By Lerone A. Martin
Social and mobile media will overtake television as the most widely used and accepted mass medium for religious consumption.
Trendy religious media have long mimicked the practices of fashionable news mediums. Well-known entrepreneurs of religious media have historically utilized the most popular news mediums of their day for religious purposes. Seminal news outlets such as story papers, newspapers, subscriptions, heralds, handbills, phonograph records, and radio have been inundated with the news as well as theological and religious content. Whatever medium is the most widely used for news, history tells us, will surely be the most popular medium for religious entrepreneurs.
In post-war America, television bypassed newspapers and became the dominant purveyor of news. Religion followed. Fewer and fewer clerics published their editorials and sermons in newspapers, electing instead to use television.
However, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, mobile devices and social networking sites will soon become the dominant news mediums.
To be sure, television news, especially Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, maintained their respective audiences during the rise of the Internet. However, the advent of social media is challenging television’s place in the news world. Half of all adults now own a tablet computer or smartphone. These news seekers are increasingly skipping the television for their news and relying on their mobile devices and social networking sites to stay abreast of current events.
In all, news consumption via social networking sites has doubled since 2010. This trend is particularly pronounced among adults under the age of 30. In 2006, almost half of these young adults obtained their news from television. Today, however, the study revealed that only a third get their news from television, while an equal amount get their news from social networking platforms.
If the historical pattern of religious media following the trends of popular news outlets holds, the televangelism of today may very well become the radio of yesteryear. Accordingly, using social media for religious purposes will not be a mysterious new practice nor a noteworthy fad, but, in all actuality, the normative practice of American religious media.
The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology.