By Tom Ehrich
Q: Is the Internet killing religion?
A: No. Religion in the US went into decline 30 years before the Internet became commercially available.
Q: Is anything killing religion?
A: Not directly or deliberately. Cultures change, people's lives, needs and expectations change. Therefore, institutions must change. Religious institutions were slow to recognize fundamental changes in their contexts and constituencies. Many fought change, in fact, as if change were unholy. By now, many religious institutions have adapted, and they are doing all right. Many have refused to adapt, or been unable to adapt, and they are closing their doors at a rapid clip.
Q: Are Americans losing faith?
A: No, by all measures I've seen, Americans are as faith-filled, faith-interested, or faith-seeking as ever. What people are losing is a desire to sit in a pew on Sunday morning. Many church leaders feel that loss of desire because they remain stuck in a belief that Sunday worship is their reason for being. They keep hoping that magic will occur when they open church doors next Sunday. When a congregation looks beyond Sunday as prime time and beyond worship as primary activity, they are amazed at how responsive people are, even the generation supposedly known as "Nones."
Q: If the Internet isn't killing religion, what is it doing to religion?
A: Saving religion's bacon. The Internet is providing new tools for creative faith leaders to use. Blogs, e-letters, social media posts, videos, data management, web conferencing, mobile apps -- radically affordable, familiar to constituents, trusted, and relatively easy to learn. They are making it possible for churches to reach people with an immediacy and intensity that they didn't have before.
Q: What, then, is the problem?
A: The problem is non-creative leaders, or anti-creative leaders, who fear new ways and have concluded that new means wrong. Even though Christianity has benefited tremendously from technology -- printing press, modern libraries, sound systems, video systems, computerized record-keeping, and now web-based tools -- there are always some leaders who experience fear of the new and a feeling of incompetence when presented a new tool, and they mistake those feelings with the will of God.
Q: Does religion have a future in the US?
A: Not without changing. Refusal to change is a death-wish. But if we can embrace our people, the needs they know, the tools they use, and the hungers they experience, and if we can get out of ourselves, religion can have a great future. It's already living into that future.