Beliefs Culture

Online, offline faith go hand in hand

Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, offers worshipers a Facebook page, online sermons, live chats, and QR codes.
Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, offers worshipers a Facebook page, online sermons, live chats, and QR codes.

Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, offers worshippers a Facebook page, online sermons, live chats and QR codes. Photo courtesy of Christ Fellowship

(RNS) God bless online media. Almost half of U.S. adults (46 percent) say they saw someone sharing “something about their faith” on the Internet in the last week.

And one in five (20 percent) say they were part of the Internet spiritual action on social networking sites and apps — sharing their beliefs on Facebook, asking for prayer on Twitter, mentioning in a post that they went to church.

“The sheer number of people who have seen faith discussed online is pretty striking,” said Greg Smith, associate director of religion research for Pew Research Center.

Megachurch pastors have mega-followings online. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church streams his Houston services online. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has 1.8 million likes on his Facebook page. And Pope Francis has more than 4.6 million English-language followers, chiefly American, for his @Pontifex Twitter feed.

"Participation in Electronic and Offline Religious Activities," graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center.

“Participation in Electronic and Offline Religious Activities,” graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center.

Not only do religious people find faith online; so do 50 percent of the “nones” — people who claim no denominational identity, from atheists to the vaguely spiritual. And 7 percent of nones say they have posted online comments. David Silverman of American Atheists, tweeting @MrAtheistPants, has more than 29,000 followers.

Yet, all this digital discussion of faith does not appear to be a substitute for offline activities such as attending church, said Smith.

The survey on “Religion and Electronic Media,” released by Pew on Thursday (Nov. 6), found that 40 percent also reported sharing their faith in a real-world setting.

“It’s the people who attend church most often who are most likely to engage in online religious activity,” said Smith.

The two groups with the highest church attendance led the way online. Among white evangelicals, 34 percent said they shared faith online and 59 percent did so in person. Black Protestants were also avid about sharing their faith: 30 percent shared online and 42 percent in person.

The survey also measured faith participation and “old media,” finding:

  • 23 percent watched religious television.
  • 20 percent listened to religious talk radio.
  • 19 percent listened to Christian rock.

Old-media fans were older, too. People over age 50 were twice as likely as those younger to watch religious TV.

And new media — online sites and apps — drew 58 percent of people younger than age 50 but only 31 percent of their elders.

The survey did not offer any trend data. It was the first time Pew Research’s religion project investigated this question.

But the findings dovetail with a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Internet Project. That survey, “Civic Engagement of Religiously Active Americans,” found these believers are also “joiners” — highly engaged not only in religious life but also in civic and charitable activities.  And they are just as involved in technology and online activities as anyone else.

The new survey on electronic media, with 3,217 participating, was conducted online and by mail May 30-June 30 using a randomly selected, nationally representative American Trends Panel. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.


About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


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  • The internet is just a new channel for the virus to spread over. Unfortunately in this case the channel is wide, worldwide, and fast.

  • Daniel 2:44
    And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

  • Robert Brown, while you are dumping quotes on us from your horrid Christian mythbook, let’s take a look at some of the other horrid guidance that’s in there, purportedly from your vicious, vengeful sky fairy. From both foul testaments, and note the following text about context and interpretation issues:

    Numbers 31:17-18
    17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,
    18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

    Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”

    1 Timothy 2:11
    “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

    Revelation 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

    Leviticus 25
    44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.
    45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.
    46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

    Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don’t get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.

    Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it’s in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god’s mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.

    And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your “god” couldn’t come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken “out of context”, and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you’ve made for yourself.

    So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life”
    The resurrection of Jesus guarantees it.

  • Frank, what you posted is nonsense. That whole Jesus-sacrifice tale, the foundation of your crazy superstition, is a steaming pile of bull-do out of the gate. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers?

    Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there. Really, get past your archaic and unfounded superstitions, and get with the modern world already.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Bob’s comments and others here reminds me that It seems like every place I go online to any sort of social site, I encounter angry atheists. Very, very VERY angry atheists. This leads me to two possible conclusions. One possibility is that anger is just intrinsically a part of atheism. I can kind of see that, as I might be angry too if if I had 70 years in life, and no “retirement” at the end. Just eternal…nothingness. I guess it is exasperating to live a life that ultimately is meaningless, empty and doomed to external extinction.

    The other possibility is the “I don’t get enough attention, angry child in the classroom” syndrome. Perhaps atheists, a distinct minority, are jealous, angry and ultimately obsessed by the numbers, significance and relative happiness of people of faith. Feeling left out, like a child craving attention from the adults in the room – they decide to be obnoxious (like Bob above) hoping to be noticed.

    Perhaps there are deeper, psychological type reasons for atheistic boorish behavior – but it is certain, that as a lot, they are a very foul, unhappy and creepy lot. I’m sure many exceptions exist, but few of them seem to make it into these sorts of forums.

  • David, I think Bob is more just sarcastic and witty than angry. He does make some excellent points, even if he is pretty sharp in his tone. Rather than just put forward a personal attack against him such as you just did, why don’t you try to respond to his questions?

    Or can you not do so?

    Remember, the tone of the writer, including even apparent anger, does not invalidate in and of itself what the writer has to say.

  • Also, David, regarding that oft-presented carrot-on-a-stick of “eternal” life, that we can’t really verify delivery of in the present, well, to essentially quote a more pleasant and articulate atheist than Bob, “All of us living now are going to die, and we are the lucky ones”. You should give that line, and who said it, a lot more thought.

    Yes, reality bites, but at least we are here now to experience it all, even the sorrows.

  • David Leach, speaking of creepy, you sure aren’t one to be squawking. Calling someone else foul for speaking out in a public forum says a lot about you too, oh great potty-mouth that you are.

  • Given that much of Bob’s first post above is bible quotes, seems David is accusing the wrong being of anger.

    Oh how reality bites, indeed, Melanie. Best hand David a bandaid now.

  • He didn’t call him foul for simply speaking out in a public forum. In case you haven’t been here much, Bob regularly bombs discussion threads with repetitive posts full of insults against other posters (crazy, despicable, disgusting, etc.) What does this “say about” him, do you think???

  • Shownie, Bob uses severe words, more than insulting, and I think he is justifying what he says. How about you try instead to debate the points he has made, if you can do so with any substance?