Tweeting In Church: German Protestants Are Encouraged To Tweet During Services : All Tech Considered As it celebrates 500 years since Martin Luther and the Reformation, the Protestant church in Germany is turning to social media to reach those too busy to attend.

In Germany, Churchgoers Are Encouraged To Tweet From The Pews

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Protestants have a major birthday to celebrate this year. It has been 500 years since Martin Luther brought about the Reformation. But many Protestant denominations are concerned about a modern phenomenon they see every Sunday - empty pews, more and more of them. So clergy are turning to new media to try and reel back in those who won't take the time to attend worship in person. Esme Nicholson reports from a, quote, "Twitter service" in Magdeburg, Germany.


ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Here in the eastern city of Magdeburg, the monotone peal of a single church bell calls a modest flock of parishioners to evening prayers. As the faithful file into a high-Gothic church where Martin Luther once delivered a sermon, most fumble around in handbags and pockets, looking for their cell phones. But instead of dutifully switching off their phones and putting them away, these churchgoers take a pew and bow their heads over their lit-up devices as if they were prayer books.

RALF PETER REIMANN: (Speaking German).

NICHOLSON: This is a Twitter service, where the congregation is encouraged to tweet about the liturgy and share their prayers online. Pastor Ralf Peter Reimann says it's an experiment. He believes that social media can help the Protestant church retain and even gain followers.

REIMANN: There are lots of people who live online. And we want to include these people and offer them to participate in a way that's comfortable to them.

NICHOLSON: While Pastor Reimann preaches from behind the lectern, a chorus of young parishioners perching in the choir stalls tweets about his sermon. Above them, a large screen displays a hashtagged feed, which, in real time, shows tweets coming from both within the church and from around Germany.

REIMANN: Luther talked about the priesthood of all believers. So if you use social media, it's like not only the pastor communicating on behalf of the church but Christians commuting among each other.

NICHOLSON: Embracing the latest media trend is nothing new for Protestants. Five hundred years ago, when Martin Luther first protested against corruption in the Catholic Church, it was the printing press that helped his challenge to papal authority to, well, go viral.

ULRIKE ZITZLSPERGER: I think the parallels with the use of Twitter today are really strong.

NICHOLSON: Ulrike Zitzlsperger is a professor of German Studies at the University of Exeter. She says that in the 16th century, the pamphlet was the social media of the day.

ZITZLSPERGER: You've got a topic that engages not just an educated public but really the wider public, the laypeople. Everybody has a say.

NICHOLSON: Luther's followers shared these pamphlets and responded to them by printing their own. These Twitter-like discussions spread so rapidly that the Catholic Church could do little to censor what it called heresy. Today though, it's no longer dissent but disinterest that threatens the Christian church in Europe. Back in Magdeburg, 86-year-old Ingeborg Brunner tiptoes out of church before the Twitter service is over. She doesn't have a smartphone. So she feels a little left out.

INGEBORG BRUNNER: (Through interpreter) It was certainly interesting. But it's not my cup of tea. I'm a little old for Twitter.

NICHOLSON: While Brunner says she's pleased the church is appealing to the digitally devout, regular churchgoers like her would rather sing than tweet.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in German).

NICHOLSON: After all, congregational singing is another major legacy of the Reformation. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Magdeburg.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in German).

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