The Church and Oprah: What We Can Learn About Social Media

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Recently, Oprah Winfrey reopened her book club to the world online. Many remember that in the mid-1990’s, the Oprah Winfrey Show created a book club. The effects were astounding as books that were presented to the club made bestseller lists. Many authors were made famous by Oprah choosing a book she was interested in. Oprah was able to use her platform to spread the literature she chose. The club was eventually shut down due to Oprah retiring her show, but she eventually decided to reopen the club on a new platform. When asked why she wanted to continue the book club, Oprah stated, “I believe things are better when shared.” NPR reported on this event saying, “… the new book club is different. Winfrey doesn’t have a daily talk show, and her cable network, OWN, has struggled with ratings. So the book club is going multiplatform: from OWN to Winfrey’s magazine—O, to her website, Facebook and Twitter.”

The church must pay attention to the power of technology and change. They have the power not only to spread the gospel but also the potential to place theology into a larger community. Facebook, Google+, and Twitter have been excellent springboards for many businesses and new sites, like Kickstarter, have launched careers and progressed many projects further than would be possible under traditional methods. These are newer platforms that can further conversation and share information in ways that would not be considered traditional. Oprah’s use of the new platforms has proven more successful than even her traditional approach in the 90’s.

John Wesley and the Methodist movement understood that reorganization and using new methods had power. Wesley was infamous for creating small communities for spiritual growth. He and George Whitefield took to the streets and were able to reach common people in ways that would be impossible from behind the pulpit. One thing that was problematic for the church in England at that time was an unwillingness to approach new platforms for sharing the gospel, and this promoted a liturgical apathy. The Methodists were able to spread the gospel and grow theologically as a community because they adapted new, effective methods. A simple survey of their history is witness that new things can be the tools to revive the movement of Christianity.

Things are better when shared, even online. It is possible today to recreate the events that John Wesley put into motion. Churches should consider doing the following things in order to reach people with technology:

1. Create a webpage

Use even the simple service sites, such as WordPress, which give the website owners full control of their site. Remember to use smart techniques to give viewers the proper contact information for your ministry and further tools for living out what they’re learning in church.

2. Use social networking as a church

This will boost the effectiveness of the previous step. Once your church is comfortable with the technology and website, they can use it in order to share with others, especially on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. This means that the site must contain information that people would like to share. So upload only the finest content—that which you actually want your members sharing and also represents your church well.

3. Utilize new communications only to supplement old ones

This is crucial, since plenty of the congregation will need to be allowed a time of adaptation. Also, social media and the like will only enhance your current ways of communicating as a community. If used properly, it will add value to community life that meets in flesh and bones, but shouldn’t serve as a distraction or replacement for traditional teaching, preaching, and ways of “being human” in community.

4. Brainstorm with young, technologically savvy people

This means including them in the decisions of your church. This will allow you to learn ways that technology is actually being used in order to be effective. It also means taking their advice seriously. Do not dismiss them too quickly, rather, invite them to share what comes naturally to them as part of their contribution to the body of Christ.

5. Get creative

The previous points are guidelines that will that will help along the way, but explore ways of fine tuning new media for your particular community. This point is very crucial. Without it, you might not see the fruits of your work. Nonetheless, the potential is almost endless. See these couple examples of churches which are reaching their local communities, but also a growing network of people around the world by strategically using new media:

lifechurch.tv

marshill.com

(slider photo by Alan Light)

 

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Russell Purvis is a member of the Wesleyan Church and a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. He lives in Bessemer City with his beautiful wife, Lauran. You can follow him on Twitter @superrustyfly and read his blog at http://superrustyfly.wordpress.com

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