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PRESS RELEASE: New Report Explores “When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat’: How Churches Digitized...

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies announces the publication of its first report entitled “When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat’: How Churches Digitized during COVID-19” investigating the ways that churches utilized technology, how decisions were made, and sources of challenge that resulted. This report is part of a larger research project exploring churches’ decision-making processes regarding technology during the pandemic called “Tech in Churches during COVID-19,” which is funded by the Lilly Endowment. The report is prepared by Heidi A. Campbell and Sophia Osteen and covers how churches navigated the shift online and the accompanying challenges, questions, and consequences.


The primary goal of the Tech in Churches research project is to explore and analyze the evolving relationship between technology and religious congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic that is still impacting churches in many parts of the world. This report is the first of three reports that analyzes data from the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis, Indiana, and their “Connect Through Tech” grant program. These grants supported more than 2700 congregations across the state of Indiana during the pandemic, enabling them to purchase digital equipment and other technological resources to facilitate their transition from traditional offline to digital worship services and ministries during times of social distancing and lockdowns.


“When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat’” presents findings from 50 Tech Talk sessions with 478 congregational leaders hosted by the Center for Congregations in 2020 and 2021, as part of the grant program. These sessions provided a space for church leaders to not only discuss their technology use during the pandemic, but also reflect on the implications of choices made about the implementation of digital media. Report One centers on responses to questions emerging from these discussions, specifically discussing: (1) who are making technological decisions in churches, (2) what challenges congregations have faced in implementing digital technology, (3) what issues the transition to online and digital culture has raised for pastors, (4) any success stories about church technology use worth noting, and (5) whether digital forms of worship are a short-term or long-term strategy for post-pandemic congregations.This report offers a voice especially to small and rural congregations regarding their experiences of having to move online with few resources and often little to no digital experience, while working with technologically- hesitant or resistant congregations. It also provides insight into how digital media use impact both church worship services and the ways congregations understand what it means to be the “Church.”


Overall, this report demonstrates that churches were resilient and willing to innovate while making the required shift online. Although they encountered various challenges, this digital transition offered them valuable insights and altered the ways churches view connection, community, and even sometimes, the Church. The Tech in Churches project reveals how pastors responded when faced with making the decisions related to technology within their congregations while negotiating the challenges, unexpected opportunities, and ways of envisioning future implications of this significant digital shift.


The report is available online at: https://bit.ly/churchesdigitalized

For more information about the research project see: https://www.techinchurches.org/

Heidi A. Campbell is available for interviews related to this report, 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 Researcher, sophie.osteen@tamu.edu.

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