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Church URL vs. IRL: Digital Worship is on the Rise Among Christian Millennials

Church URL vs. IRL: Digital Worship is on the Rise Among Christian Millennials

We all had to make a lot of shifts during the pandemic, and many of us have already returned to our pre-pandemic way of life. But a few areas are likely forever changed thanks to Covid, including the way believers exercise their faith.

In a new study from the University of Waterloo, 32 percent of millennials in the U.S. and Canada say they turn to digital religious or spiritual activities on a monthly basis.

“Digital religion” covers a lot of things (and it doesn’t mean, like, worshipping your phone). It can look like streaming online worship services, setting up a prayer meeting via Zoom or even watching a spiritual TikTok. It’s using a digital platform to engage with elements of your faith.

“We know that more and more people are turning towards digital mediums for spirituality such as chat groups with pastors, online sermons, and religious content on social media,” said Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme, the university sociologist leading the study, in a press release. “We’ve found that while digital religion isn’t necessarily attracting a lot of new millennials to participate, it is making the experience of those already involved richer.”

While digital religion continues to rise, the research shows that it’s not replacing the brick and mortar church. Instead, it’s complementing it. Of the 32% who said they engage with digital religion monthly, only 5% said they do so without participating in in-person forms of religion or spirituality once a month or more. So while church online continues to remain popular among younger generations, it’s not looking to replace the physical experience of the church.

Wilkins-Laflamme clarifies that while digital religion is growing among many young adults, it’s not a part of the lives of the overall majority of millennials.

“It is still present though for a sizable minority of the young adult population, and for many of them, digital religion plays an important complementary role to the in-person practicing of their faith,” said Wilkins-Laflamme.

The study focused on the rise of digital religion among Millennials but it should be noted that Gen Z, who’ve grown up as “digital natives,” are likely going to keep the trend alive and well for years to come. Churches had to quickly pivot to online resources when the pandemic hit. Those that were able to adapt quickly found success among younger generations. And it’s not something they should continue to embrace if they’re looking to keep the next generation engaged.

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