on churches on the web, read Congregational Web sites.
For details about worshipers' use of the Internet, read Surfing for God.