Since the advent of the Internet, people have replaced it with many things.
Used to read the paper? Scroll a website. Ever gone out to get something to eat, or even use a phone? Pull up the website. Shopping much? Find a website. And then there’s too tired for going to church? Surf a sermon via website.
Countless churches that can afford the technology streamcast messages. Why? It’s sure not for the people who need an extra jolt of inspiration on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s for those who can’t roll out of bed on Sunday morning. Guilt-free viewing.
So, when I saw this study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about the correlation between the rise of the Internet and the decline, I wasn’t surprised. Just sad…
According to Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering at MIT, he concludes the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.
Back in 1990, about 8 percent of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 percent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion.
Downey’s data comes from the General Social Survey, a widely respected sociological survey carried out by the University of Chicago, that has regularly measure people’s attitudes and demographics since 1972.
And it’s not deep philosophical prowess that figures it out. They are simple questions, such as: “what is your religious preference?” and “in what religion were you raised?”
Those two questions should have most preachers concerned because they are completely related. If you aren’t raised in a religious home, common sense makes it easy to presume you won’t grow up with religious or dogmatic truth in your life.
So, what say you professor Downey?
“Correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations or have reason to believe that they are less likely,” says Downey.
So, the guy has a point — one that should make pastors, preachers, and priests alike stand at attention. Church attendance is down. Internet addiction is up. And the two seems to never meet again. Perhaps, churches should sustain their websites and add YouTube or Vimeo clips of excerpts but giving people an excuse to miss out on church completely might need some examination.
And a course in PR.