In today’s ever more digitally connected world, religious groups including Bible League International are of the belief that social media can be a valuable and effective method of reaching out to their followers all over the world.
As a representative of Bible League International, an organization that provides Bible access and scripture engagement worldwide, explains, “God’s word can and should be spread any way. If reaching it means reaching more people digitally, then that’s what should be done.”
The advent of the Internet and, more recently, social media have resulted in a marked change in personal habits. The first and last thing most people do every day– 80% of people between the age of 18 and 44, to be exact—is check their phones. When they want to know an answer to a question, they use Google to find the answer. Scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds has become a regular fixture of leisurely activity.
Given that an Irish priest has recently gained worldwide fame and over 23 million YouTube views for his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at a wedding in Oldcastle, County Meath, its clear that the pairing of social media and religion is becoming ever more prevalent.
Pope Francis, who himself has almost four million followers on Twitter, came out earlier this year as a major proponent of using social media as a method to teach religion, and as a way for religious leaders to connect with their congregations.
“The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” Pope Francis said in a Vatican radio address. “This is something truly good, a gift from God.”
Numerous recent polls have suggested that Evangelical Christians use social media more frequently than other religious groups. The Public Religion Research Institute discovered that while nearly half of Americans are using Facebook several times a week, only 11 percent report posting status updates on their social networking mediums about being in church.
According to the PRRI’s findings, however, nearly one in five Evangelical Christians (19 percent) report having posted a status update on their Facebook page or other social networking site about being in church, as compared to six percent of mainline Protestants and two percent of Catholics.
Moreover, about a quarter of white evangelical Christians say they have downloaded a podcast of a sermon or listened to a sermon online, compared to fewer than one in ten mainline Protestants and Catholics (six percent each.) Evangelical Christians are also more likely than mainline Protestants or Catholics to report that their church uses technology or social media.
Roughly 40 percent of Evangelical Christians say that their church has an active Facebook page or website where people interact, compared to 29 percent of mainline Protestants and 13 percent of Catholics.
While the Pope is not alone in his viewpoint, several religious leaders believe that social media can undermine the spiritual messages that they are trying to get across. Henry G. Brinton, Senior Pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, recently wrote in the Huffington Post that he is “becoming increasingly convinced that social media can undermine religion by encouraging ‘one size fits all’ messages, putting value on ‘likes’ and ‘followers’, and distracting people from a relationship with God and their nearest neighbors.”
Briton appears however to be in the minority, however. Clark Campbell, a founding member of Social Ecclesia – a micro-conference designed to promote Spirit-led digital presence in churches, agrees with the view of Bible League International, noting that although social media can highlight many of society’s Ills, it is a medium that can and should be embraced by the church and church leaders, to spread the gospel.
“[Social media] is a tool for interaction and connection, not merely a megaphone to announce the next church program and party,” says Campbell. “Social media opens doors and opportunities to engage with people who rarely, if ever, step foot in a church building.”
As always with social media, there is an opportunity for topics to be taken out of context, but the pros of getting the Word to the masses outweigh the cons.
Similarly, apps are another method that churches and religious organizations are now using to spread the Word of God. The Bible app is currently the most-used religious app available on iTunes, with over 130 million users. Bible League International has recently introduced the WordPower™ app, which encourages users to walk with Christ each day by propelling the devoted into a deeper mediation of Scripture.
The app, it is hoped, will be another means of sharing and evangelizing the Word of God to Millennials and other tech-savvy followers. By using this method, religious institutions like Bible League International are able to share the Word of God in a brand new way.
Stephen Elliott contributed to this article.