Friday, January 28, 2011

Churches and Social Media

As explained in this story and also here, churches are very active in online social media. About half of all churches actively use Facebook, and the percent is larger for larger congregations and for congregations in cities and suburbs. Online social media are used to do many things, including distributing news and fostering interaction among members. Nearly half of all pastors surveyed use Facebook.

Online social media enhance interpersonal connections, and in our terminology constitute a form of social capital. Because social capital is an important component of religious capital, it is no surprise, then, that churches would want to be engaged in social media. It does, however, raise questions about what is the proper way for churches and adherents to use social media. The Pope, for example, recently called for those participating online to adopt what he called a "Christian style presence" of honesty and responsibility and warned against false online profiles. See here and here.


  1. Hey Mike,

    Jessawhy's husband here. Found this blog while I was looking for game theory stuff. Small world!

    I liked what the Pope said

    "We must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its ‘popularity’ or from the amount of attention it receives"

    As you mention above, social capital is an important piece of religious capital, but I wonder if it can diminish religious capital if over-emphasized. Is it a zero-sum game?


  2. We are living in a time where technology is becoming increasing dependent on, e.g. cell phones, computers, laptops, and etc. As a result, Facebook and other social networks sites are also increasing as well. These sites allow people to interact with each other and churches are now increasing their presence in using these sites in order to interact with members of their congregation as well as other people outside. They see benefits of using these sites such as increasing their religious capital through social capital since new members would typically convert by having a close friendship(s) with a fellow member beforehand. However, as long as there are benefits, there are costs as well. Churches must make sure that their words are not offensive towards other religious groups and somehow must regulate how their members say via web, which would be hard to do since a person at his or her computer makes the choice to either post something that is not offensive or not.

  3. Hey Mark, Welcome to the site. Maybe you could explain how you think social capital might reduce the religious capital. Are you thinking about people spending time online rather than forming other connections? I suppose there's a trade-off here.

    Theresa, I think you are hitting on something similar to the Pope. The internet provides a new forum for interaction, and the churches must learn how to learn how to use them best. I suspect it will take some time.

  4. I agree with Theresa. I feel that our generation is very technological, and the church needs to keep up and utilize these online resources in order to transition smoothly into the digital age.

    However--regardless of what your topic is (religion or not)--you are going to offend someone with anything you blog, tweet, or facebook. The online world is filled with controversial knowledge. The best thing about it is that you can freely state your opinions and what you believe because there exists this freedom of speech. However, it doesn't mean that there isn't repercussions to your actions; because there is.

    I think the religious sector's involvement in social capital is vital to the mission of the church--spreading the gospel and providing information in the most effective, efficient, and convenient manner. The purpose of the internet is to spark interest; the matter of whether or not it's reliable is dependent on the person who's looking into the religion, and their determination to seek the truth from tangible sources.

    from the Baptist Press, "If churches desire to connect with their congregation and community in meaningful ways, then they need to establish a strategy for actively engaging in the social media conversation. Thousands of individuals are sharing support and encouragement through these tools. The church needs to be an active participant in these conversations and connections."

    The last line is really important. If a church is going to spark someone's interest in the faith (especially someone who isn't accustomed to it or is a non-believer) they people who are involved in the church need to respond. Not just the leaders of the church, but the community of the church as well. I think this is important because it represents a support system from a community living out the gospel together that can be useful and something a person is looking for when they want to be apart of a congregation.

  6. Mike, my question had more to do with the relationship between social capital (not necessarily social media) and religious capital. Meaning, could there be an economic cost to a religion if it over-emphasized social capital, or if it was even POSSIBLE to over-emphasize? I'm wondering if a religion's value can be diminished if it focuses too much on creating social networks versus enhancing/teaching their doctrine. One would obviously prefer both, a cohesive group that sustains the same beliefs, but what if you don't? What if you get followers that belong only because their friends do?

    I too see social networks as a double-edged sword, but I don't see how you "control" it (aside from doing what the Pope did). The good news, your members are on Facebook, the bad news, your members are on Facebook.

    My experience is most religion's don't want to be judged on how their people act but by their doctrine (to the extent it differs) while I think most people join because of the network.

  7. sorry, I meant "social MEDIA as a double . ."

  8. The ambiguity associated with social networking sites makes facebook, twitter, etc especially useful for religious organizations but dangerous to religious consumers. Clergy involved in online social media have the capability to market themselves and their faith to everyone willing to "click here". How can people verify the authenticity of what they are reading? Any testimonial or claim made on one of these sites could be fabricated, and claims made untrue.

    Parents are likely to be out of touch with their children's Internet activity, making
    kids especially vulnerable to religious social media. If it becomes "cool" to engage in a specific religious activity or religion, other kids will follow suit. It seems as though technology has made everything easier, but also less credible and genuine.

    Religious groups have to worry about the implications of abusing social media, as well as using it proactively (not necessarily abuse). Though the use of these websites increases membership potential, it also increases the volume of free riders interested in a specific group, looking to jump on the bandwagon with their friends and colleagues that associate with a specific faith. People need to use social media to learn about religion, and make certain judgements. However I believe that legitimate research is a much more effective method when decidIng to associate with a religious group, and will result in a more long term and fulfilling relationship between the religious consumer and their chosen faith.

  9. Crystal, I think you're right that churches going into online social media is just a natural extension of one of their goals, which is to make religion a part of their adherents's lives.

    Mark, Ahh, I think I see your point now. There could be a trade-off between the different types of relgious capital. Over-emphasis on social religious capital could lead to underdevelopment on other forms of religious capital. This sounds right in principle, though it maybe difficult to identify this in practice. And I suppose we must mesh this logic with the finding mentioned in an earlier post that it having close friends at church seems to drive the finding that church attenders are happier than non-attenders. Maybe a church cannot succeed unless it fosters the friendships even though it wants more than that.

    Darin, So it sounds like you think that the online social media do not help a group enhance its credibility. But wouldn't seeing all the other people who "like" one church's facebook page give that church some credibility? I guess you're saying that such credibility does not go that far.

  10. Although websites like Facebook are categorized as social media, they are essentially turning into a social utility; as facebook describes itself.
    In the same way that Instant Messaging was originally used strictly among adolescence and young adults, many big corporations and businesses now use Instant Messaging for convenient communication. I know the company I intern at (Panasonic Avionics, 1500 employees) uses Microsoft Communicator- an instant messenger.

    For churches to use Facebook should be no surprise. Although it was originally used strictly among college students, the fact is that it is now a social Utility for anyone.

  11. William Kwak (52215193) Jackson, KMarch 11, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    It is a bit surprising that churches are using Facebook but at the same time it was inevitable. Facebook is an important tool for churches to use in order to increase social capital and religious capital even when people are not able to communicate in person. Facebook can not only be used to improve religious capital, but it can be used to spread news throughout their members. For example, if a popular pastor from another area is coming in as a guest speaker, churches can spread this information via Facebook to spark interest in members who might otherwise not attend that particular week. Churches can also use Facebook to spread news about upcoming events and they can even use it to ask for donations online.

  12. Michael Hirschberg, Econ 17March 13, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    Churches and congregations are smart for using Facebook and other social media outlets. What better place to be in contact with the younger generation than Facebook? 500 million people use it regularly. With such a large audience easily accessible at your fingertips, it is exactly what congregations should be doing. Furthermore, it is easy to stay in touch and notify followers with updates, breaking news, and other important information. News outlets spread breaking news and other important information over Facebook, Twitter, etc. you shouldn't churches? Social media can even be used to find potential converts, and can help recruitment of new followers into religions that seem strict, as Facebook may show a religion being less strict and more "comforting" to adapting to the younger generation.

  13. Social media is so important so that the church can connect with people. Communication has changed and for those that don't keep up...are losing people

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  15. Online social media enhance interpersonal connections, and in our terminology constitute a form of social capital. buy real instagram followers


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