“Are you a member of the Catholic faith who needs to confess your sins? There’s an app for that,” according to Julie Newberg, media relations specialist for Arizona State University.
After all, according to a 2013 Gallup Poll, seven in 10 Americans still consider themselves very or moderately religious (that is, they attend religious services regularly or semi-regularly).
Religion is a pillar of culture that has structured acceptable social conduct since the beginning of civilization—so it’s no wonder why clerical organizations have added social media to their toolkit.
Social media has proven to be a valuable branding tool for self-promoting as well as for businesses, and the collective church has not missed out on this opportunity. Larger church communities are utilizing sites such as Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs to create awareness of their existence and activity, while also using private messaging options to create a personal dialogue with current or perspective members. A quick Google search will render top results for the Facebook pages of The United Methodist Church and the Masjid Nabawi Mosque in Medina.
While Facebook’s original creative intentions may have been to stalk an ex-boyfriend rather than religious use, it has become a platform for various other activities apart from social interaction, such as online auctioning and diagnosing medical conditions— and now a complement to worship.
Social networking allows people with the same value systems to connect and discuss their beliefs, issues and concerns, while also allowing religious organizations to send out mass messages to unbelievers and personalized messages to devout followers.
In a culture where organized religion is stigmatized with “be quiet, sit up straight, pay attention, turn that thing off!”— the fact that some churches are now encouraging their members to keep cell phones on during worship speaks to the power of social media. In Houston, Texas, Reverend Jim Liberatore of the St. Andrews Episcopal Church urges his congregation to challenge convention and keep their phones on to tweet and post about his sermons.
So what does this mean for religious organizations? Is every major religious group on Twitter? How has social media changed the global religious landscape? Is it effective in attracting and maintaining believers? Another question, another post, another day.