The Digital Divide, Evangelicals, and Media By Darrell Law
How Evangelicals Use Media Both Familiar and Surprising
Infinity Concepts recently released a new research report: Media Matters: Evangelicals and the Media. This report is the result of a research study conducted by Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research which included more than 1000 American evangelical Protestants and explored what media forms evangelicals are using.
- Between 63–80% of evangelical Protestants engage with a mix of Christian and mainstream media, which includes TV, streaming video, web, broadcast radio, podcasts, books and magazines.
- Evangelicals still rely on two very traditional forms of media for Christian content of all types: broadcast radio (60%) and books (58%). Podcasts fit between the two long-time standards, used by 57%.
- On average, evangelicals use 3.4 different formats for Christian information, preaching, inspiration and spiritual growth.
- The most popular media for specifically spiritual purposes are printed books, television, and websites.
- Christian media use is particularly high among lower-income evangelicals, Pentecostal/charismatic believers, and those more engaged with their faith evidenced by at least monthly church attendance, reading the Bible, etc.
- More than half (57%) of evangelicals prefer the Internet to print for news and information, and 69% prefer it for research.
- For learning and pleasure reading, evangelicals across all age categories prefer printed materials over digital. Even in the under age 40 category, print was the clear winner, with young adults choosing hard copy content over the Internet two to one (54% to 27%).
I could have predicted certain conclusions from this study that were expected, i.e., younger evangelicals are more likely to adopt and regularly use emerging new media than those 40 and older. But I must confess, I was also surprised that certain traditional standbys, such as broadcast radio and good old ink on paper, were still among the top ways that evangelicals receive Christian content.
This reveals that a communications strategy to this audience must resist assumptions and carefully research media usage category by category.
Given that, it’s still important to note the differences. Those under 40 list websites as their number one source (44%) for specifically spiritual purposes, with streaming video second (40%) and mobile apps third (36%), tied with printed books.
Printed books come in first for the next three age groups: 40–54 (42%); 55–69 (49%); and 70 and older (48%). Television is still a strong contender for specifically spiritual content across all age groups: under 40 (34%); 40–54 (38%); 55–69 (40%); and 70 and older (38%).
Whenever a new communication platform rises to prominence, it’s easy for prognosticators to announce the end of whatever traditional media it might replace. Certainly, television would kill film (Top Gun: Maverick anyone?), e-readers would spell the end of books (I think I read that in a book somewhere), and podcasts would put the nail in the coffin for radio. (What did you say? I couldn’t hear you over my favorite AM/FM station.)
Expectations Are High
Unless the new media fulfill all the functions of the older media and do a better job (CDs over cassettes, and for that matter, Spotify and other audio streamers over CDs), most people adopt the new form as part of the smorgasbord of options available. Evangelical Christians’ consumption behavior parallels that of the rest of American society in that regard.
The Digital Divide is Real
Our research did reveal a digital divide. While there is a fair amount of crossover in media use among age groups, there are significant differences in the most preferred media use between these groups.
That said, it’s not safe to assume that everyone in a subcategory is acting exactly alike. Significant minorities and even majorities within various groups are using media in ways that general observation could not have predicted.
Christian Media Connects
This study reaffirmed my conviction that Christian media is a powerful way to engage the evangelical audience.
Three of four evangelical Protestant TV viewers watch at least some Christian shows. Among those who stream videos, 80% view some Christian content. And for those who listen to radio, nine of 10 are tuning into stations offering Christian teaching, preaching, inspiration or information.
This should be encouraging and inspiring for those who wish to communicate with evangelical Protestants, who comprise 23% of American adults, or about 59 million people, according to our findings.
While Christian media still represent a minority of what evangelical Protestants consume, they are part of the mix. Evangelicals are receiving content from Christian TV, streaming video, magazines, books and websites. Content producers with vision, creativity and resources will be able to capture an even greater percentage of this audience with material that inspires, challenges, and changes lives.
To receive a free copy of the full research report, click here.
Darrell Law is Vice President/Chief Growth Officer of Infinity Concepts. He is an expert fundraising strategist, helping ministries and nonprofits find and retain donors, launch humanitarian outreaches, and effectively market and onboard new members and supporters.
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