Nashville, TN—While most younger people in the Church are immersed in new technology, many older members also are jumping on the bandwagon. That's according to a new study conducted by United Methodist Communications that tracks how United Methodists are adopting and using new technology.
The purpose of the United Methodist Emerging Technology Survey was to help determine the need to broaden the use of certain new technologies in order to reach members and seekers. The survey found younger members are busy texting, watching videos, and socializing online, and older members are making progress in technology use, though they still have some catching up to do before the same digital tools are integrated into their daily lives.
According to the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, the survey reveals a different conversation going on between younger digital natives and older digital immigrants. "We inhabit different worlds, depending on when we came to the digital terrain," Hollon says. "Digital immigrants are people like me who were born before the Internet, while digital natives are younger persons who have experienced broadband access and cell phone use as a part of their everyday life from birth."
Findings from the survey include:
- The old and young are fans of Facebook. In the last two years, Facebook use among United Methodist members went from 43 to 63 percent among older members. Among 25-34 year-olds, its usage increased from 83 to 95 percent, and to 84 percent of 35-44 year-olds, up from 65 percent.
- Older adults are discovering that texting is a pretty handy means of communicating. Usage of texting by adults 35 and older increased from 49 percent in 2009 to 63 percent. Other than the use of apps, which was just beginning at the time of the earlier study, texting and Facebook are the only new technologies garnering increased usage by older adults.
- Younger adults in the Church are still way ahead on technologies such as mobile apps, Twitter, Yammer, blogging, and YouTube. Responses from adults older than 35 show little or no growth in the use of Twitter, blogging, and YouTube.
- Owning smartphones also seems to be a function of age. Among adults 25-34, 82 percent own a smartphone, compared to 66 percent of those 35-44, and 44 percent of older United Methodists.
Why are older United Methodists less involved or engaged in technology? This appears related to attitudes towards technology. Younger adults are much more likely to describe themselves as interested in learning new technology or as being early adopters. They also are more likely to show signs of "addiction" to technology, needing to check email frequently during meetings, or feeling lost without their smartphone.
Although findings indicate there indeed is a divide between younger and older church members when it comes to technology usage, older members polled say they are accepting of new technology, but are more likely to "wait and see" how new products evolve. On the other hand, younger persons tend to jump right in when new technologies and products are introduced to the market.
What do all these percentages and predictions have to tell us about the way churches and church leaders are using technology?
It's pretty obvious that electronic tools such as websites, e-newsletters, and now Facebook are becoming common marketing and evangelism avenues; however, local churches still may be missing some significant opportunities to keep in touch with younger adults, through apps and texting. While those 45 or older spend about 11 hours a week communicating electronically (answering email, on Internet sites, and using Facebook), younger adults have them beat. Adults 25 to 34 spend twice that (22 hours), and those 34 to 44 spend an average of 18 hours a week.
When it comes to learning more about digital communications, church leaders and pastors want to know more about setting up websites (37 percent) and e-newsletters (37 percent), but are less interested in being trained to create podcasts and various other tools.