More congregations across the U.S. are turning to modern technology, some even encouraging attendees to use iPads and phones during services.
A new report from the Hartford Seminary — which studied the health of congregations varying in faith and their changes over the past 10 years — found that one-third of U.S. congregations increased their use of modern technology by more than 10 percent in the last decade. The study also noted that the more a congregation uses technology, the more it is typically open to change.
The study was conducted among more than 28,000 congregations of 32 faith traditions ranging from Catholic and Protestant to Muslim and Jewish in the United States, and represents results from surveys taken in 2000, 2005, 2008 and 2010.
The report found that evangelical Christians were the most tech-savvy worshippers, regardless of age. [Read: God on the Go: How iPhones Are Changing Religion]
For example, The Church at Chapel Hill in Douglasville, Ga. – an evangelical Christian church – allows members, through apps such as “Bible” by LifeChurch.tv with YouVersion Live software, to take notes, respond to polls, answer questions and even tweet about the event.
“So go ahead, pull out your phone – it's okay,” a spokesman from the Church at Chapel Hill said in a YouTube video. “Just make sure it’s on silent or vibrate.”
The Church at Chapel Hill also has an Internet campus where it broadcasts its services live.
Tech-savvy religious leaders are also using iPads during services. A company called Little Mountain Productions has created the iPulpit, a lectern-like piece of furniture with a cavity carved out to hold an iPad or other tablet computer. Little Mountain co-brands the iPulpit as the iPodium for nonreligious activities as well, such as academic lectures or event check-ins.
In addition, about 90.4 percent of congregations are using email to reach out to their members and 69.2 percent have a website. In addition, congregations increasingly have a Facebook page (41.3 percent), blog (12.7 percent) and podcasts (11.6 percent).
However, despite some modern innovation, American congregations are less healthy today than 10 years ago, the study found. Many experienced drops in financial health, aging membership, fewer worshippers in the pews and decreased spiritual vitality.
Nearly two out of three congregations experienced conflict in 2010, the report said. In one-third of the congregations, the conflict was serious enough that members left or withheld contributions or a leader left, according to the study.
“Conflict is corrosive — it leads to attendance decline and financial stress,” the report said.
Meanwhile, the number of congregations with excellent financial health declined from 31 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2010. Eighty percent of congregations reported that the recession negatively affected their finances.
However, there has been a dramatic increase in minority congregations, many for immigrant groups. In 2010, three in ten congregations reported that more than 50 percent of their members were members of minority groups, up from two in ten in 2000.