Is there any reason why religious leaders should not use the tool of social media to help "spread the word?" Bible League International, which supports churches throughout the world in a number of ways, says "God's word can and should be spread any way. If that means reaching more people digitally, then that's what should be done."
In this modern world, many congregations maintain Facebook pages. Members of the clergy use LinkedIn. Even the Pope is on Twitter, with 3.8 million followers, according to a report in the Huffington Post. However, not everyone is in agreement that using social media is the way to go.
Henry G. Brinton, Senior Pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, wrote in the Post that he was becoming increasingly convinced that social media can undermine religion by encouraging "one size fits all" messages. He argued that using such sites could distract people from a relationship with God and their nearest neighbors. He objected to the fact that success would be measured by the number of "likes" and "followers."
It's true that messages on social media can be focused, but some organizations try to reach as many people as possible, mainly using Facebook and Twitter. Brinton complains that, as the person responsible for administering his church's Facebook site, he is being constantly bombarded with offers to "get more likes" and "reach 380,000 people nearby" by paying for them on Facebook. However, Brinton represents a diminishing minority of those who are swimming against the tide of the growing influence of social media sites.
Martin Davis of Sacred Language Communications, a firm which helps churches and businesses with online communication, says, "People are trying to reach as many likes as they can muster." He agrees with the viewpoint of Bible League International that churches should be encouraged to use social media for discussion and conversation, not for racking up Facebook likes and Twitter followers. Bible League International believes the local church is the center of the community; a strong, active church creates a strong, active community. The more often there is interaction between the congregation, the stronger will be the communal bond.
There are a number of studies that suggest Evangelical Christians use social media more than other religious groups. The Public Religion Research Institute found that while nearly half of Americans are using Facebook a few times a week, only 11 percent report posting status updates on their social networking sites about being in church.
In contrast, almost double the number of white Evangelical Protestants (almost 20 percent) say they've posted something on their social networks about being in church. In addition, some 25 percent of white Evangelicals claim that they have downloaded a podcast of a sermon or listened to a sermon online.
The percentages for churches which maintain an active Facebook page are:
- White Evangelicals – 40 percent
- White Mainline Protestants – 29 percent
- Catholics – 13 percent