U.S. Google search queries on Catholic topics have dropped “significantly” in volume from 2004 to 2011 and are “perhaps disturbing evidence” about the intersection of faith and new media, a researcher on Catholic demographics says.
“Is this cause to panic? Certainly not. Should we be concerned? Yes,” said Mark M. Gray, a research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Georgetown.
Gray created graphs from Google search statistics which used the term “Catholic” in them, such as “Catholic school,” “Catholic Church,” and “Catholic Charities.” The graphs show a continued linear decline downward since 2004. The search volume dipped below average in 2007.
“Americans are significantly less likely to search for anything Catholic than they were seven years ago,” he said at Nineteen Sixty-four, the research blog of CARA.
Declines are also evident in the U.K., Australia, Germany, Italy and Brazil.
Gray said his graphs represent the behavior of “millions of people (Catholic and non-Catholic) online.”
“These aren’t responses to polls or attitudes expressed in a focus group. These are real world observations. People are doing less of something and when that thing is ‘Catholic’ online we should wonder what the future is for Catholic new media.”
Analysis of the Google search patterns for queries about the NFL and the Fox television show “American Idol” show no generalized downturn, he added.
Gray said that Catholics appear to use the Internet to look up Mass times or to look up a Catholic charity after a disaster. They are more likely to say they have visited a website for their parish or a Catholic school than any other religious website, but these comprise only about five percent of all adults for a six month period.
Catholic search terms hit a low point each summer and peak in the weeks of Ash Wednesday and Christmas.