By Aaron Earls
As social media continues to attract more individual users, churches are also using social networks to communicate and connect with their congregants and a broader audience.
Today, 72 percent of American adults use social networking sites, according to a Pew Research study. In 2005, only 8 percent were on social media.
A 2011 survey by Lifeway Research found that churches were increasing their use of social media, but 40 percent of Protestant churches in America still were not using any social networking tools.
As with the population at large, Facebook was the preferred platform of churches and pastors. Forty-seven percent of churches used Facebook, along with 46 percent of pastors.
Facebook has well over one billion users worldwide, but recent reports have suggested teens are leaving the site. Pew did not find that to be the case, as 94 percent of teenagers had a Facebook account. Other platforms such as Twitter or Instagram saw significant growth, but Facebook remained the primary social networking site for 81 percent of teenagers.
Among churches who used the sites, the 2011 Lifeway Research report stated 73 percent use social media for interacting with the congregation, 70 percent for distributing news and information, 52 percent for fostering member-to-member interaction and 41 percent for managing the church’s group ministry.
A majority of churches (62 percent) also used social networking to connect with individuals outside of the congregation. It became part of their outreach strategy.
“Churches are natural places of interaction,” Lifeway Research Director Scott McConnell said. “Congregations are rapidly adopting social networking, not only to speed their own communication, but also to interact with people outside of their church.”
While teens and young adults remain the most likely users of social media, the highest percentage of growth is among older Americans. Those over 65 have roughly tripled their presence on social media in the last four years, climbing to 43 percent currently.
While almost half of pastors use Facebook, Lifeway Research also found they use other means of online communication—16 percent blog and 6 percent use Twitter.
Due to the across the board growth, Lifeway Research President Ed Stetzer maintains social media usage is a must for churches and pastors.
“To pastors who aren’t on Twitter and Facebook right now, I would say this: you should repent,” Stetzer joked, but his sentiment was serious.
“You should get on Twitter and Facebook right away. If you don’t, you’re missing a great opportunity,” he said. “These micro blogging platforms give you the ability to have short conversations to communicate helpful things to your people and beyond.”
For churches or pastors getting started on social media, Stetzer developed an introductory guide to Twitter and Facebook.