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Spiritual leaders are Twitters true heavy hitters
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ATLANTA — Twitter gives the impression of being obsessed with mindless earthly trivia, from Justin Bieber’s latest heartfelt tweet to his Beliebers to LeBron James’ reflections on winning the NBA championship.

But Atlanta-based Twitter executive Claire Diaz-Ortiz was surprised by an examination of the most popular tweets: Spiritual tweets were whooping the mundane.

“We came upon data that religious leaders were completely punching above their weight on Twitter,” she said. “They were super-engaged.”

Though Lady Gaga might have 26 million followers to Joyce Meyer’s 1 million, Meyer, a charismatic evangelist based in St. Louis, was having a bigger impact because of her connection with her followers.

“Joyce Meyer will send out, whether a Bible verse or uplifting commentary, or an aphorism or a message, and we see her being retweeted more than Lady Gaga,” Diaz-Ortiz said. Such retweeting produces more ripples than the original message, because the rule in social media is that a message from a friend has more impact than a message from an institution.

Twitter, like other social media, is dedicated to serving its big customers, so Diaz-Ortiz relocated to Atlanta this year for easy access to the megachurches in the Southeast and the religious leaders who set Twitter on fire.

Among them are heavy hitters such as Andy Stanley of Atlanta’s 25,000-member North Point Ministries, with 177,000 followers.
Stanley, 54, has embraced social media as a way to stay in touch with a large congregation without being spread too thin.

“You don’t have all the time in the world to do this face-to-face relationship building,” Diaz-Ortiz said. “Twitter is an excellent way for him to reach his flock.”

Stanley’s tweets range from Bible verses to personal history to name-checking amusing product reviews in Amazon. He also retweets folks ranging from Gene Simmons of Kiss to Albert Einstein. (“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid. Einstein”)

Churches, progressive and conservative, connect with their congregations through social media, even preachers who never learned how to use a computer.

Bryant Wright, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, still writes his sermons and his daily radio spots “Right From the Heart” in longhand on legal pads. But the advent of the iPhone has suddenly launched this self-described “Neanderthal pastor” into the online world.

A member of his ministry helps load his devotionals onto Facebook and Twitter, and using his smartphone, he also tweets personal thoughts and news, recently tweeting from the convention in New Orleans. His Facebook postings are read by more than 4 million people a month, he said.

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