The Huffington Post published a fascinating article about social media of Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, the largest church in the U.S.
Here are some of my thoughts on it…
1) Great addition to the conversation. It’s encouraging to see such a large media outlet talking about social media and the church. The article is mostly positive about the potential for churches connect, engage, share the gospel with people and do ministry online.
2) God is big… online. Two of the top 5 most active Facebook fan pages are Jesus Daily and God. 3.6 million people have “liked” the Joel Osteen Ministries (JOM) page. While that’s big, what’s even bigger is that posts to the page average 160,000 interactions, 4x Rihanna (the most liked page on FB), 3x Justin Bieber and 16x the White House. That’s a lot of engagement!
3) Joel Osteen takes social media seriously. Joel Osteen Ministries hired a social media consulting firm. For the “Night of Hope” stadium event, the social media staff included 10 consultants from MCP, a team of 11 marketing & developers to ensure everything ran properly, and 7 staff & volunteers from Lakewood Church to pray with people online & on the phone. This is a big investment and tells me they want to do social media well. They aren’t willing to wait around or risk bungling opportunities while they figure it out themselves.
4) It leaves spiritual and authenticity questions. The biggest concern that I have after reading the article is with all the consultants speaking on behalf of Osteen. Consultants do all of his tweeting and posting to the Joel Osteen Ministries Facebook page. Consultants even reply as if they were Osteen.
“I eat, breathe and sleep Joel at times,” says [consultant, Kelly] Vo. “I speak Joel now … You pick up the voice and it’s like, ‘Oh, God bless you’ and ‘Would love to pray for you.’”
Questions come to mind… Do these consultants actually pray for these folks? Do they even follow Jesus? Do the people realize Joel himself is not responding to them. And I’ve gotta say I cringe a bit when I hear some of these cliché responses like “We stand with you in prayer.”
It’s a difficult challenge. When God gives someone the opportunity to minister to millions of people, the leader can’t engage personally with everyone. They have to scale the ministry and delegate a lot of the prayer and ministering to other people. I get that.
But real prayer and real encouragement by real people is essential. How is that best done with both effectiveness and authenticity?
I encourage you to read the full article: Click ‘Pray’ to Pray: How Evangelical Megapastor Joel Osteen Is Saving Souls With Facebook
I realize that Joel Osteen is a very polarizing figure. I don’t want to get into a debate about his ministry or message. Let’s focus the conversation on his use of social media.