TECHNOLOGICAL tools have become the latest strategy being used by religious leaders to lure followers.
It has been a steady but sure advancement of ways in which religious messages are spread and and marketed as religious ministries strive to influence the communities around them.
When Christian communities were still conservative, women would only wear long sleeved dresses while men were mandated to always wear jackets in church.
Times have evolved.
A Bible is now available to be read from the phone. Religious leaders have also turned social media platforms like Facebook into pulpits, sending their messages to platforms where millions of followers spend much of their time.
Through live streaming, people attend church services in the comfort of their homes or at their workplaces, anytime of the day.
Charismatic leaders like Nigeria’s Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Believers’ LoveWorld Incorporated and Christ Embassy started the Yookos platform, which is run on the web and mobile applications.
Enlightened Christian Gathering founder and Malawian prophet Shepherd Bushiri also runs the Prophetic Tube, similar to YouTube, where videos relating to the ministry are posted.
The Shepherd Bushiri Ministry set up a Prophetic Chat platform which can be accessed by logging in through one’s Facebook, Twitter or Google account.
Most recent to follow this trend is Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries leader Prophet Walter Magaya, who last week launched a social media application – Let’s Chat – for his ministry members and partners.
Prophet Magaya was quoted in our sister paper H-Metro saying the platform is expected to link him directly with his partners and people globally.
“Being the fastest growing ministry in the world right now, I have had to keep in constant communication with over 1 800 ministry workers and 500 000 of my children daily,” he said.
“The common apps like WhatsApp and Facebook have failed to get them closer to me and I have decided to think big and created Let’s Chat and more people will become part of it,” Prophet Magaya said.
An expert in the field of technology who preferred anonymity said such endeavours are fairly easy to set up but are technically challenging to maintain as well as increase audiences.
“The thing is it’s possible to set up that but it’s difficult to have more people joining, other than the followers of the church.
“Opening up to non-members can be tough because of great followership on other networks. The reason why Pastor Chris’ failed is because a social network is a very technical project. You need developers, software engineers, etcetera
“You will also be competing with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap chat, LinkedIn, because you want people to be on it. And with only 24 hours in a day, it can be a challenge for one to share their time on Facebook, Twitter and the prophet’s platform,” he said.
With the excitement that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter generates, the expert said ministries with such projects have to work extra hard to make them interactive platforms that can provide an alternative to the existing ones.
“It has to be interactive for people to remain on it. The audience must enjoy like they do while on Facebook, which has over 1 000 software engineers working on it to make sure there is that ‘like’ button or that one can share a picture when they are logged in.
“So there are people at that scale operating to make audiences enjoy and visit the platform often. If it’s a question of pulling this off, it’s easy with small numbers, like the 100 000 congregants of PHD for example. But attracting other audiences will not be easy,” he said.
Facebook has more than two billion followers and it’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s real time net worth is at US$74,3 billion, according to American business magazine, Forbes. The technology expert said there are financial gains to be realised from social media advertising.
“Any social media application benefits monetarily. The more the number of people who visit site, the more they spend time on it means more in terms of monetary gain. Also it means they are basically competing with other advertising and media companies.
“When you click on your Facebook, Herald or Sunday Mail website, you see advertisers there. So advertisers will then check who has the greatest audience online and they will place their adverts on such platforms. So it’s an opportunity to make money,” he said.
However, church ministries say they are establishing such platforms to deal with prayer requests, paying tithes, buying ministry products and digital impartation. In an article by Forbes Magazine titled “Top Ten Benefits of Social Media Marketing”, social media marketing is a temporary fad that must be taken advantage of while still in the spotlight.
The article highlights that use of social media marketing has benefits which include increased brand recognition, improved brand loyalty, more opportunities to convert customers, higher brand authority, richer customer experiences and increasing inbound traffic, among other benefits.
Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Zimbabwe, Professor Nisbert Taringa, said there is religious competition which requires religious leaders to be in touch.
“The religious market is open so people move around shopping. There is what is called rational choice. Followers are not going to religions while blind, they look for something as economists do. They have expectations,” he said.
“Things are developing slowly and there is a competition and the market is open. Certain dances that were not permitted in church are now allowed, there were no mini-skirts in the church but now things are changing.”
He added that due to the identity crisis that was brought about by mushrooming of ministries and prophets, aggressive marketing became the priority.
“People conduct crusades to reach the people. If they do not do that in these ministries, they lose the charisma. They cannot fall into a routine, it has to remain interesting. The more you are under pressure from competition, the more you want identity.
“As such, you find that there are marketing teams for these ministries, advising them behind the scenes on how they cannot continue being on Facebook when they are not in control of the platform; or why they cannot wait for ZBC to tell their story when there is a queue for coverage.
The shortest and most effective way to stay ahead is through opening their own channel,” he concluded.
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