Celebrating the Christian faith online is a great option for those who can’t make it to a service on Sundays, but a recent poll shows that many pastors believe that experiencing faith through the internet will be more acceptable in the coming decade.
The report comes from the Barna Group who found that 87% of pastors say “faith assistance” is “theologically acceptable” when conducted online. Another 39% of pastors surveyed say that they practice online faith services themselves.
The poll surveyed over 600 Protestant senior pastors for the study that took a deeper look at the acceptance of online faith practicing in the last 15 years. The research was done via telephone both during December of 2000 and November of 2014 to compare the changing times. When first surveyed in 2000, only 78% of those pastors felt that online religious experiences were viable and only 15% practiced online worship themselves.
What’s also interesting is the results of how those pastors used the internet to further God’s word. “In 2000, just over eight in 10 pastors said they used a computer at church (83%),” the Barna Group reports. “Today nearly all pastors do (96%). While the primary way pastors use a computer has stayed essentially the same-in both years, more than half of pastors say they use it for word processing or writing (59% today and 51% in 2014)-the percentage who use it for accessing the Internet (39% today compared to only 24% in 2000) and for email (46% compared to 24%) has increased dramatically.”
But one thing that the ministers agreed upon is the use of the internet as a helpful tool to spread the Word. This includes an effective website, as 55% of those polled believe that investing in a quality website is important and 54% believe it’s a worthy investment of the church’s money. As the need to attract young people to Christianity is becoming more and more important these days, many pastors agree that the internet and a web presence is an important step toward that goal.
But what about the negative stigmas associated with the internet regarding rampant pornography and the ease of communication with harmful people in an anonymous setting? “Very few pastors agree with any of the more negative statements regarding the Internet and ministry,” the study explains. “Only 3% say that small churches are better off not trying to have a website or a presence on the Internet as part of their ministry (down from 10% in 2000). Less than one in 10 pastors believe websites and Internet activities are a distraction from doing significant ministry (8%, down slightly from 12% in 2000). And about one in seven pastors believe that the chances of the Internet being used to spread spiritual heresy and to distort Christianity outweigh the potential of the Internet to spread authentic Christianity (13%, edging down from 17% in 2000).”
The Barna Group concluded that the use of the internet as a ministry tool is being more widely accepted as church officials see it as a positive more in recent years.
“Aside from the obvious pragmatic uses pastors have for the Internet — research for sermons, keeping up to date on news and articles, purchasing products and so on — pastors and church leaders also realize how much of their actual ministry now happens online,” added the Barna Group’s vice president, Roxanne Stone. “They recognize their church’s website will often be the first, and maybe only, impression outsiders get of their ministry.”