Sep 13, 2005

From the Archives

Technology Use Is Growing Rapidly in Churches

Churches are not known for being trendsetters when it comes to embracing technology. However, a new study released by The Barna Group shows that during the past five years, Protestant churches have been incorporating technology into their ministry efforts at a brisk pace. The study indicated that serious double-digit growth has occurred in relation to the use of websites, large-screen projection systems, electronic fund transfer, satellite broadcasting technology, and the use of e-mail blasts for congregational communication. During the same period, a decreasing percentage of churches have used “pew Bibles” in their sanctuaries.

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Church Websites

Nearly six out of every ten Protestant churches (57%) now have a website. That is up from just one-third of all Protestant churches in 2000, an increase of 68%.

Since 2000, the greatest increase in the use of church websites is evident among mainline Protestant churches (up 79%, to 70% of mainline congregations); ministries in the South (increased by 87%, up to 56%), and churches pastored by Baby Boomers (doubled, with websites now in 65% of the churches they pastor).

Interestingly, churches pastored by a Baby Buster were the ministries most likely to have a church website in 2000, but there has been no increase in the percentage of Buster-led churches that have a website in the last five years.

Among the churches most likely to have a website today are those located in the western states (62%), large churches (84%), and churches whose congregation is primarily white (62%).

Large-Screen Projection Systems

More than six out of every ten Protestant churches (62%) presently use a large-screen projection system in their communications. That is up 59% since 2000, when just 39% used this technology.

During the last five years, the influx of LCD projectors has increased twice as fast in mainline churches as in charismatic congregations. In 2000, charismatic churches were twice as likely to have projectors as were mainline churches. Today, LCD projectors are still more common in charismatic churches, but the 117% increase in projectors used among mainline ministries has closed the gap considerably.

There has also been an 85% increase in this equipment in Midwestern churches since 2000. The slowest growth among the regions has been in the West, but churches in that area remain the leader in the ownership of this technology.

Again, the pastors most likely to embrace LCD projectors during the past five years were Baby Boomers. There has been a 72% rise in the introduction of this technology in Boomer-pastored churches since the start of the decade.

The larger a church is, the more likely it is to use an LCD projection unit. In small churches, just 47% do so, compared to 70% of mid-sized churches and 81% of large congregations. Congregational ethnicity also influences this matter, as white-majority churches are 45% more likely than black-majority congregations to use large-screen projectors.

E-Mail Blasts

Surprisingly, a majority of churches sends e-mail blasts to their congregations. Such technology was relatively inaccessible to churches at the start of the millennium, but 56% now rely on the process for reaching their people. This tool is equally common in churches across all regions of the nation.

Most white-dominant congregations (58%) use digital blasts, but just 42% of black-dominated congregations do. Less than half of all small churches use this technology (44%) compared to two-thirds of all churches that attract more than 100 adults.

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Electronic Funds Transfer

Once considered a “killer app” EFT has expanded, but not at the rate many experts anticipated. In 2000, only 7% of churches offered EFT as a means of donating money to the church; in 2005, only 12% do so.

The growth has been primarily in the Northeast, where the rate of use has quadrupled in five years. Large churches are also friendlier to EFT: 28% of them have embraced this option.

The greatest resistance to utilizing EFT comes from small congregations (just 5% penetration) and charismatic churches (6%).

Satellite Dishes

Receiving communications via satellite broadcast has had the smallest growth of any of the technologies studied in this research, rising from a 7% share of the church market in 2000 to just 8% in 2005. Growth has been more significant in Northeast and, unexpectedly, most restrained in the technology-savvy West. Again, the size of the church is related to the likelihood of including this tool in the technology arsenal: only 3% of small churches have a satellite dish, compared to 10% of mid-sized churches and 17% of large congregations.

Video and Live Dramas

The novelty of using live drama and video segments in church services has clearly worn off. Today six out of ten Protestant churches (61%) integrate video content into their worship services. That is double the proportion of Protestant churches that did so just five years ago. Incorporating live drama into worship services is also typical these days, with 62% of churches using such presentations in those settings.

In total, eight out of every ten churches uses either drama or video in their services. About one out of every five (17%) uses video only, one out of five uses live drama only (19%) and about two out of five (43%) use both. More than one-quarter of the churches in the Northeast (27%) and West (26%) use video but do not perform live drama. More than one-quarter of mainline churches (26%) use only live drama. The churches most likely to use neither form of communication are those with less than 100 adults (28%), congregations with a black majority (26%), those pastored by a female (28%), and those whose pastor is a Baby Buster (25%). Among the megachurches studied (1000 or more people), more than nine out of ten used both video and dramas.

Pew Bibles

Traditionally, churches have made Bibles available for use during services by visitors and others who did not have a Bible with them. Known as “pew Bibles,” the necessity of providing such volumes has diminished with the advent of big screens that show biblical texts during the service. That helps to explain the reduction in the number of churches that provide pew Bibles, from 86% in 2000 to 80% today. The most substantial declines have been among charismatic churches (a 19% drop in five years) and churches pastored by a Baby Buster (down by 14%).

Technology Used in Churches
a website on the Internet
large-screen projectors to show slides and videos in services
a satellite dish to receive broadcasts via satellite
electronic funds transfer for donations to the church
pew Bibles or Bibles people can borrow during a worship service
live drama presentations in services and events
live video segments shown during worship services
e-mail blasts used to communicate with church members
 Sources: PastorPoll (R) W-00, The Barna Group,
N = 610 Sr. Pastors of Protestant churches.
 Sources: PastorPoll (R) S-05, The Barna Group,
N = 845 Sr. Pastors of Protestant churches.


Considering the Future

George Barna, who directed the study, noted that the wider acceptance of these technologies has triggered other ministry trends, such as multi-campus churches. “During the next half of this decade,” the researcher commented, “we expect increased broadband access, podcasting, and ubiquitous adoption of handheld mobile computing devices by consumers to further alter the way churches conduct ministry.”

The Barna Group, whose BarnaFilms division offers churches the largest selection of video clips, loops and still photos for use in ministry, has also found that church budgets for technology resources are increasing. “As church staff and congregational leaders become more comfortable with, and dependent upon new technologies for communication, they are expecting their church to stay relevant in its capacity to convey messages in ways that are common in our culture. Some seminaries are offering courses and even degrees in the use of media for ministry, and increasing numbers of churches are creating staff positions for technology specialists. The discovery that a majority of small churches have either a website or a big-screen projection system to facilitate their ministry shows that new technology applications are now considered to be required tools for effective ministry in the third millennium”

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Research Methodology and Definitions

The data described above are from telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 845 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches conducted in June 2005. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with that sample is ±3.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Pastors in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of churches in the sample reflects the proportion of the churches from that denomination among all Protestant churches in the U.S. For each church contacted at which the Senior Pastor was not immediately available for the interview, multiple callbacks were made in order to increase the certainty of having a statistically reliable national sampling of pastors. The research was funded, designed and analyzed by The Barna Group.

“Mainline” churches are those associated with the American Baptist Churches/U.S.A.; United Church of Christ; Episcopal Church; United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

In this report, “small churches” were defined as those that attract less than 100 adults to their weekend events on a typical weekend. “Mid-sized churches” in this study were those that attract 100 to 250 adults; large churches were those attracting 250 or more adults.

Baby Busters are adults born from 1965-1983; Baby Boomers were born from 1946-1964.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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