Christians are statistically on par with national norms when it comes to being plugged in to digital technologies and social networks, a new study showed. But the study also found that the country's faithful is even more in tune with podcasting than other adults are.
Results from a study conducted by The Barna Group showed that 38 percent of evangelicals and 31 percent of other born-again Christians had listened to a sermon or church teaching via podcasts – digital recordings available on the Internet – compared to only 17 percent of other adults.
Overall, 23 percent of all adults said they downloaded a church podcast in the past week.
Protestants were more likely to listen to sermon podcasts than Catholics, the new Barna study showed. Also, more non-mainline church attendants listened to podcasts than mainline Protestants.
Podcasts have found large Christian audiences as pastors discovered an inexpensive way to reach congregants and the wider public with biblical teachings.
"The good news about podcasts is this is probably another example of religious traditions trying to keep alive and relevant," says David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, according to USA Today.
Nearly half of large churches that have more than 250 adults have adopted podcasting, an earlier Barna study found. Overall, one out of every six Protestant churches has taken up podcasting.
David Kinnaman, the lead researcher of the latest Barna study, praises the use of podcasts to reach the masses. But he cautioned church leaders to balance the spiritual and cultural potential of the technology.
"Having the means of reaching the masses – for instance, through podcasting – is a good thing. Yet, nothing matches the potency of life-on-life discipleship," he said. "In this respect, social networking and blogs can be effective tools to intimately connect with a small, natural network of relationships. The key is using the technology in a way that is consistent with your calling and purpose, not just an addictive self-indulgence. "In this respect, social networking and blogs can be effective tools to intimately connect with a small, natural network of relationships. The key is using the technology in a way that is consistent with your calling and purpose, not just an addictive self-indulgence."
The rise in use of podcasts for uploading sermons comes as more Americans are showing a spiritual hunger.
A Pew Internet & American Life Project last year found that more people have used the Internet to look for religious and spiritual information than to download music, participate in online auctions or visit adult websites.
"Technology can empower and engage people, across generations, socio-economic segments, and physical boundaries," said Kinnaman. "Young people, for instance, think of themselves as creators of content, not merely consumers of it. Technology, in essence, gives them a voice and fuels their search for calling. Whether or not you welcome it, technology creates an entirely new calculus of influence and independence. The stewardship of technology as a force for good in culture is an important role for technologists, entrepreneurs, educators, and Christian leaders."
Results from the Barna study are based on two nationwide surveys conducted in July-August 2007 and December 2007.