How children use technology and online platforms to connect and grow
The 2016 NCLS asked young churchgoers aged 8 to 14 about their use of technology. We investigated children’s access to mobile phones; which social networking sites are most popular; and the use of devices for faith-related activities. Results show the importance of digital devices for activities related to faith. Just under half of children have used devices to listen to Christian music, and around one-quarter have used them to watch videos about God or Jesus, or read the Bible on a screen.
Young people today are growing up with a seamless integration of technology in their lives. In the 2016 NCLS we investigated that presence of technology and its use in the lives of child attenders. For instance, we asked children: do you have your own mobile phone; which social networking sites have you used in the last week; and have you used your computer, tablet or phone, to do any faith-related activities in the last month?
Results from over 10,000 children surveyed show that around half of child attenders aged 8 to 14 (48%) have access to a mobile phone.
As mobile phones have connection to the internet, as well as cameras, videos and voice recorders, it can be assumed that potential use of the phone goes beyond calling or texting others, to surfing the internet, looking up websites, taking and sharing photos and videos, and using voice activated applications.
As technological and social trends change rapidly, the popularity of websites and emergence of new ones is changeable. But in 2016 the most commonly used site was YouTube by nearly seven in ten children (69%). Only 21% had not used any social networking sites.
Results show the importance of digital devices for activities related to faith. Just under half (46%) of children use a device to listen to Christian music, and over a quarter use it to watch videos about God or Jesus (28%), or read the Bible on a screen (26%). Just below two in 10 children listen to audio and connect with others from the church via digital devices.
For all the differing views on the benefits and risks that accompany the realms of social media there appears top be positive trends in its use by churchgoing children. Forty-six percent use the medium to listen to Christian music. Hence, children surveyed are indeed using it to build their faith. Although, connecting with others from church via digital devices is less prominent.
Given the years since the 2016 NCLS, with the global pandemic and the COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions, technology has come to the fore in many aspects of life for children including schooling and church activities. It will be valuable to see if child church attenders’ use of technology in engaging with and practicing their faith has changed in that context. As churches navigate the new normal of social restrictions, and moving to hybrid or online models of gathering, understanding how to connect with their young churchgoers is of importance, including online or at-home practices.
Does the local church need to get aboard the social-media juggernaut with more gusto if it is to remain relevant and connected with young people? Does it need to be more proactive in sharing this space with many other organisations? Can churches support families as they school from home, work from home and church from home with increasing frequency in these circumstances?
Kathy Jacka and Ruth Powell, NCLS Research with Rod Bennett, WildHive Studios.
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Powell, R. (2020). Views and experiences of children in churches, Occasional Paper 42. Sydney, Australia: NCLS Research.