By / Dec 8

A few weeks ago, Pew released new data on how Americans share their faith about their faith on social media and how much Americans consume religious content in both new (social) and old (radio/TV) media.

Working in social media, I was primarily interested in the social sharing numbers. Here is a bit of an overview (only U.S. adults were polled):

  • 46 percent of adults saw religious content shared online in the last week
  • 20 percent of adults shared something about their faith online in the last week
  • 27 percent of Protestants shared something about their faith online in the last week
  • 34 percent of white evangelicals shared something about their faith online in the last week
  • 15 percent of white mainliners shared something about their faith online in the last week
  • 58 percent of 18-49 year-olds saw something religious shared online in the last week
  • 31 percent of adults 50+ years old saw something religious shared online in the last week

Social sharing is on the rise, but that probably doesn’t come as much of as surprise. As social media becomes more like the Areopagus, the place where ideas are exchanged, of our day, the Church must recognize the importance of being present on social media and take steps to do so.

Here are 10 basic ways the Church can be missional on social media:

1. Don’t be a jerk.

Really the best apologetic for a Christian on social media is to not be counted among the troll tribe. The Internet, social media especially, is full of plenty of angry people. Kindness points people to Christ, especially on the Internet.

2. Ask how you can be praying for people on Facebook.

I always find this encouraging, especially when ministries do it. You or your ministry can ask for prayer requests early in the morning, and even though someone may not see it until their lunch hour, they may need some prayer and can let you know.

3. Share thought-provoking videos and blogs that might cause your friends/followers to ask about your faith.

I love sharing and reading blogs on Christian matters, and I see them shared a lot on social media. It’s popular content and can be good conversation material. Conversation surrounding compelling blogs is great, as long as we remember the importance of Christ-like kindness (see point #1 above).

4. Start a blog and share devotional material on it.

I started in the eighth grade! It’s never too early or late! Use it as a personal journal of sorts to reflect on life, ministry, and Scripture. Even if only six people read it, that’s six people you’ve probably encouraged that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Don’t blog to be famous. Blog to build others up, even if it’s just your family and friends.

5. Use your Facebook page to raise support for missions trips or church fundraisers.

Whether you’re using GoFundMe or something else, promote your fundraising through Facebook and other social media outlets. I’ve seen many friends do this for missions trips or adoptions, and it’s proven effective.

6. Give updates on teams on the mission field.

Did your Dominican Republic team win someone to Christ? How’s your Mexico medical missions team doing? Share as much as you can, taking into consideration those in more hostile areas, of course.

7. Create a Facebook group for you small group and use it as a communication hub for events, prayer requests, etc.

Facebook, though it certainly has its annoying quirks, is great for group communication. Start a Facebook group for your small group so you can easily share prayer requests, event information, and other helpful pieces of content. It doesn’t take much time at all and it can help with communication.

8. Youth pastors, consider Snapchat and Instagram to connect with your students.

I’ve recently asked a student if I could text him in the middle of the week to check in on how he was doing. He said, “Nah, I don’t text. You can Snapchat me though.”

I’m only 24, I use Snapchat, I work in social media for a living, and I was still floored by this.

The idea of a youth pastor using Snapchat is definitely controversial and would take serious precautionary measures, but youth pastors need to be where their kids are—I am a firm believer in that. Snapchat and Instagram are where all the students are today, and though both certainly have dangers, Twitter and Facebook do, too, if we’re honest.

Not without serious accountability checkpoints and security measures, youth pastors can post event information or send encouraging messages to students through Snapchat or Instagram. This is where students are, and with significant safety precautions, I think youth pastors could connect here.

9. Treat everyone you talk with on social media as if you’re talking to them in person.

It’s just courteous. Yelling at someone virtually is too easy today, and Christians would be wise to type to someone as if they were speaking to them. This helps us pursue Christ-like kindness.

10. Encourage people daily.

I have regular reminders in my phone to text or Facebook message certain friends on certain days of the week. I just recently moved away from my hometown, so a significant percentage of my friends are hundreds of miles away. Keeping in touch can be tough.

Texting, direct messaging, Snapchatting, or Facebook messaging friends and family is a great way to encourage and keep in touch with them.

By / Mar 17

When I got my first job in ministry right out of high school, the internet was just starting to be a thing. I remember how excited I was when we installed our first broadband access at this growing church. Broadband back then meant “anything faster dial-up.”

It was a major accomplishment to simply have a website, with pictures, even! Social media wasn’t a concept, much less a job description. Most of the online conversations we had with colleagues and friends happened over email. A few of us rebels used instant messaging.

It is quite different now. The web has matured and is now at the epicenter of the marketplace. Not only do we have better broadband, we can watch five minute cat videos (not that there’s anything wrong with that). We also gather around a digital water cool on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other networks the kids tell me about.

Mostly this is fun and useful. Has there ever been a time in history where celebrities are as close to the people? In the old days, if I wanted to ask Tim Keller a question, I’d have to look up his church in the phone book (yes, a phone book). Today I can tweet him a question and get an answer.

Social media allows us to join tribes based on common interests. It can be leveraged for social good. And often drives conversation around important issues.

But social media can also bring out the crazy in all of us. Somehow even the best of us throw off restraint behind the keyboard and find a strange new hubris. We say things about people or even to people that we’d never say if the conversation was happening in flesh and blood. The most clever and the manipulative among us are able to form critical narratives about people with whom we disagree. Sometimes with a creative hashtag.

Followers of Christ need to continually think and rethink their social media engagement. We are presented with both opportunity and danger, peril and potential. Platforms can be powerful vehicles for delivering the timeless message of the gospel story, with all of it’s radical, paradigm-shifting impact. They can also fan the flames of self-righteousness and nurture the worst lusts: pride, anger and self-importance.

If you are active on social media, you’ll find it difficult to always pinpoint, exactly, where that line is between winsome and prophetic engagement on the one hand and snarky, flesh-building arguments on the other hand. Often what seems reasonable to the one tapping the keyboard comes like a cold slap to the recipient. We know our own blind spots and we’re often defensive when they are pointed out. But we can do better than we are doing.

Two things are true about Christians and social media:

  1. If we love our neighbors and care about the shape of our cities, we cannot afford to withdraw from the conversations in the digital public square.
  2. We must work hard to engage our ideological opponents gracefully, even if it means enduring insult and withholding rhetorical retribution.

You’ll find no verse in the Bible about Twitter. But Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15, written to a marginalized Christian minority, might be a good guide:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

To a people misunderstood for their radical devotion to a crucified Jew from Galilee, Peter presents two competing ideas: A willingness to unflinchingly articulate gospel-shaped arguments and a commitment to a tone of civility and grace.

Because we believe each human bears the image of God, we cannot consider any person, regardless of what they believe, to be undeserving of respect. We also must love enough to share the truth, even truth that pings the conscience.