Writing for Religion Dispatches, Elizabeth Drescher, author of Tweet if you Heart Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation endeavors to tease out the relevance of recent survey data on social media for religious organizations:
The take-away: While participation in digital social networks does not cause participation in religious groups, digital social engagement parallels local religious engagement. Where these two paths intersect would seem to be a particularly fruitful locale for socio-spiritual encounter. Social networking platforms, as was evidenced in another Pew report released earlier this year, are particularly meaningful sites for encouraging and supporting active participation in local groups. This of course includes churches, religious, and other spiritual groups, where internet and smartphone users are 15% more likely to be active than non-users. From photos of your last Habitat for Humanity project, to tweets that you’re powering off for the Sabbath, to prayers for sick friends and uninspired sermon-writers, social networking sites have become the connective membranes of contemporary social and spiritual experience alike.
Data from Pew and other research centers are only beginning to allow us to tease out the day-to-day effects of what I’ve called the Digital Reformation—a revitalization of religion driven by the often ad hoc spiritualities of ordinary believers as they integrate practices of access, connection, participation, creativity, and collaboration encouraged by the widespread use of new digital social media into all aspects of daily life, including the life of faith.
Without question, we need more study on social networking and mobile computing practice within and across religious and denominational categories. But as this more focused data is developed, religious leaders interested in nurturing and sustaining robust religious practice are well advised to attend closely to how what we are coming to understand as the rich relational, civic, and social potential of new media can be applied in local religious communities. All on their own, billions of believers and seekers are exploring and expanding their faith and enriching connections with neighbors, friends, and other companions in local and global communities. One can hardly imagine what more is possible in terms of worship, witness, and service as religious groups and their leaders become more actively attentive to the social stirrings of the Digital Reformation.