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 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 megafollowings 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.
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,” just released by Pew, 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,” Smith said.
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.
New media — online sites and apps — drew 58 percent of people younger than 50 but only 31 percent of their elders, who are more likely to stick to TV and radio.
Findings dovetail with a 2011 Pew survey, “Civic Engagement of Religiously Active Americans,” which 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.