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Vol. II, No. 5

Congregations and the Web

Hartford Institute staff person Scott Thumma recently compiled statistics for a talk at MIT on the use of Web sites by congregations.  Thumma found that over the past four years the percentage of churches with Web sites had grown from about 11% to around 45%. This rush to post Web sites is dominated by wealthy congregations. There are strong correlations between the size and wealth of churches and the use of Web sites and email communication within a congregation. Given the limited resources of the nearly 150,000 very small churches in the US, such congregations are unlikely to build Web sites anytime in the near future that take full advantage of the Internet.

In the talk, Thumma suggested several possible repercussions of a church being "wired." There are indications that "a whole-hearted embrace of new technologies" may alter the cultural, interpersonal and social dynamics within a congregation. Increased reliance on the Internet can change the power structure of congregations, as well as create a host of new problems for leadership. Most importantly, as churches construct an online identity designed for broad appeal it may have serious implications for its culture and core mission. He questioned whether a congregation who fabricate a public web persona, then have trouble living up to the HTML image it has created for itself?  You can read the text of this talk or visit the MIT to listen to the entire conference.

Suggested Links

We have a section of the Institute site devoted to articles and research on Religion and the Web.  Our site also has an extensive section for congregational leaders on designing church web sites.  And remember HIRR staff also review congregational web sites every month; go read several of the latest ones for fun.

The Pew Internet Project site contains many Internet survey reports, several of which have direct relevance to religion. Especially see their 2000 internet use survey  and the 2001 Web and Religion report.  A full listing of their reports is available at their site.

Center for the Digital Future http://www.digitalcenter.org  The UCLA Internet project has joined the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in the newly created Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.

The Center for the Digital Future, will continue its wide-ranging programs and projects that explore the leading issues in media and communications, including the World Internet Project and other programs that examine the broad impact of online technology in America and around the globe. An Archive of all their Internet studies is available at http://www.digitalcenter.org/pages/site_content.asp?intGlobalId=22


What's New on our site

We have finished the Spring cleaning of our over 4000 links to external sites - if you find one broken please let us know

We've also further updated the megachurch listing

And we now have the books by HIRR faculty and bibliographic resources linked to Amazon.com for easy shopping of the best books in sociology of religion. 


Coming Soon!! 

We will soon have an extensive (12,000 + entries), searchable bibliography of sociology of religion books and articles and a directory of social science scholars studying religious groups and topics.

By the end of the summer we hope to have several out of print books about congregational dynamics available online.   And, coming in the fall, Hartford Seminary will begin online courses.   We hope to offer an online, for-credit course in spring 2003 on how to study congregations taught by Nancy Ammerman. 



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