Coming to Jesus with #Joelosteen

Bill O’Leary WASHINGTON POST Blogger Karen Pace stands and waves as evangelist Joel Osteen brings his revival show to Nationals … Continued

Bill O’Leary

WASHINGTON POST

Blogger Karen Pace stands and waves as evangelist Joel Osteen brings his revival show to Nationals Park and will reach a crowd beyond the park with his social media team on April, 29, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Late last month, I watched thousands of people come to Christ.

Kinda.

I saw it while sitting April 29 in the Nationals Stadium press box with Joel Osteen’s social media team. Without much heavy lifting, the reigning Christian king of hope attracted close to 41,000 people to Washington. While the filled stadium was impressive enough, the Texas mega-ministry’s staff says more than twice that number came to a live chat room from 145 different countries during the event. That’s enormous, and typical of Osteen, who experts say engages more people on social media than almost any other faith figure.

But what happens to these often fleeting interactions is far from clear. And when your goal is the saving of souls, the question of how faith groups use social media is touchy.

Bill O’Leary

WASHINGTON POST

Celebrants hold their hands up during a blessing by Osteen.

I wanted to see what this torrent looked like up close, and was lucky enough to embed with Brian Boyd, a Charlotte-based contractor whose 11-person team has handled a few “Night of Hope” stadium events for Osteen’s ministry. A spiky-haired IT guy who grew up in the church and talks often of “ROI” (return on investment), Boyd beforehand described to me the dramatic scene that would unfold online at the end of the three-hour event. It would happen as Osteen ended his service by asking people in the stadium to signal they had make the decision to come to Christ by standing up, he said.

“We were bawling like babies,” Boyd said of his small team’s reaction last time Osteen had a big stadium event, in Chicago last year.

A few hours later, I saw what he meant.

Shortly before 7 p.m., two massive, simultaneous altar call scenes began to unfold: one with a backdrop of a setting sun behind the U.S. Capitol, moving contemporary Christian rock and 41,000 people clapping, and the other absolutely silent, floating in the ether of the internet.

Bill O’Leary

WASHINGTON POST

Blasted across the massive stadium screen, his eyes squeezed shut, Osteen called the crowd to “seal the deal,” and make a decision to come, or return, to Christ. In the press box, Boyd was speaking into his headset to his staff:

“Get ready to get them to stand up at home, Fran and Karen.”

On the massive outdoor stage below, Osteen’s eyes remained squeezed shut: “God is not mad at you .. the enemy will give you 1,000 reasons not to stand.”

On Boyd’s screen, Osteenland appeared to be pouring in.

_ Comment From Martha

This is given me a new way to look at my life! I now have HOPE!

_ Comment From MICHELLE FROM MAINE

WE WILL STAND

_ Comment From Trish Hennessey

I am praying that thousands will stand up accept Jesus tonight!

_ Comment From Steve

If you need Christ, please accept Him now. If you need to recommit your life, please do so now.

_ Comment From DeAnna

I am clean, I am fresh, I am new!! Praise God!!

_ Comment From Tina Murphy

I accept You as my Savior

And from Brian’s team:

_ Fran – ADMIN:

Just come as you are…. He is waiting for you.

Fran – ADMIN: Welcome to the Kingdom of God Tina

Soon Osteen’s teenage daughter was belting out contemporary Christian rock from the stage, a stirring ballad called “Come as you are,” with all your broken pieces, all your shameful scars. People in the stands were standing by the thousands, cheering, crying.

Bill O’Leary

WASHINGTON POST

Osteen‘s social media team, from left, Karen Pace, Jason Madding, Fran Boyd, and Brian Boyd (with camera) on April, 29, 2012 in Washington, DC.

The little box in the corner of Boyd’s screen ticked that 7,554 people were logged in at that moment.

Within half an hour the event was over, the stadium was empty and Boyd’s team was tallying the numbers: Close to 90,000 people had come through the chat room during the three hours, and there had been 208,000 “interactions,” between the room, posts on Facebook and Twitter, shared photos, and other methods.

And the results were in from Boyd’s online poll: “Did you make a decision or recommit your life to Christ tonight?”

Yes: ( 93% )

No: ( 7% )

The scene, and Osteen’s reach on social media, epitomizes debates about spiritual life online. It’s booming, without question, but to what end? Is superficial spirituality better than nothing? Some look at the Osteen choreography and see pure entertainment. Others see a door cracked open to a deeper life.

“That use of social media, short of making feel good momentarily, it’s like a shot of Jack Daniels—it comes and goes,” said John Mark Reynolds, a philosophy professor at the Christian university, Biola, and founder of GodBlogCon, what was one of the first regular conferences on digital ministry. “It takes something effective and real and meaningful .. and makes it ripe for parody. I’m a huge fan of social media but what it can’t be is a replacement for things it can’t do. Anyone who is in love wants to actually see their beloved.”

Phil Cooke, a well-known consultant to Christian ministries whose unofficial motto is “we help Christians not suck at media,” sees the altar call scene as the result of successful targeted branding and something that may pay off.

“Joel is the guy that that non-believer, someone not remotely interested in Christ would at least listen to. Historically Christians have not focused on that first step,” he said.

Osteen’s ministry said 26,000 people in the chat room had clicked on information Boyd’s team fed to them during the event, meant to take them deeper: to Osteen’s sermons, to connections to an actual real live local church. Osteen knows half of the 10 million people who watch his sermons each Sunday on television don’t go to church; they think of him as church. He says he opposes this, but it’s a reality, he’s a superstar.

Yet even as people use social media for spiritual reasons as much as they do for anything else, it’s hard to understand its impact. Unlike in politics or sports or other realms, it’s difficult for people to point to major movements the faith community has driven through social media. There are exceptions, primarily young evangelicals dive into certain social justice causes, particularly the fight against human trafficking. Cooke credits this in good part to megapastor Rick Warren’s raising of the issue constantly on social media, where young people picked it up and embraced it.

Other major “movements” are more like cultural events. Like the YouTube video by Christian artist Jefferson Bethke, a totally organic happening that brought his screed against organized faith called “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” to 20 million viewers.

Do you participate or would you in a religion based chat on line? Would it deepen your connection to faith or make it more shallow? Join the conversation in our comments below.

  • ccnl1

    Think about the logic (or lack thereof).

    “I believe the Bible is inspired.” “Why?” “Because it says so.” Would anyone let that logic pass if it came from the followers of any other book
    or person? “I believe x is inspired because x says so.” Fill in the blanks:

    x=Pat Robertson
    x=the ayatollah Sistani
    x=David Koresh
    x=the Koran”

    more “logic”?

    “I believe there is One God Jehovah because He is revealed in the infallible
    Bible. I believe the Bible is infallible because it is the Word of the One God Jehovah.”

    Next topic;

  • James210

    I would have been more interested in Predetermined, predestined and predisposed in theory, but I guess I had to find that one with my own eyes.

    where’s the value?

  • catatonicjones

    Religion has successfully parasitized the normal human desire to be social for tens of thousands of years. That’s one of it’s selling points, for lots of people that’s all it really offers. Of course there’s the palliative placebo about death and goody two shoes and all that, but that’s neither here nor now.

    If religion doesn’t have a large number of people gathering together acting as host, the parasite will die. Remote religion will likely be the beginning of the end of religion altogether. Can I get a hallelujah on that!

  • mtladyofva

    Outreach for God/Christ is what it is all about!! People, all people, are hungry for something, not knowing it is the RELATIONSHIP with Creator God! Joel Osteen and Christianity Ministries is not about “religion”, it is about Relationship. EVERYONE seeks that in one way or another, and when the Discover one on one with Creator God..it isn’t about Bldgs, or temples or Synagogues or church Buildings..it is ME AND GOD.JESUS.. That is why SO MANY go onlne!! It is instant communication…NOT only for homebound who cannot go to church. It may be for those who have been burned by churches and those within the Bldgs of Churches. GOD loves ALL people and will go to ANY LENGTH to reach them…so YEA>>AND YEA AGAIN for ONLINE GOD..in any way form or fashion!! SHOUT IT OUT ONLINE I SAY!!! IT IS REAL…just like NO ONE CAN SEE CHRIST…yet knows HE IS..by all the GLORY OF CREATION around us..and by the WORDS of the BIBLE. FAITH>>>>IT IS ALL ABOUT FAITH>>>GOD IS INVISIBLE TO ME..but YET I BELIEVE>>HE IS>>same as online, or telephone or Tv or such…You can’t feel or touch..but IT IS VERY VERY REAL>>>>and VERY LIFE CHANGING>>>it is in the SPIRIT REALM, that is why>>BRAVO>>>JOEL>>I tape him on my DISH DVR>>I get email devotionals and share online…I share his CLIPS ONLINE and when they have SERVICES ONLINE>>>LIVE>>I share with ..MY HUBBY ESPECIALLY, who had a stroke..HOSPITAL 3 mos..and in NURSING REHAB>>AND CAN DO COMPUTER>>>and it REACHES HIM>>and those around……………YES>>FOR ONLINE>>>YOU can go to CHURCH IN YOUR PJS…it is about the HEART>>>>not …SHOW>>>ANYWAY>>>>of course, we need REAL PEOPLE>>>oh yeah..THESE ARE REAL PEOPLE>>>>online too..>DAH!!! GOD BLESS JOEL OSTEEN MINISTRIES AND GOD BLESS ALL THAT REACH OUT>>>ESPECIALLY ONLINE>>>WE one day can watch LIVE SERVICES ON OUR PHONES, if not already!!!!!! PRAISE GOD!!! IT IS REAL..just as I am real..as you are real..AS OUR GOD IS REAL>>>>THANKFUL FOR COMPUTERS>>>for REAL PEOPLE that use them…Whatever need YOU have…It can be met by GOD and HIS PEOPLE…larger masses to reach and PRA

  • swimintheocean3200

    Hallelujah!!!

  • lynettecardona

    Yes. I believe in and would participate in areligion bases chat on line. WIth Joel Osteen only. Thank you.

  • janchan1

    Joel has done a lot of good for Christianity and filled a void that traditional churches haven’t been filling. Joel always encourages people to join a “real” church, but when I tried to do so, I was ostracized for even “friending” Joel on FB. I happened on Joel by chance after my husband died. My family had turned their backs on me, my husband’s long battle with cancer had left me deeply in debt, living in a town where I had no friends and there were no jobs in my field. As hard as I tried not to feel overwhelmed, I sank into despair. By chance or by God, I turned on the TV and there was Joel preaching about knowing that God loves us even when it seems that no one else, including our family, does. That gave me some glimmer of hope. As weeks went on, it seemed as though his TV messages mirrored the problems I was facing, giving me the strength to continue on and the faith that God would see me through. The battle was a big one, and while traditional churches let me down, Joel never did. Yes, he’s a bit light on theology, but he more than makes up for that with his love and words of hope and love for God.

  • catatonicjones

    if there were ever proof that religion lives in a disordered mind, that it is a requisite state, this is it.

Read More Articles

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.