SALT LAKE CITY — Creating digital apps, amping up profiles and making sure members and missionaries are prepared to share their message, religion is going where their congregations gather — online.
In today’s world, religious affiliation is no longer popular, and according to the MIT Technology Review, that could have a lot to do with the Internet.
In the study, it said 8 percent of people in the U.S. didn’t have a religious affiliation 20 years ago. Fast forward to today, and the number has jumped to 18 percent. Allen Downey, a computer scientist at Olin College of Engineering, analyzed the data and discovered a correlation between the rise of the Internet and the fall of religion.
Downey found that religious upbringing has the largest influence on continuing religious affiliation, followed by education. Those with college educations tend to be less interested in religion. However, the highest correlation for a drop in religious affiliation is the Internet. From zero use in the 1980s to 53 percent of the population spending hours a week online, Downey calculates the increase can account for about 25 percent of the drop in religious affiliation.
Since everyone is online, religious people have turned to the Web to promote their message and share their faith.
Sister Helena Burns is a Catholic nun who has taken her ministry online. Her Twitter bio reads “Media nun tweets God, Theology of Body, Media Literacy, Philosophy. Proof God exists: hummingbirds, hockey, coffee.”
Burns told The Atlantic she finds time to check in on Facebook, Twitter and her blog. She keeps the conversation casual, but maintains earnestness in her mission to bring Christ to her followers.
"Every time I try a bit of sarcasm, it never works. They can't hear your voice, they can't see your face—it's bad enough in real life, so I don't do it online,” Burns told The Atlantic. “I want to use the latest, most modern, most efficacious media and media technology to reach the greatest number of people with the holy spirit.”
“It's about being a normal, 21st-century American who Instagrams silly selfies and tweets about Noah, sharing tiny bits of an everyday life,” wrote Emma Green at The Atlantic. “But it's also about using every means available to reach people with the word of Christ, incorporating God into every part of life.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made big changes in their missionary program, including chat rooms and special Facebook pages to reach out to those curious about the faith.
“In the past few decades, the number of converts has shown a concerning drop, from a peak of 331,000 a year in 1990 to just a little over 272,000 in 2012, according to official church records,” reported the Huffington Post. “As the Mormon church has learned in the course of its experiment, we’d rather discuss life’s most intimate topics through the impersonal anonymity of the screen.”
Missionaries man the “Chat With A Mormon” portal on mormon.org, ready to answer questions from anyone who logs on. One curious Internet troll logged on with intentions of harassing the people on the other side of the chat, and found himself becoming interested in their message.
"Those chats were so amazing," Aubert L'Espérance, a teen whose chat led him to converting to Mormonism, told the Huffington Post. "Before I even knew much about the church, I really felt its power immediately. It was easier online because you don't need to actually speak certain things. It’s more of an impersonal thing when you're online.”
After getting comfortable online chatting with the missionaries, he began to meet with them in person and develop the face-to-face relationship that led to his conversion. But it started online.