By Roland Lovstad
While print editions of Reporter and The Lutheran Witness continue to be their main sources, a recent survey of active LCMS pastors indicates nearly as many prefer using Internet connections for gathering news and information about the Synod.
Other findings of the survey show that pastors ranked the Internet as the vehicle of choice for general news and information and religion news. The Internet ranking was slightly higher than TV, followed closely by print and radio. Internet and print media were nearly tied as preferences for resources for daily Christian living and leadership development.
Conducted by LCMS Research Services, the study also found that younger pastors — those under age 50 — are more likely to access their LCMS news, information and resources from the LCMS website, rather than from print materials. The study was commissioned by the former Board for Communication Services to assist in developing communication strategies.
“We know that our pastors are inundated with information from a variety of sources and, with the pace of their demanding schedules, they barely have time to go through the mountains of mail on their desks and the hundreds of emails in their inboxes,” said Vicki Biggs, director of public affairs and media relations with LCMS Communications. “We developed this survey to help us understand how our pastors want to get news and information, so we can better meet their needs.”
The survey found that 67.1 percent of the older pastors ranked Reporter as their first or second choice for LCMS news, compared with 44 percent of the younger pastors. As for the LCMS website as a source of LCMS news, 39.6 percent of the older pastors ranked it a first or second choice, compared with 62.5 percent of the younger pastors. The older/younger rankings for the Witness as a first or second choice for LCMS news was 52.8 and 37.3 percent, respectively.
In summarizing the key findings, the survey report said that as older LCMS pastors retire and are replaced by younger men, “we may be approaching a ‘tipping point,’ whereby new media sources displace print and other traditional sources.”
When asked what they read in the print publications, more than three-fourths of the pastors said they “almost always” or “frequently” read the lead story and front page of Reporter. A comparison showed older pastors were more likely than younger pastors (59 percent vs. 42 percent) to read Reporter cover to cover. Almost two-thirds (65.8 percent) said they “almost always” or “frequently” read the cover article of the Witness. Older pastors (51 percent vs. 34 percent) were likely to frequently read the “From the President” column in the Witness.
“In today’s rapidly evolving field of communications, it’s important for us to understand our pastors’ preferences when it comes to using media to get news, information, and other resources to help them in their ministry,” Biggs commented. “This survey provides great information to help us develop content and select appropriate media that will be useful to our pastors.”
The survey also asked the pastors to assess the usefulness of LCMS media outlets in helping them carry out their ministry. The question listed Reporter, the LCMS website, The Lutheran Witness, E-news, Facebook, KFUO and Twitter. First-rated among all pastors was the website with 89.2 percent calling it “very” or “somewhat useful.” Reporter and The Lutheran Witness were rated similarly by 85.9 and 85.4 percent, respectively. Half or more rated the other three outlets “not at all useful” with a third or more saying they were “not sure” about Facebook and Twitter pages.
Overall, 15.4 percent of the pastors had visited the LCMS Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thelcms) in the prior month and less than 5 percent visited the Twitter page (www.twitter.com/thelcms). Just over 90 percent of the pastors indicated they were not on Twitter. Those who were not on Facebook included 30.7 percent of younger pastors and 65.1 percent of older pastors.
However, the survey also reported that 44.3 percent of the younger pastors and 15.4 percent of older pastors visited Facebook at least daily. It reported 27.6 percent of younger pastors and 50.2 percent of older pastors visited YouTube less than monthly.
“At press time, the LCMS Facebook page has more than 27,000 fans, which is more than any other Lutheran online presence,” said Biggs. “While the survey doesn’t tell us why so few pastors are fans, it does indicate that the majority of pastors aren’t even on Facebook, and of those who are, nearly half (45 percent) were unaware of the site. Now that they know about it, we hope that more pastors will indeed visit our Facebook and other social media sites to avail themselves of the useful information there.”
In a separate question, the survey found nearly eight out of 10 pastors indicated they access Reporter Online once a month or less, and 84 percent said they access the Witness online at the same rate. The results did not differ by age.
The survey also asked the pastors about subscriptions to 44 online publications from LCMS departments. “Let Us Pray” from the former Commission on Worship was most subscribed to by the pastors (43.2 percent). Second, received by 38.3 percent, was “Letter to Pastors” from the president’s office. Third, received by 25.2 percent, was an online newsletter on the new LCMS hymnal, followed by the “Youth Ministry Bulletin” (24.7 percent) and “LCMSNews” (24.5 percent).
The survey found that most were unaware of other online publications. When the names were listed, nearly half of the pastors indicated they would be “very” or “somewhat likely” to subscribe to some. The survey showed age differences in the media preference for general news and information. The study found 56 percent of older pastors ranked TV their first or second choice, compared with 39 percent of younger pastors. The Internet was rated first or second by 78 percent of younger pastors, compared with 55 percent of older pastors. Other options were radio, social media and mobile Web. The latter category included “smart phones” and mobile devices like the iPad.
The Internet and print were preferred for general religion news and information, resources for daily Christian living and leadership resources.
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted May 12, 2011