See also “The rising generation of faith holders“
Social media and its effects on users have been on the forefront of research in recent years.
The University of Notre Dame carried out a study in which researchers found that religious attendance rates are lower for individuals who are active on social media. Further, individuals who are active on social media are exposed to an influx of religious beliefs, ideas and practices, and report it is more acceptable to “pick and choose which religious beliefs they adopt, regardless of what their religious tradition teaches.”
While these studies explore the possible downsides of social media, there have been positive findings and reported experiences as well. Some church leaders in religious communities across Utah have reported that social media is an effective tool in connecting with and providing additional support for the youth and young adults in their congregations.
Junee Castro has served as the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese in Salt Lake City for three years. She oversees 48 parishes in Utah, including 23 youth groups and three young adult ministries.
Based on her experience working with the young people in her congregation, Castro said that despite research implying social media users are less likely to attend regular church services, she has seen a different reality.
Castro believes the church’s proactive use of social media has helped the youth and young adults in her congregation by providing them with additional support.
“We can reach the young adults with the ever growing internet and social media,” Castro said. “Especially for instances when they’re physically unable to come to the church but still need that support.”
When Castro is in her office, she is busy running three Facebook pages, including a youth ministry page specifically for parents. But it doesn’t stop there. She also runs an Instagram page for the diocese.
“I run an Instagram for the youth because that’s where they are,” Castro said.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center exploring teens and their experiences on social media found that 68% of teens say social media makes them feel that they have people who will support them through tough times. Further, 81% of teens say social media makes them feel more connected with what’s happening in their friends’ lives.
James Thompson, the pastor of education for the First Baptist Church of Provo, agrees that the social media aspect of “connecting with others” can help strengthen the young people of his congregation. Furthermore, it allows them to communicate at a time that’s best for them.
“There tends to be a desire to use social media as a way to engage when it’s convenient for them and to ask questions directly without having to meet face-to-face,” Thompson said.
In addition to providing personal support for youth, the First Baptist Church of Provo also has an active Facebook page that displays weekly sermon videos, information on upcoming events and a look into volunteer opportunities.
Church leaders are taking a proactive approach on social media, trying to meet youth and young adults where they are as a way to provide a positive influence and continually support faith and religious belief.