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Few Americans Use Social Media to Connect With Their Faith Communities

New Survey: Few Americans Use Social Media to Connect With Their Faith Communities

Evangelicals more likely than other religious groups to use social media and technology for religious purposes

Washington, DC—While nearly half (45 percent) of Americans log in to their Facebook accounts at least a few times a week, fewer than 1-in-10 Americans report following a religious or spiritual leader on Twitter or Facebook (5%) or joining a religious or spiritual group on Facebook (6%), a new national survey finds.

The new PRRI Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, also finds that a vast majority of Americans are not using social media or technology to share or supplement their worship experiences: only 11 percent of respondents report posting status on Facebook or other social networking sites about being in church and 13 percent downloaded a podcast of a sermon or listened to a sermon online.

“White evangelical Protestants stand out as the most wired religious group in America,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “About half of regularly attending evangelicals report that their churches use television and projection screens during worship services, and one-in-four have downloaded a podcast of a sermon or listened to a sermon online.”

Though the survey finds low levels of social media being used for religious purposes overall, it reveals significant religious and generational differences. Nineteen percent of white evangelical Protestants report that they have posted status updates on their Facebook page or another social networking site about being in church, compared to 6 percent of white mainline Protestants, and 2 percent of Catholics. Not surprisingly, younger religious Americans are significantly more technologically involved: 20 percent of 18-34 year olds report using a cell phone to take picture or video during a worship service, compared to only 3 percent of seniors (age 65 and up).

“Despite prominent coverage of some high-profile pastors on social media, few religious Americans are using mobile technology or social media for religious purposes,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director.

Among the findings:

Overall, Americans report limited use of technology for religious purposes, both inside and outside of worship services.

  • Ten percent of Americans report that they have used a cell phone to take pictures or record video during worship, and 7 percent say they have sent or read email during services.
  • Outside of religious services, most Americans are not relying on technology to connect to religious leaders and institutions or to generally practice their faith.

White evangelical Protestants are significantly more likely than other major religious groups to use technology for religious purposes.

  • One-quarter of white evangelical Protestants say they have downloaded a podcast of a sermon or listened to a sermon online, compared to fewer than 1-in-10 white mainline Protestants and Catholics (6 percent each). White evangelical Protestants are also more likely than white mainline Protestants or Catholics to report that their church uses technology or social media.
    • Four-in-ten white evangelical Protestants say that their church has an active Facebook page or website where people interact, compared to 29 percent of white mainline Protestants and 13 percent of Catholics.
    • Nearly half (49 percent) of white evangelical Protestants and about 4-in-10 (39 percent) white mainline Protestants say their church uses television or multimedia screens during worship services, compared to 11 percent of Catholics.

When asked how they characterize their religious identity on Facebook, Americans are most likely to say they identify simply as “Christian.”

  • Among Americans who use Facebook, half (50 percent) say they do not describe their religious beliefs at all on their Facebook profile. One-in-five (20 percent) Americans say that their religious identity on Facebook is “Christian,” while 9 percent identify as Catholic, 8 percent identify as another Protestant denomination, 6 percent identify as “something else,” and 4 percent identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular.
  • White evangelical Protestants (53 percent) are more likely than white mainline Protestants (32 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (8 percent), and Catholics (3 percent) to identify simply as “Christian” on Facebook.

Read the report.

Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology.

The July Religion and Politics Tracking Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between July 25, 2012 and July 29, 2012 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,026 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (312 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context, and order effects.