December 20, 2000

Wired Churches, Wired Temples

Part 2: Use of email within congregations

The network effect

Email use in these congregations has become a binding element for the faithful. In many cases, the impact is dramatic. The flow of email goes in all directions: 89% of the respondents said that the minister or rabbi uses email to communicate with members of the congregation and 45% said that was done a great deal. Fully 84% said congregation committee members used email to pass along information related to committee business, and 43% said that type of electronic communication was used a great deal. And 86% said that staffers and members of the congregation exchange emails; 42% said that happens frequently.

A few congregations noted that they maintain more than one email list, and that members can sign up for lists that pursue things that interest them. Yet others noted that email is more important to the congregation than is the Web site.

Among members, email is used for fellowship and faith activities, though there is a bit more of the former than the latter. Some 91% of respondents said the congregation members exchange email for fellowship purposes; 36% said this kind of exchange is done a great deal. And 87% of the respondents said that congregation members send email back and forth to support each other spiritually or to share spiritual concerns. About a third (33%) said that happened a great deal.

In addition to intra-congregational emailing, members also frequently reach out to other faith communities. Some 82% of respondents have congregation members or clergy who use email to connect with members of other congregations on spiritual issues; 25% of them say this happens a great deal.

The results of these email flows are evident in the spiritual life of the faith community. Some 81% of the respondents said the use of email has helped the spiritual life of the congregation and 35% say that the use of email has helped a great deal. Fully 91% say that the use of email has helped congregation members and staffers stay more in touch – 51% say email has helped a great deal. And 63% of them believe that the use of email has helped the congregation connect with the surrounding community to some extent. Some 17% say email has substantially helped in that kind of outreach.

As with Web-uses that require two-way communication rather than passive information distribution, use of email within congregations is tied to the congregation’s level of Internet access. While high-budget congregations and congregations with changing membership reported higher use of and satisfaction with email, the effect of Internet access levels throughout the congregations was always the most telling variable. Jewish and Unitarian congregations, which reported having higher access levels across the board than did Christian congregations, also report higher usage on email. However, those differences generally disappear when looking only at high-access Christian congregations.

The network effect