THE ORIGINAL SOCIAL MEDIA
Social networking sites, long celebrated as avenues for up-to-the-minute information from friends, pundits, celebrities and corporations, are now being deployed in the spirit of higher powers. They have emerged as vehicles for spiritual salvation.
Increasingly, the road to Damascus is a hyperlink and the Epistle is a tweet.
In some sense, this seems inevitable. The Internet is effectively doing for present-day pastors what television once did for Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart and the rest of the so-called televangelists: helping them spread Christianity on a mass scale while liberating their congregations from the confines of the physical church.
Beyond the tens of millions of viewers who can be reached via television broadcasts, the Web has amplified the potential audience to the hundreds of millions, while transcending geographic boundaries. Pastors need not concern themselves with buying TV time in the appropriate markets. They can instead use tweets, streaming video, podcasts and Facebook status updates — free, accessible anytime and widely shared — to turn hearts and shepherd their flock. And while TV is a one-way form of communication, the Internet enables interaction, letting ministries converse with the people tuning in.
“Thirty years ago, televangelists used technology that did not exist before then to spread their message, and that is essentially what technology is allowing pastors and churches to do now,” said Todd Rhoades, the director of new media and technologies at the Leadership Network, which seeks to help churches master technical innovation. “But it’s on a much larger scale and in many ways it’s on a more individual scale — it seems a lot more personal.”
Osteen during a 2012 interview with Matt Lauer on NBC News’ Today show.
Social media brand managers would pay dearly for fans as active as the followers that religious groups have attracted online. On social networking sites, megapastors’ fan bases are considerably smaller than those of pop stars or big brands, but church followers tend to be far more engaged and apt to spread the word of their preachers.
Religious groups regularly rank among the top five most-discussed fan pages on Facebook, according to PageData, a social media analytics firm. Rihanna, the most popular public figure on Facebook with over 70 million “likes,” averaged 41,000 interactions per Facebook post during the month of March, reported Quintly, an analytics firm that registers shares, comments and “likes” as individual interactions. Joel Osteen Ministries, with a relatively paltry 3.6 million “likes,” averaged 160,000 interactions per post, Quintly found — nearly four times Rihanna’s average, three times Justin Bieber’s and almost sixteen times the White House’s.
Evangelical Christians and social media creators ultimately share something fundamental in common: Both are consumed with the nature of how information spreads, and both are intent on fashioning a sense of community out of individuals separated by time, space, language and culture. Both also passionately apply themselves to filling what they view as a void in the human experience.
“Religion is the original social media,” says Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On. “Even that phrase, ‘spreading the gospel.’ Religion is one of the original things that people shared to a good degree.”
Don't miss a story
Subscribe to our email newsletter:
Don't worry we hate spam as much as you do