In the past decade entire countries have been changed through the use of social media. While the particular types of social media may be new, the actual use of social media has been changing cultures throughout history. As we observe the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Thesis on the front door of the church in Wittenberg, the focus will rightly be on how that sparked the Protestant Reformation. What is easy to miss is how the use of contemporary social media was used to fan the flames of the Reformation. Here are six social media lessons that we can learn from Martin Luther.
Martin Luther used social media
Okay, so Blogs and Twitter did not exist in A.D. 1517 when Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the church door. However, the church door itself was a form of social media. That is where people would post items they wished to be discussed by the church.
Luther wrote his "95 Theses" in Latin because his target audience was mainly the religious scholars and church officials.
A couple of months later some friends of Luther translated the "95 Theses" into German and began printing copies in the form of pamphlets. Within a month it had spread to the entire Christian world.
While Luther did not start out to use the new media of the Gutenberg Press, once he overcame the surprising results of its use, he embraced the new technology and began blogging...or should I say "pamphletting." While it spread slowly by today's standards, that was the equivalent of a blog or tweet going viral within a few hours or less.
The people of Luther's day did not stop with just the newly found medium of printing. They also leveraged their already existing social media avenues. While it can be debated as to whether these others would have been as effective without the new opportunities of the Gutenburg Press, they no doubt played a huge role.
The Economist. has a great article that includes explanations of these other social mediums as well. I encourage you to read that article. In the meantime, here is summary list of their social media tools and their modern day equivalents.
Comparing Luther's Tools with Today's
A study of how Luther and the people of the Reformation used their social media channels provides us a lesson on using our social media channels today.
Six Social media lessons from Martin Luther
1. Recognize the potential of social media
Luther recognized the unintended potential of this new medium and how quickly it carried his message. He admitted that he “should have spoken far differently and more distinctly had I known what was going to happen.” So he wrote his next pamphlet in the language of the people instead of the language of the church leaders. This pamphlet, “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace,” went viral even more quickly than the "95 Theses" did. Because of this, some consider this to be the actual start of the Reformation.
The first step for the church today is to recognize the potential of using social media to reach people and take discipleship into a 24/7 mode instead of just Sunday morning in a building.
2. Use Multiple Social Channels
Churches who are considering the use of social media today may be trying to decide which social channel(s) to use: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, etc.
At the same time the Gutenberg printing press made it possible for Luther's works to be mass-printed, there were two other social channels emerging as well: ballads and woodcuts. The ballads carried the message of the Reformation in lyrical form set to known musical tunes. These were particularly viral among those who could not read the pamphlets. The woodcuts provided a mix of text and iconic images that helped get the message across as well.
3. Speak The Language
Luther was not the only one to use the social media. The scholars and church officials also published their own pamphlets. In a way this moved the debate into the public forum. However, they often used scholarly Latin in their pamphlet. Since few people could read Latin, this didn't do anything to win the favor of the general population.
Take the Message to people in their language instead of using the high church language that only few understand.
4. It's the people who make social media happen
Luther created the content and fed it into the social media streams. The people took it from there and helped the message spread in a viral manner.
Don't worry about having to carry the message everywhere. Feed the social media streams.
5. A Call To Share
As pointed out in the article many pamphlets called upon the readers to discuss the pamphlets with others and read them aloud to the illiterate. People did just that. They read and discussed pamphlets at home with their families, in groups with their friends, and in taverns and inns.
Don't be shy about asking people to share what their church publishes to social media. When you feed discipleship material into your social channels, encourage others to share it and discuss it.
6. Do Not Compromise The Biblical Truth
Remember why all of the Reformers did what they did. It was to point people back to the Truth of the Bible. They fought to get the Word of God into the language of people so they would read, understand, become disciples, and make disciples. We are called to no less a task. Social media was simply a tool to facilitate the Great Commission.
How are you using social media in your church? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below.
[Video: The Economist]
[More about the "95 Theses" on Wikipedia and Spurgeon.org]