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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Churches Still Behind the Curve in Internet Usage

Internetusage(from BPNews)  One out of every four Protestant churches in the United States has virtually no involvement with the World Wide Web despite the emergence of the Internet as a leading communication medium in the 21st century, according to a new study conducted for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The study, which utilized a representative national sample of 871 Protestant church ministers, explored how churches use Web technology and found that 27 percent of all churches have no connectivity at all -- no staff e-mail, no website and no Internet connection.

Conducted by Ellison Research of Phoenix and published in the January/February issue of LifeWay’s Facts & Trends magazine, the survey revealed that 58 percent of all churches provide Internet access for their staff. Given that a similar study conducted in 2004 by Ellison Research showed 91 percent of all ministers have access to the Internet, the current study demonstrates that in many cases, ministers have personal access but not access through their church.

Only half of all churches provide staff with e-mail, and just under half maintain a website. The proportion with an active Internet site has not changed significantly over the past year, Ellison found.

Just 23 percent of Protestant churches use e-mail prayer chains, 18 percent have an e-mail church newsletter and 4 percent have an online member directory.

The proportion of churches making some use of the Internet is lower in the South, where just 65 percent of churches are connected, than it is in other parts of the country. The smallest churches, those with less than 100 in the congregation, are much less likely to use the Internet (60 percent) than are midsize (100–199 people; 86 percent) or larger churches (200 people or more; 96 percent). Churches led by older ministers are also much less likely to be connected than are those with a pastor under the age of 60, the study said.

Presbyterian churches, at 92 percent, are the major denominational group most likely to be using the Internet. Most other major denominational groups were about average, but Baptists from outside the Southern Baptist Convention, such as Progressive Baptists, Missionary Baptists and American Baptists, are much less likely than others to make any use of the Web (54 percent). In general, mainline and evangelical churches do not differ much in church use of the Web.

The study also explored Web content among churches with active Internet sites. Only four types of content are provided by a majority of all Protestant churches with a website. Seventy percent provide a map and/or directions to the church, 65 percent provide a calendar of upcoming events, 60 percent post a statement of beliefs and 56 percent have pages for specific ministry departments, Ellison reported. In addition, half provide staff e-mail addresses on their site.

Forty-three percent of churches provide denominational information on their websites while 42 percent list staff biographies, 42 percent post special pages for youth, 38 percent carry a church newsletter online, 27 percent provide an electronic way to submit prayer requests and 25 percent give information about joining a small group.

Among content less likely to appear on a church website are Bible study material or helps, sermon transcripts, upcoming sermon titles or topics, sermons available in streaming audio, a bulletin board, forum or chat room, sermons in streaming video, testimonies and a way to donate online.

Larger churches are not only dramatically more likely to have a church website than are smaller churches, but their sites tend to be more sophisticated with far more content, the study said.

For example, 60 percent of large churches with a website provide special pages for youth or teens, compared to only 25 percent of small churches. Forty-five percent of large churches provide information about joining a small group, compared to just 8 percent of small churches. And 65 percent of large churches provide staff e-mail addresses, versus only 37 percent of small churches. About the only common type of content equally likely to appear on church websites regardless of the size is denominational information.

Mainline and evangelical churches differ somewhat in their Web content. Mainline churches with a website are more likely than evangelical congregations to have a regular church newsletter on their site (46 percent to 32 percent). But evangelical churches tend to have more content and more diversity on their sites, as they are more likely than mainline churches to provide a statement of beliefs (72 percent to 36 percent), special pages for youth (48 percent to 34 percent), a way to submit prayer requests online (27 percent to 15 percent), Bible study materials or helps (26 percent to 10 percent), sermons in streaming audio (17 percent to 6 percent), and testimonies (7 percent to 1 percent).

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, said the study confirmed the company’s previous research showing a growing technology gap between larger and smaller churches.

“Not only are larger churches far more likely to have a website, but they have much more content available for visitors to their sites,” Sellers said. “Their sites are also much more interactive, with ways to contact staff, learn about upcoming events, watch streaming audio or video and submit prayer requests.”

But Sellers also noted that even large churches infrequently take advantage of the many ways the Internet can impact ministry and communication.

“Even among larger congregations, only a minority have a website where visitors can interact with other visitors, get help studying the Bible, get involved in a small group, learn about the pastor’s background or submit a prayer request,” Sellers said. “Businesses of all sizes are learning how to incorporate the Internet into a broader communication and marketing strategy, using their website to take orders, interact with customers, educate people and promote the brand.

“Many church sites, on the other hand, are limited to static information such as a map to the church and a statement of beliefs,” Sellers said. “Increasingly, churches need to determine whether they want to have an online site or an online ministry. Right now, most only have the former, if they have anything at all.”

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January 10, 2006 in Technology in the Church | Permalink

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Comments

I have built websites for 10+ years, and this is why many churches don't have any interest in a website at any price (even free):

If most churches have about 75 'regulars', then what do they need a website for?

Everybody knows everybody they need to know. They know what's going on and they know who to call if they don't.

They have successfully maintained their 75 for 50+ years in this way despite deaths and relocations, so recruiting new people is not a pressing issue.

If they put up a website, it might send the wrong message and encourage people to attend who are not 'our kind of people.'

Posted by: Billy Cox | Jan 10, 2006 10:47:30 AM

"We can't afford a website."

Bull crap. You can't afford NOT to have a website.

Out of touch with today's society. Out of contact with those in their community. Out of reach for people looking for a church home.

Posted by: Anthony D. Coppedge | Jan 10, 2006 12:03:13 PM

Anthony,

By the way, good name :) Now tell us how you really feel ;)

I totally understand where you are coming from, yet I think with so many things, there are times when you should look at your priorities.

I would love to have a web page for my congregation. I had one when I was in Southern California, and it did help us a bit, although it would have been more productive if I had know a bit more about design and such.

However, where I am serving now, I honestly don't see the benefits. I'm in a small community of around 1,200 people, about 2,000 in the county as a whole. In our community we have 8 churches. The nearest community of any size is half an hour away and again has a large number of churches. I could see if we were close to a large population center, but we're in the middle of rural America. The vast majority of the people in my church don't have computers, even fewer have internet access.

Do you really think it would be worth my time to do the work of designing and maintaining a website where I am, especially when I have my hands full just trying to get people to understand the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Blessings,
Tony

Posted by: Tony | Jan 10, 2006 12:24:52 PM

I think that to suggest that any church without a website is "out of touch with today's society" is a bit strong. In fact, it sounds like in Tony's case, HAVING a website would be more out of touch - since his society apparently doesn't have even one foot in the internet age.

Which raises what I think may be a good question for discussion: when is it worthwhile for a church (like Tony's) to have a website? What are the determining factors? Here are some thoughts....

SIZE - maybe, but not necessarily, a critical component. A house church of 30 tech-savvy people in a large metropolis may have great use for a website, while a rural church of 300 people without computers probably doesn't need one.

RURAL/URBAN - Again, not necessarily the key determinant. For a rural church with a dispersed but computer-literate congregation, a website may be a great way to connect people and communicate with them.

As with these two factors, most are probably not going to be black-and-white issues. But what are some of the other factors that would be good to consider?

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Jan 10, 2006 7:05:08 PM

Great idea Randy. I'm not suree that urban/rural holds anymore. I'm in a rural are and everyone under 40 has high speed connection. How about looking at what you want a web site to do. In a rural community you are not trying to reach others, everyone in town already knows where you are and knows soomeone who goes to your church. It is needed to communicate to your members. If you have an older population it may not be the best use of your time and resources. If you are using it to reach out to others how will they find your web page? And if it is to reach others then how much do you devote to informing your members. The same things can be said about any technology and the church, not everything is for everyone.

Posted by: Bart | Jan 10, 2006 7:27:12 PM

Tony said:
"Do you really think it would be worth my time to do the work of designing and maintaining a website where I am, especially when I have my hands full just trying to get people to understand the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?"

A big thing you're overlooking is that websites and email addresses are free, and that there are likely many people (kids) in your organization that could do it as volunteers. Put them to work in this ministry. Your website can have link to all kinds of free resources to help them in their spiritual development, such as e-sword bibles & research, and blueletterbible.com .

You could be way off with this statement:
"The vast majority of the people in my church don't have computers, even fewer have internet access."

Do you know for sure, or are you just guessing and rationalizing because you don't need a website? I'd bet they have computers in their school, and the internet is easy to access, if they have a phone line.

...Bernie

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Jan 10, 2006 7:57:30 PM

Bernie,

Prior to my coming here, the church suffered a pretty bad split. Many of the younger families went with the split. I really don't have the youth segment to pull from/plug into, trust me, thought that out.

Trust me, I know what a website can do. At this point, I just don't see how I could justify it.

Blessings,
Tony

Posted by: Tony | Jan 11, 2006 12:24:47 AM

With a little help from our friends, we too can have a great web site.

I have found in my searching the web and falling on sites that the other local churches have on the net that I am able to see what they are doing locally and what they need prayer about.

Like one church locally had a massive sewer problem and had to close the school for a day until they got the smell and sewage out of the basement. I informed the pastor that I would be praying for them and he thanked me from the comfort of our offices.

Another local church just installed a new pastor and I was able to download and listen to the service the next day when it was posted to the net, it was like being there and quite a blessing for me.

I am working on getting a page set up for my new work but don't know how to get the old site off the web, since the church has changed the name and pastor now, twice.

Just having a web page to communicate with those around us with; sermons, light hearted illustrations, jokes, cartoons and the like for friends and neighbors to browse is a good witnessing tool.

Remember too, that visitors (like me) just like to say “Hi” and find out service times and special events they might not hear about from an invite from a member who, "oops, just forgot to tell them".

We are in the information age; let's make the best of it. BTW, notice who the article is done about; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Lord Bless

Posted by: RevJay | Jan 11, 2006 2:42:02 AM

Tony,

I believe that a church website should be a whole lot more than a duplicate of your Sunday morning bulletin. It's where you can help your community - rural or not - learn about your church and how you're plugged in to the local/regional community.

They're nearly free (at least to get started), so cost isn't really an issue. Keep content fresh, have lots of contact info available online and keep the community up-to-date with how your church is meeting needs in the community.

My 2 cents,

Anthony

Posted by: Anthony D. Coppedge | May 11, 2006 6:17:45 PM

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