Facebook and Religion Don't Mix
That would be a big status update.
Like oil and water, Americans seem to not mix their social networking and religious activities, despite religious organization' attempts to promote connecting through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Is a "like" or "follow" too much to ask for?
It just may be, considering that half of all Facebook users don't include their religious affiliation in their profiles, according to a survey of 1,026 U.S. adults by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Of those that do, 20 percent identify themselves only as Christian, a label that covers quite a bit of ground. (For comparison, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that about 80 percent of Americans label themselves Christian.)
The survey revealed that the relatively small number of churches who have tried to integrate social media into their programs face a big hurdle.
"Simply put, the Americans who are most likely to be connected online are least likely to be found in the pews," Dan Cox, director of research at PRRI said in a blog. For instance, more than half of younger adults ages 18-34 use Facebook at least once a day, but only 7 percent of seniors 65 and older do. And while the differences in regular church attendance by age are not quite so dramatic — half of seniors attend church at least once a week compared to about one-fourth of younger adults — even the younger members rarely use social media to talk about or share their religion.
[SEE ALSO: Women More Wary Than Men on Facebook]
Some religious leaders are trying — 17 percent of respondents said they've been encouraged to post photos and share information on Twitter or Facebook. More than 20 percent of younger adults said that their religious leaders used Twitter or Facebook regularly. And nearly 40 percent said their church had an active Facebook page — but few have participated.
Among those who attend church at least a couple of times a year (not including weddings and funerals), only 5 percent said they follow church leaders on Facebook or Twitter, and only 6 percent have joined a religious page on Facebook. Eighty-nine percent said they have never posted a status update about being in church.
Cox told TechNewsDaily that he found the number of churches that use social media surprisingly small in number. But he believes what he calls Religion 2.0 has great potential for growing congregations and increasing members' involvement. He said that one religious group has embraced social media more than any other — white evangelical Protestants.
Nearly 20 percent of them have posted church-related status updates on their Facebook page — at least twice the rate of any other religious group.
"Faith is really important to them, so it makes sense," Cox said. Plus some of these organizations, such as the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., have big followings and the resources to be heard over the crowds on Facebook and Twitter that are more inclined to share recipes and news stories than their thoughts on God.
Saddleback's pastor Rick Warren (who delivered the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration) has close to 700,000 followers on Twitter, and the church page on Facebook has collected more than 20,000 "likes." He's got social media and its appeal to youth down cold. He tweets almost every hour. His Twitter caption reads: "I dont wear socks. I mentor young leaders & lead the PEACE Plan. I love Saddleback... I like you."