Note: In the month of May 2012, the six New Media Research Fellows will be blogging about their newly posted theological essays. Look for the link below.
At a recent “Night of Hope
” religious event in Washington, D.C., Pastor Joel Osteen attracted close to 41,000 people to the stadium, but more than twice that number (close to 90,000) gathered in an online live chat room during the event. During the altar call, 7,554 people were logged in. Ninety-three percent of these online participants came forward, confessed … well, rather, I mean, Tweeted or posted that they had given their life to Christ, during the altar call. Could the great modern revivalist Billy Graham ever have imagined bringing people to Jesus via an online live chat room?
During the event, the various social media venues of Osteen’s ministry tallied 208,000 “interactions” with unacquainted seekers hailing from 145 countries. Moreover, a reported 26,000 people in the chat room received spiritual counsel at the event by clicking on information concerning various spiritual resources, including an assortment of Osteen’s spiritual commodities and directions to a local church.
Osteen’s use of social media, particularly for the altar call, reflects significant changes in how revivals take place and how the faithful gather. However, the power of new media to shift aspects of Christian practice is not new.
In fact, in an essay
on this topic written for the New Media Project, I wrote that a “long view of media and religion reveals that the introduction of new media into America has consistently caused significant debate and changes in American culture and religion, particularly Protestant Christianity. This dynamic is apparent throughout the evolution of popular media technology, ranging from the creative religious uses of print, phonograph, radio, television, Internet, and now social media. Each stage of the development of mass communication has challenged established norms, traditions, and practices of American culture and religion. Such changes have continually had profound religious and theological ramifications.”
Media is changing American culture and religion again. We hope you will help us think together theologically about what it means for communities of faith today. Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO. The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.