Digital Divide? How Evangelicals Use Media Both Familiar and Surprising

by Darrell Law | Aug 26, 2022 | Media

Infinity Concepts released an insightful 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 use.

Here are a few statistics from our report:

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 expected conclusions from this study, 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 evangelicals receive Christian content.

This reveals that a communications strategy for 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 following 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.)

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.

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 acts exactly alike. Significant minorities and even majorities within various groups use media in ways that general observation could not have predicted.

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.

According to our findings, 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.

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 more significant percentage of this audience with material that inspires, challenges, and changes lives.

To receive a free copy of the full research report or access all available reports, click here.

Darrell Law

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