The potentially global reach of the internet is still quite limited in practice. In November 2003, less than 11% of the world’s population had internet access. 62% of North Americans and 28% of Europeans (58% in the UK) were internet users, while in Africa only 1% of the population had access. In two major African countries with significant Anglican populations, Nigeria and Uganda, the figures were only 0.1% and 0.2%. Within Latin America and the Caribbean the average was 7%, in Asia 6%, Oceania 2%, and in the Middle East 5%, although there were very wide variations between individual countries. The UK had the fifth highest number (34 million) of internet users in the world, after the USA (185 million), China, Japan, and Germany.
The reduction of this global “digital divide” is a major challenge which the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union is trying to meet. Seven of the ten countries with the largest Christian populations, i.e. Brazil, Mexico, China, Russia, The Philippines, India and Nigeria have low figures for internet use.
Christian usage of the internet reflects the restricted geography of internet users. North American Christians currently dominate, with other English-speaking countries coming second, non-anglophone Western Europeans third, and the Global South is scarcely represented as yet. This balance will not change much over the next decade unless the global “digital divide” is significantly closed. It is not surprising therefore that so far the major Christian voices on the internet use the English language and reflect the theological balance of American Christianity, with strong representation of protestant and often conservative viewpoints. Thinking Anglicans is a small effort to redress this imbalance.
The most detailed survey so far of religious internet use is a 2001 survey of North Americans (see CyberFaith: How Americans Pursue Religion Online for details) which found that 3 million people a day (and in total 28 million Americans) had used the internet to get religious and spiritual information. This was a quarter of all American users and interestingly that was more people than had used internet dating services. 91% of them were Christians, compared to 71% of the American population.
Religious internet users appear to differ from many secular communities in that they do not use the internet much to find a new religious organisation to join, but rather to connect better with the one to which they already belong. Their most popular uses of the internet were to discover more information about their own faith, or about social issues, to email prayer requests, to download religious music, or to buy books or other religious materials. Nearly one-third subscribed to one or more electronic mailing lists of a religious kind. A majority had a favourite website affiliated with their own religious denominational group.
There are huge opportunities for Christians to promote the Kingdom of God via the internet. Thus far only a small proportion of Christian internet effort has been directed to evangelism: spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it. Much energy goes to nurture existing Christians in their faith, which is valuable. But far too much internet time is wasted in disedifying wrangles between Christians. This does nothing to further the Gospel, and leaves the potential of the internet for Christianity unfulfilled.