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Social media bigger deal than survey says

By Jeff Brumley

A survey about social media usage and faith groups has researchers baffled.

A survey’s finding that few Americans use social media to connect with churches and other religious groups has those who conducted the research astonished.

“We were a little bit surprised,” Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Institute, told CNN in a story published Aug. 6. “We thought there would be a higher usage, given all the press that has surrounded pastors on Twitter and people posting prayers online.”

But one minister and social media advocate said the survey language may have been too narrow in defining what it means to connect with a faith community via social media.

“I’m wondering if they (respondents) just didn’t understand the questions,” said Mike Gregg, minister of educational life at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta, and a big user of social media for religious purposes. “I’m a first adopter in social media and technology and how it relates to the church world and being Baptist.”

The survey revealed that 11 percent of participants post status updates “about being in church,” and that 7 percent “say they have sent or read e-mail during services.” It also found that 6 percent have joined “a religious or spiritual group on Facebook.”

But Gregg said such measurements aren’t the last word in how many people – and most that he knows – are actually expressing or experiencing their faith in an online context. People may not join a specific group online, he said, but they are more likely to connect with fellow church members through social media.

“The question is, what does it mean to be a ‘religious community’ online?” Gregg asked.

It’s true that joining an online church is a cutting-edge phenomenon, but individuals connecting with other members is not, he said. “I have some friends I have never met before, but we’re pretty close on Facebook.”

Jones told CNN that one demographic in particular does not conform to the numbers found in the survey.

“The exception to (the lack of religion on social media), and really this is across the board, are white evangelical Protestants,” Jones told CNN. “They stand out.”

That group is more likely than other faith group to post while at church and more likely to have downloaded a sermon, the survey found.

“Part of the reason why is that social media fits very well with the Great Commission to go out and make disciples,” Jones told CNN.

Jeff Brumley is assistant editor of Associated Baptist Press.

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