Churches use apps, websites and social networking to extend their reach

By Alicia Purdy

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 4:06 p.m. MDT

Churches in America are stepping up their efforts to reach out to people by using ultra-modern tools that reflect the direction most Americans are already going. USA Today reports that believers have historically been early adopters of the latest technology to reach beyond the four walls of church buildings.

From the printing press to the radio and television to iPhone apps, religion is working to keep up with how people communicate. Some churches have even rejected a traditional brick-and-mortar type of centralized location, opting instead for Internet-only gatherings.

In addition to being attracted to the convenience of getting a spiritual boost from the comfort of their homes, people want to connect with their clergy and fellow congregants, and online resources allow them to do that, too. They can use Facebook and Twitter to exchange ideas and questions, download sermons and worship services to an iPod, run chats to connect with people in real time during services and much more.

Technology allows individuals to receive spiritual support 24/7, and it also allows potential churchgoers to research religions and look at websites before they visit. They can even read reviews.

Christianity Today cautions against assuming that technology will replace human interaction and real-life relationships and advises it be used instead to enhance those aspects and to aid in staying connected. Connections are a major component of why many people attend churches.

While tech tools can be used to reach young believers, they also appeal to an older demographic, which is increasingly social media savvy. A Pew Research study found that 65 percent of adults are online and use social networking sites, and four in 10 senior citizens are online. The Billings Gazette reported, "The fastest-growing segment of the population on Facebook these days is women ages 60 to 90."

But is it possible to spend so much time connecting outside of church that the human connection and the God connection are missed?

The Blaze cited a report by Barna Group that found "nearly half (46 percent) of churchgoing Americans report that their lives have not changed at all as a result of attending church (while) 26 percent of individuals who reported having been to church before said that their lives had been changed or impacted “greatly” by the experience."

A majority of respondents did feel connected to their church community, however 50 percent could not recall walking away with a significant new understanding. Can using tech tools help improve the spiritual connection?

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, said the research shows that many churchgoers do see the benefits of making connections with God and other parishioners while at church, yet there is a lack of spiritual understanding despite the efforts of clergy.

What can pastors, bishops, priests and other spiritual leaders do to connect spiritually with people as well as socially? According to Kinnaman, the push to connect, especially spiritually, can't stop and is a process spiritual leaders should keep ever present in their hearts. "The research results are also a reminder that faith leaders cannot take these things for granted," he said.

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