Hallelujah, It's the internet!

Americans and their religious institutions are singing the praises of the internet, according to a recent study.

          Americans and their religious institutions are singing the praises of the internet, according to a recent study.

          You might expect EBay (EBAY) to be more popular than Jesus online, but a new study by the Pew internet & American Life Project finds that more people use the Net for religious purposes than for many secular reasons. Twenty-one% of Web surfers, or roughly 20 million people, have looked for spiritual or religious information online. By comparison, only 18% of people online have taken advantage of internet banking, and just 15% have participated in internet auctions.

          Each day, more than 2 million Americans search the internet for religious or spiritual material. In response, religious institutions increasingly are integrating the internet into their everyday practices. Pew's survey found that e-mail has become a key means for religious institutions to keep in touch with their flocks. Ninety-one% said e-mail allowed greater communication with their congregations, and 63% said e-mail helped them to connect to their surrounding communities.

          In addition, 8 out of 10 churches and synagogues surveyed by Pew have operated Web sites for at least a year. Eighty-three% said having a site was helpful in encouraging visitors to attend their church. Three-quarters of the churches and synagogues feature sermons, mission statements or links to other faith-related sites on their home pages. Others use the internet as a forum for youth groups or to post information about missionaries and evangelists. Photos of congregational events and prayer requests also were common features of sites maintained by religious institutions, the survey found.

          Interestingly, clergy are often drawn to the internet for religious reasons, according to the study. Eighty-one% of spiritual leaders who go online say they find resources for worship, while more than half say they seek information on other denominations or faiths. More than three-quarters say they use the internet to do bible or Torah research.

          The study, "Wired Churches, Wired Temples: Taking congregations and missions into cyberspace," is based on responses from 1,309 Christian, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist congregations from 49 states.

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