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UMC pastors, leaders ahead of the tech game


United Methodist pastors and church leaders match or exceed the average technology adoption rates in the United States, according to new research from United Methodist Communications.

"The purpose of the 'United Methodist Emerging Technology Survey' was to assess penetration of new types of digital communication within the church to aid agency communications and messaging," said Dan Krause, general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Krause said the study also helps the agency determine interest in training on these new technological opportunities.

Pastors and leaders match or exceed adoption rates on eight of the 15 emerging technology categories tested. Among those were people viewing videos on YouTube or a similar site, accessing the Internet on their mobile phones, using mobile apps, accessing podcasts, using LinkedIn, uploading videos to YouTube, using Pinterest and using Twitter.

Compared to Pew Research's 2015 national average of 68 percent, 91 percent of pastors and 79 percent of church leaders have smartphones; 66 percent of pastors use those mobile phones to take most of their photos and videos; and 57 percent say they actually feel lost without their cellphones.

Digital media associated with mobile phones, such as texting and the use of apps and Internet via cellphones, continues to increase. Similarly, pastors report a high usage and little growth for Facebook and YouTube. However, Twitter growth has stalled at a relatively low level. Pinterest and Instagram continue to experience growth.

Key findings from the survey include:

While pastors' attitudes toward technology remain strongly positive, there have been slight increases in the number of people who say technology is often overrated. There has also been a slight decrease in pastors saying they like to learn how to use technology. Pastors report more positive attitudes toward smartphones and texting. Attitudes are still less favorable toward new technology among older age groups.

Pastors and lay leaders are willing to accept mobile messages from their local church, but are less interested in receiving messages from annual conferences and United Methodist agencies.

Pastors are more likely than lay leaders to open newsletters and email through mobile devices.

Compared to 2013, congregational use of digital communications has become more universal: 79 percent have Facebook pages, 49 percent have mobile-enabled websites, 48 percent use text messaging, 40 percent use YouTube and 30 percent use Twitter.

Approximately 30 percent of churches can receive electronic donations.

71 percent of pastors said their church uses computer projection equipment.

The study was conducted in September and October 2015 among a sample of 875 pastors and leaders.