From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 5 NO. 2
How Christian Leaders Interact with Twitter
IN THIS ARTICLE
This paper explores the relationship between Christian leaders and Twitter. Twitter’s founding resulted in an outburst in the use of the social media platform. Christian leaders quickly caught on, and today they use Twitter for a number of different purposes, seeking first and foremost to challenge and inspire their followers. Through the study of 30 different leaders’ tweets, as well as different blog posts, articles and interviews outlining different approaches to Twitter and other social media, the study concluded that pastors were most concerned with getting across the basic message of Christianity while adapting their methods to include the new medium of Twitter.
Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has been a leader in the Internet socialization of the world, greatly fulfilling its mission: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” With 500 million Tweets sent per day by 241 million monthly active users, it has penetrated modern society to a degree once known only by MySpace and Facebook.1
Christian pastors, to a degree, are no different. And some of them get more interaction on Twitter than pop star Justin Bieber. In June 2012, Amy O’Leary published a story in The New York Times titled “Christian Leaders Are Powerhouses on Twitter,” writing about how influential pastors and Christian speakers such as Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and Max Lucado were generating more reactions on Twitter than Bieber. Even though Meyer had just 993,000 followers as compared to Bieber’s 22.6 million followers at the time, Meyer generated 170 reactions per 50,000 followers, while Bieber had just 59. This discovery resulted in Twitter executives encouraging more religious leaders to join the platform.
The company executive Claire Diaz-Ortiz “. . . spends half of her time on the road, offering training, analytics and help to swat away impostor accounts, as well as encouraging leaders to be less promotional and more personal in their posts,” O’Leary wrote. “Pastors tell me,” Diaz-Ortiz said, “Twitter is just made for the Bible.”2
So if Twitter is “just made” for pastors’ main source material, and some Christian speakers are generating more reaction from followers than pop stars, a study into the impact Christian pastors have on the social media platform would be worthwhile along with investigation into the collision of religion and culture in today’s society. How involved Christians should be in “secular culture” is an on-going debate in the evangelical world. For some, Twitter is worthy of their time. In a blog post on DesiringGod.org, John Piper wrote, “In spite of all the dangers, Twitter seems like a risk worth taking. ‘All things were created through Christ and for Christ’ (Colossians 1:16). The world does not know it, but that is why Twitter exists, and that’s why I tweet.”3
The most important question this paper examined was how and why pastors and other Christian leaders used Twitter? It will also examine individual stories of pastors and Twitter and what Twitter means for the Christian community.
Christians pastors/theologians/other leaders use Twitter, but there are not many concrete resources on this topic. The majority of information come from blog posts and other Internet-based sources, evidence of how religious thoughts are communicated in this current age.
Many resources were pulled from the evangelical Christian websites The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. Members of The Gospel Coalition describes themselves this way: “We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. . . . We have committed ourselves to invigorating churches with new hope and compelling joy based on the promises received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”4
The website has several regular bloggers, plus many guest posts. In the list of sources from The Gospel Coalition used for this paper are blog posts from Trevin Wax, Kevin DeYoung, Joe Carter and Dustin Neeley, among others. Desiring God is a ministry started by John Piper, the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There are a couple articles from that website that will be used. Since Piper is one of the most prominent sources on the tweeting side of things, a couple interviews with him about his social media use, and posts and interviews from others, are vital.
Big-time newspapers have also contributed to the research. Amy O’Leary wrote a story for The New York Times titled “Christian Leaders Are Powerhouses on Twitter.” O’Leary writes about the popularity of accounts like Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen, who averaged more reactions per 50,000 followers than Justin Bieber. She also quotes pastors and other Christian authors and speakers whose quotes are helpful. The Los Angeles Times also published a story on popular preacher Rick Warren and his use of Twitter and Facebook last year to share a sermon about loss in the week following the suicide of his son Matthew back in April 2013.
The articles gives an overview of how Warren used Twitter and Facebook to thank those who offered words of consolation and express moments of sorrow to his followers. Likewise, Christianity Today has contributed several articles, including Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s report from the 2011 Catalyst Conference, at which Twitter executive Claire Diaz Ortiz reached out to pastors and other attendees to try to help them use the social media network better.
Ed Stetzer’s “The Exchange” blog on Christianity Today is also a popular source of information for the author’s paper. Guest posts from Clark Campbell (“Social Ecclesia: Spirit-Led Digital Presence”) and Justin Wise (“Social Media and Christian Ministry: Reaching the World for the Kingdom of God”) are two sources of good insight from pastors on how the Christian church should and is using Twitter to reach their congregants and others. Stetzer frequently writes and speaks on Christianity and social media. Wise wrote a book entitled The Social Church, a look at how the church should approach new opportunities the social media growth has provided. Stetzer also has written and commented extensively on the subject.
The first series of resources will be Twitter pages themselves. I have decided on 30 Twitter users:
Table 1. Twitter accounts for church/ministry
These are some of the most popular Twitter accounts in all Christianity. Meyer, Osteen, Jakes and Warren have all eclipsed one million followers; Piper, Driscoll and Chandler are popular names in evangelical Christian circles; and Bethke, Mohler and Moore provide different perspectives as non-pastors. Tabulating tweet types and follower counts are the primary pieces of information from these accounts, and there will be interpretations about leaders’ tweeting from these numbers.Continued on Next Page »