Risqué or sanctioned, ordained or not ordained by God – romance and sex are powerful ideas in the eyes of many Christian groups across North America. Each Christian sect maintains their own stance on how these human connections should take form. In the digital age, the process of informing laypeople of these values is complex and dynamic. This poster presents the research design for a study of the dissemination of information during attempts of Christian institutions to educate congregants on issues of dating, romantic relationships, and sex. The anticipated results from the study will include: the types of resources produced, the forms that they take, successes and failures of these attempts, and strategies for future improvements.
This study design is informed by several research questions: What information practices do Christians use to educate laypeople about dating, romantic relationships and sex? Are institutions still advocating print resources and Sunday school lectures? Or do they take advantage of the digital landscape, adapting social media, blogs, databases, or other tools into their practices? This research project aims to get a sense of what information tools are popular and successful among Christian groups when disseminating this very critical, and often politicized, information. Survey questions will be distributed to clergy members and laypeople in at least two different Christian congregations in the Memphis area. The congregations will be chosen based on their differences in doctrine and values from other chosen groups – a comparison study of two or more very different groups will ultimately speak to the wide variety of information resources available to Christians across all sects. The surveys will address key concerns about the resources these churches produce and disseminate regarding dating, relationships, and sex: types or forms of resources, number of resources, accessibility, ease of use, scope, currency, and interactivity. Follow-up interviews with clergy members will further illuminate decisions taken to create and distribute these information resources.
It is anticipated that results from this study will provide evidence of an increased role of digital resources in disseminating information to congregant users. From church websites to blogs to social media websites, Christian groups are utilizing the digital landscape to project their ideas to the largest possible audience, targeting even beyond their current congregants to possible converts and new members. The topics of dating, romantic relationships, and sex within Christian environments are often geared particularly towards adolescents and young adults. Therefore, to compete with the marketplace of ideas and philosophies available to the millennial generation, churches are taking advantage of the digital landscape to disseminate their message in new and innovative ways.
Literature addressing this area remains largely absent, particularly within scholarship interested in intersecting information studies and religion. Also, much existing scholarship seems to focus largely on information seeking behaviors of clergy members, rather than examining the behaviors and relationships of both clergy and laypeople within the larger framework of the communication chain. This research study attempts to close these gaps. Moreover, this project contributes to the Center for the Study of Information and Religion by touching on several key topics, such as: the use of social media to minister to youth, the information behaviors of clergy members, the dissemination of information by clergy members, the use of information technology to convey ideas and to provide services for congregants, and the uses of information by congregation members.