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Barna Group report

Pastors and the Internet

Survey shows how pastors relate to internet in the USA. 96% are frequent users and 87% are ready to provide spiritual counseling online. 

SOURCES Barna Group AUTHOR Evangelical Focus UNITED STATES 24 FEBRUARY 2015 18:05 h GMT+1
cyberchurch Front page of the newest Barna Group study. / Barna Group

The use of Internet has become an essential tool to understand the way people live their lives, do their work and engage in their relationships. Pastors are no exception.

In the past 15 years, the use of the Internet among church leaders has significantly increased, and most of them have come to accept, not only that it can be a very useful tool for their ministry, but also that it is "theologically acceptable" to seek "faith assistance" or "religious experiences" online.

Barna Group has carried out a nationwide study in the United States, examining how Protestant senior pastors use the internet today, compared to 15 years ago, when the first study was made.

The recent survey was conducted November 14 through December 3, 2014 and included 601 interviews with Protestant senior pastors, while the first survey was conducted from December 7 to December 28, 2000 and included 610 Protestant senior pastors.



Although in 2000, a high percentage of pastors said they used a computer at church (83%), today even more pastors do (96%).

The primary reason why a pastor uses a computer (word processing or writing), has stayed essentially the same, but the use for accessing the Internet and for email, has increased dramatically:

  • Word processing or writing: 59% today and 51% in 2014

  • Accessing the Internet: 39% today compared to only 24% in 2000

  • E-mail: 46% compared to 24%

Besides, more church leaders today are using  their computers to access to digital communication tools that help them to improve their work

  • Study helps or research, 56% compared to 29%

  • Creating slides/presentations, 44% compared to 10%.

Pastors are also now using the Internet for many other activities that they only marginally participated in 15 years ago. You can see them in the graphic below:


Figure 1. / Barna Group.



In 2000, only 78 percent of pastors believed online religious experiences were theologically acceptable. Now, nine in 10 pastors think it is theologically acceptable for a church to provide faith assistance to people through the Internet (87%).

They are more than willing to acknowledge that the Internet is playing a key role in how people engage with religion, yet they remain sceptical about those online interactions representing the entirety of a person’s faith activities.


Figure 2. / Barna Group



More than half of pastors see the Internet as a powerful tool for effective ministry (54%, up from 35% in 2000). A similar percentage believes that if a church wants to be effective in the future, it will need to have a significant presence on the Internet (55%).

Although these percentages have grown, there are still many pastors who do not agree with these statements. Most of this resistance comes from older pastors. Younger pastors are more likely to agree with these positive statements than are older pastors.

The financial situation of each church determines the way Pastors see the Internet as a ministry tool:

  • Those who make $60,000 or more a year are more likely to see the Internet as a powerful ministry tool (63%) than are those who make less than $40,000 (49%).

  •  When asked whether developing a significant presence on the Internet is a good investment: 69% of pastors making $60,000 or more a year say yes, while only 44% of those making $40,000 to $60,000 and even fewer (40%) of those making under $40,000 a year agree

The number of pastors who consider that the Internet is bad for small churches, or a distraction from doing significant ministry, has decreased in the last 15 years, but more pastors than before believe that it can be used to spread spiritual heresy and to distort Christianity (see graphic below).


Figure 3. / Barna Group.



“While 15 years ago, having a church website or using the Internet as a ministry tool may have seemed like a luxury, for most churches today it has become a necessity”, said Roxanne Stone, a vice president at Barna Group. “No matter the church’s size, location or demographic, the Internet has become and will continue to be a vital tool for connection, outreach and even spiritual formation,” concluded Stone.




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