Who shares the faith online and off?

In an average week, one-in-five Americans share their religious faith online, about the same percentage that tune in to religious talk radio, watch religious TV programs or listen to Christian rock music, according to a national survey released on Nov. 6 by the Pew Research Center.

The survey suggests that religious engagement through TV, radio, music and the internet generally complements—rather than replaces—traditional kinds of religious participation, such as going to church. Americans who said they frequently attend religious services were more likely to engage in these electronic religious activities than those who said they attend religious services less often. And white evangelicals and black Protestants—two groups with high levels of traditional religious observance—shared their faith online, watched religious TV and listened to religious talk radio more often than other large U.S. religious groups.

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Catholics are less likely to volunteer something about their faith online than most other religious groups, according to the report. Only 15 percent said they had done so in the past week compared to 34 percent of white evangelicals and 30 percent for black Protestants. White mainline Protestants were just as restrained as Catholics online; 15 percent reported a faith sharing experience in the past week online to Pew researchers. That pattern persisted “offline,” in the non-cyberworld. Catholics engaged in faith sharing at a slightly lower rate than white evangelicals, though their willingness to do so was again comparable to white mainline Protestants. Roughly six-in-ten white evangelical Protestants report that they shared something about their religious faith offline, in a “real-life setting,” during the preceding week. That compares to roughly four-in-ten black Protestants (42 percent) and Catholics (38 percent). About one-third of white mainline Protestants report sharing something about their faith. Among religious “nones,” 18 percent say they had shared something about their religious views offline in the last week.

There are smaller differences between religious groups when it comes to seeing other people share their religion on social media websites or apps. Thirty-nine percent of the Catholics reported seeing someone else share their faith online, compared to 47 percent of white evangelicals. Catholics, in fact, report seeing posts about faith less frequently than religiously unaffiliated adults, 50 percent of whom report that seeing someone else share something about their religious faith on social networking sites or apps during the past week about.

Young adults (ages 18-29) are about twice as likely as Americans ages 50 and older to see people sharing their faith online. According to Pew, this pattern reflects broader generational differences in technology adoption and media consumption, with young adults using the Internet more than older people do. By contrast, watching religious television is considerably more common among older adults than among those under 30.

Americans who say they attend religious services frequently are more likely to say they engage in electronic forms of religious activity than those who attend services less often. For example, among adults who say they attend religious services at least once a week, 31 percent report sharing their faith online in the previous week, compared with just 8 percent of those who seldom or never attend religious services. And those who attend services weekly are nearly six times more likely to say they listen to religious talk radio than those who seldom or never attend services at a church or other house of worship (35 percent vs. 6 percent). Listening to Christian rock music is much more commonly reported by white evangelicals than by other religious groups.

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