American church leaders think social media's importance to ministry will decline in the future
(CP) A majority of American churches now embrace technology as an important tool in achieving their mission and agree that the digital church is here to stay. But less than half of them believe social media will be as "strategically important" as other online tools in the future, according to a new study.
The finding comes from The 2021 State of Church Technology Report, which was created from data collected in a survey of nearly 2,000 decision-making church leaders by software company Pushpay. The survey was conducted between September and October 2021, and the cohort of church leaders included in the survey spanned "ministries of every size, from all across the faith spectrum."
Researchers found that 93% of churches believe technology plays an important role in achieving their church's mission, but not all technologies carried equal weight in different congregations.
"For example, the amount of tech solutions a church already employs dramatically affects their opinions and behaviors. If a church is currently using no technology — that includes basics like social media, email, etc. — they're dramatically less likely to consider tech important for their future," researchers noted.
"But the most compelling insight lies in the difference between what churches are currently using, as opposed to what they consider 'strategically important' for them in the next few years. For instance, while 94% of churches are currently using social media, just 53% think those platforms will be strategically important for them moving forward," they explained.
"Put another way, while social media is overwhelmingly the most popular digital tool today, churches are telling us that solutions like ChMS, mobile apps, scheduling systems, livestreaming, and more will all be more valuable to them in the near future. This doesn't mean Facebook and Instagram are going away; it means that they're already in the fold, and churches are interested in expanding their tech portfolio as they continue to grow."
This finding comes in stark contrast to how churches looked at technology as the COVID-19 pandemic began unfolding in March 2020.
Research from the Nashville-based LifeWay Research conducted in the fall of 2019 found that only 22% of pastors livestreamed their entire service, while about 10% livestreamed their sermon only. Some 41% of pastors admitted that they did not post any portion of their church service online, while about 52% say they post the sermon online after the church service is complete.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, also noted at the time that only churches with weekly attendance of more than 250 people were likely to offer services online, but they were the minority.
A lot has happened in the last two years and now only 6% of churches say they're "resistant" to adopting technology.
"More than any time in history, churches are enthusiastic to adopt technology for the long haul. The pandemic erased any doubts regarding the viability of a digital Church. Ministries all around the world successfully adapted to the challenges presented by COVID by leveraging technology to strengthen their communities and continue accomplishing their good work," researchers said.
"While we're all excited for life to get back to normal, it's clear that churches have no intention of abandoning their tech solutions. One case study is the transition to livestreaming. Ninety-one percent of churches report that they currently livestream at least some of their services," they added. "More telling than that, however, is that 94% of those churches state that they'll continue to livestream over the next 12 months, presumably regardless of their ability to meet their congregation in person."
As churches navigate their technology needs, they still have a lot of ground to make up for in how they respond to the rapidly changing technologies.
The study found that some 43% of churches only reevaluate their technology when the "need arises."
"As churches embrace tech solutions, it's understandable that they believe they're ahead of the curve. This is a new frontier for many of them. They feel like explorers, discovering exciting new ways to grow their communities and ministries," the report noted.
When asked how often they evaluate their church's technology needs, only 27% of church leaders said they considered it no more often than annually, in addition to the 43% that only think about the issue when the need arises.
"What this means is, a lot of church leaders perceive themselves as proactive and innovative with technology, but many of them don't fit the bill," the report said. "The result may be a magnified resistance to change. If a church isn't reconsidering its suite of tech solutions any more regularly than once a year, yet simultaneously considers its approach to technology progressive, they may be overly defensive to any suggestion of change, since they already believe themselves to be proactive enough."