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Joanne Fritz

Are Churches Embracing Social Media or Rejecting It?

By June 18, 2013

Follow me on:

Pope Francis has a Twitter Account.

Well, Pope Francis is on Twitter (@Pontifex) with more than 2.5 million followers, and there is even a Pope app.

One Chinese Buddhist organization in Taiwan is so social media savvy that it uses it in multiple languages, maintains a satellite television presence worldwide, and does podcasts. And an evangelical protestant church in the US is just about as multi-channel as you can get, with a FB Page, Twitter feed, blog, smart phone and tablet apps, albums on iTunes, and online videos.

Quite frankly, all this social media activity has been spurred by the declining numbers of people claiming to be religiously affiliated in any way. That disaffection is particularly remarkable among young people. For instance, a Pew research survey found that one-third of Millennials in the US say they have no religious affiliation.

Even when younger people stay within their churches, synogogues, or mosques, they often feel overlooked and underappreciated when those organizations cling to traditional communications channels and overlook the rich possibilities of social media.

Pauline Cheong, associate professor at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, has found a wide range of social media activitivity among religious organizations. In a recent article about her research, Cheong says that "A lot of religions are quite adept with social media....[using] it to brand their own organizations..." and even "...employ[ing] people who are dedicated specifically to social media outreach."

But Cheong, who has interviewed many religious leaders about their use of social media, has also found that many are simply overwhelmed by the technology. She points out that, "It adds to their workload considerably...." and that "They have to devise new strategic messages, deal with multiple layers of texts and arbitrate between mediums."

There has even been something of a backlash in some circles, with the Russian Orthodox Church recently advising its congregations to give up social media for Lent in order to "cleanse their souls."

But social media marches on, and most religious organizations will find that it is in their best interests to establish positions somewhere. Facebook is a good start for most. Guest author Julie Welles, who consults with many churches, has heard all the objections to social media from religious leaders and has some ways around them in her article, Should Your Church Be on Facebook?

If you are a religious organization and have strong opinions about social media or success stories, do let us know in the comments. Would love to hear from you.

Read more about Facebook:

Image: Screenshot of Pope Francis' Twitter home page.

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