Prayer and social media: Call and response

Posted Mar 12, 2013 | New Media Project


By Lerone A. Martin

This is the fourth of a six-week Lenten series on prayer and social media.

“Amen!” “Yes!” “Say it!” “Come on now!” Such phrases are commonly interjected during worship in America’s multi-hued Pentecostal and evangelical traditions. These proclamations are often heard during the preaching moment as well as prayer, offering instant affirmation (and at times rebuke) to the words and prayers that are uttered. Indeed, in such call and response traditions, it is obvious, fairly quickly in fact, whether or not a sermon or a prayer is received and meeting the needs and expectations of the faithful.

Tim Lehmann founded Prayrlist as way to use social media to extend this tradition.

Prayrlist allows for a resounding social media experience of call and response. Prayrlist seeks to cultivate the spiritual practice of prayer by automatically generating a daily prayer lists from a user’s Facebook friend list. Users can input their own specific prayer requests as well as view the prayer request/focus of others. Moreover, in the fashion of an altar call, users can issue urgent prayer requests. These pressing requests are immediately displayed as a special alert on the user’s entire Prayrlist network. One’s request almost instantaneously pops up on countless mobile phones, tablet computers, laptops, and desktops. If a Prayrlist user is plugged in, she or he will automatically be attuned to any and all urgent prayer request. Users can assure their Prayrlist community that they have indeed been prayed for and/or that their prayers have been heard, received, and affirmed. Posted interjections of “Amen!” “Yes!” and “Thank you” bombard one’s Facebook wall. Call and response, perhaps, at its best.

The research of the New Media Project (“How media changes American culture and religion”) has chronicled the various ways emerging forms of media have historically altered religious proclamation.

Moreover, in a previous blog, "Text and Confess," I chronicled a reformed Rosh Hashanah worship service in which congregants, instead of traditional prayer and confession, anonymously texted their prayers and penitence onto a scrolling screen for all to see. Prayrlist is yet another example of how social media tools are shifting the parameters of our religious proclamations and practices. Yes even prayer.

The effect of Prayrlist and other social media on the tenor and nature of our prayers and spiritual practices is a hotly debated topic. Nevertheless, Prayrlist does remind me of an old adage often repeated in the faith community of my youth: “Prayer knows no distance!” Prayer allows people, no matter the proximity, time, and space that separate them; to come together in unity to advocate for a certain cause. Prayrlist, possibly like never before, fulfills this proverb before our very eyes.

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.

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