Why This Church Encourages People to Tweet During Services

“Live tweet the sermon for me, would you?”

Photo by Alexander Watts on Unsplash

Good news for the masses (pun intended) who can’t make it to church but still want to connect with a higher power: one church in Germany is encouraging parishioners to use social media to share services with those who aren't physically present, NPR reports.

Meet the “Twitter service,” as NPR writer Esme Nicholson calls it, led by Pastor Ralf Peter Reimann at the Walloon Reformed Church of St. Augustine, a Protestant church in Magdeburg, Germany.

There are good intentions behind the idea, namely making services more accessible to everyone, whether they’re there in body or just in spirit. But it’s a surreally modern, and potentially distracting, way of achieving that goal. Nicholson writes that seeing 40-or-so people reach for their phones at the start of a sermon usually indicates a motion to silence the outside world, but at this service, it's being done to bring the outside world in: “There are lots of people who live online,” Reimann told NPR. “We want to include these people and offer them to participate in a way that’s comfortable to them.”

While Reimann preaches, the churchgoers “bow their heads over their lit-up devices as if they were prayer books,” Nicholson writes, tweeting about the sermon in real-time. The tweets are then displayed on a feed projected behind Reimann, along with tweets aggregated (using a hashtag) from around Germany.

Reimann explained that the foray into social media is an experiment meant to help the “Protestant church retain and even gain followers” in the physical (and apparently virtual) sense. It’s not the first time Protestants have turned to emerging technology to spread their message, Nicholson points out: Martin Luther fought corruption in the Catholic Church using pamphlets churned out quickly and cheaply by the then-new technology of the printing press. Ulrike Zitzlsperger, a professor of German studies at the University of Exeter in England, told NPR that the Renaissance-era pamphlet was essentially the social media of that time. “I think the parallels with the use of Twitter today are really strong,” Zitzlsperger told NPR. “You’ve got a topic that engages not just an educated public but really the wider public, the lay people. Everybody has a say.”

And as Nicholson writes, the wider public certainly has a say during Reimann’s sermon. While some people tweet very personal prayers, others post inspirational messages. But, just as many resisted the newness of the printing press, some people told Nicholson they’d prefer to keep their worship analog.

One user tweeted, “Sorry, this is too hectic. I go to church to find inner peace. I’m signing off,” Nicholson writes, while Ingeborg Brunner, an 86-year-old who doesn’t own a smartphone, told NPR “I’m a little old for Twitter. I prefer a proper service, when we get to sing hymns.”

While any effort to bring more people into the fold seems like a worthy one, a pastor encouraging parishioners to live-tweet services highlights the pervasiveness of social media, where platforms like Twitter have seeped into some of society's most sacred spaces. 

Plus, there's a reason you've never heard "inner peace" and Twitter used in the same sentence before. Twitter is often hectic, loud and stressful, so for those looking to find some solitude during the sermon, it may be best leave social media out of it.

Read more on NPR. 

Social Media, Spirituality