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NMRDC Releases new Tech Trend Paper, “The Digital Divide, Digital Reluctance and Its Impact on...

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies announces the publication of its third Tech Trend paper entitled “The Digital Divide, Digital Reluctance and Its Impact on Pandemic Churches.” This is the third paper in a series of Tech Trend papers exploring finding from “Tech in Churches During Covid-19” project that is funded by the Lilly Endowment. Each papers explores in depth key research findings related to how churches in the American Mid-west experienced during the digital transition from traditional to online worship necessitated by the conditions of COVID-19 pandemic.


The goal of the “Tech in Churches” research project is to explore the relationship between religious congregations and technology, specifically during the time of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The data used in this Tech Trend paper come from focus groups with recipients of church technology grants that were provided by the Center for Congregations which supported over 2700 congregations across Indiana during the pandemic. Each Tech Trend papers explores key findings that were found in this data. This report is prepared by Heidi A. Campbell, Director of the project and Mandy M. Jordan, the project’s Senior Research Associate.


The Digital Divide, Digital Reluctance and Its Impact on Pandemic Churches explores how churches encountered and responded to key challenges related to the Digital Divide. This term refers to the gap in access and understanding to digital media technologies people can encounter. The Digital Divide is characterized by lack of accessibility to internet infrastructure, digital technologies and training in their use. Three key obstacles that create a pandemic church digital divide are explore in-depth include: 1) churches with limited internet accessibility, 2) generational divides, and 3) church leaders’ own digital reluctance.The digital divide that was present within many churches in this study predominately went unnoticed prior to the pandemic, but was quickly revealed when churches attempted to move their services online. This Tech Trend paper focuses on how these classic disparities were manifest in these congregations and their impact on attempts at doing church online. Also, besides complaints about lacking digital resources, church leaders also voiced a more intangible element of personal reluctance towards digital technology. For leaders, their own lack of experience and knowledge about technology use and literacy promoted an atmosphere of resistance towards the very equipment congregations needed to transition from an offline to online services. This was a theme initially discussed in our Tech Trend Paper #1, Needed but Lacking: Impact of Pastors’ Technology Background During the Pandemic. Here we explore how church leader’s digital reluctance shaped their views and response towards, digital media, impacted their church work and ways it was addressed and attempted to be overcome within congregations.


Overall, The Digital Divide, Digital Reluctance and Its Impact on Pandemic Churches explores two challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought forth for churches: a continuous struggle in access to the digital resources, and user resistance and hesitancy towards technology. The paper seeks to provide greater understanding of these how church leaders faced these specific obstacles and offer insights to how pastors encountered and engaged these aspects of the Digital Divide. These challenges remain important issues for churches to consider when embracing doing church online for the long-term.


This report can be found online at: https://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/handle/1969.1/195938

Heidi A. Campbell is available for interviews related to this paper, and her research on churches, technology and digital culture. She can be contacted via email at heidic@tamu.edu or through the project’s senior research assistant, Sophia Osteen, at sophie.osteen@tamu.edu.

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