After the Boomers 10: Virtual Church?
Chapter 10 of Robert Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers analyzes the statistics surrounding the younger generation’s use of the internet. No book on the post-boomer generation would be complete without a chapter that devotes attention to the impact of the Internet. 84% of young adults today say they use the internet. News, travel, work, and education sites are the most visited among younger adults. Religion sites are visited by only 20% of young adults. Evangelicals are the most likely to visit religious sites.
The statistics show that religious adults are visiting religious websites as a supplement to their faith practices. Little evidence exists to show that young adults might be replacing traditional congregations with internet use. Regarding pornographic sites, only 5% of those who attend church weekly admit to have accessed internet pornography. This figure stands in stark contrast to the rates of pornography among those who attend church infrequently or never (20%).
Young adults who actively practice their religion use the internet to learn more about the social causes to which they are devoted. Wuthnow believes that the internet has the potential of mobilizing religious young adults who are interested in moral issues.
Young adults stay in touch by email, but most consider the telephone to be the main means of communication with their friends and relatives. Frequent church attenders are more likely than the unchurched to send and receive emails.
Young adults do use the internet to seek out spiritual information. Religious internet-users are not replacing their congregations with web-churches. But many of these adults believe individual spiritual activities to be more important than group study and group prayer. Conversations with friends are more highly valued than conversations with a pastor. Though they take part in traditional congregations, they are piecing together spirituality their own way.
72% of those who surf the web for religious reasons have claimed they are looking up information on their own faith. Half claim to have looked up information on other faiths. Other reasons are practical (seeking guidance, planning a wedding, celebrating a holiday, etc.).
Traditional churches are not in danger of being replaced by virtual churches. But traditional churches should not miss this golden opportunity to reach out to their members in new ways. Just as previous generations learned to use the technology of radio and television for religious purposes, today’s church leaders must learn to use the internet in order to strengthen their cause.