Our God is Lord over the whole earth and the internet is not an unknown place to him.
If you’ve ever had that moment where the thing you’ve just been talking about pops up as an ad. Or when you’ve picked up your phone to look something up, then suddenly it’s three hours later.
Then you have signed up for social media and everything wonderful, weird and worrying that goes along with it.
The average person will use six or seven different social media platforms and spend nearly two and a half hours every day scrolling through tweets, posts, and videos. If that average person lives an average lifetime, at that daily rate they’ll have spent almost 6 years of their life on social media before they die.
Given that people from all the world, with different social backgrounds, ethnicities, languages and belief systems are spending ever increasing amounts of time connected to each other through these apps then it’s worth asking; if social media is a part of our lives, how does the gospel impact how we use it?
It’s simple to find dark and scary things on the internet. The anonymity of typing a comment makes it far easier to say things you would never say to someone’s face. People are quick to judge harshly and quick to take offence. They forget that their readers or viewers are also people and that it’s so much harder to convey tone or nuance when you are not present. The freedom which means you can post anything you want, also means that anybody can post anything they want. Somewhere everything is on the internet; the disgusting and the dangerous sit alongside the interesting and the innovative.
The internet and mental health
Our time spent on social media has real world effects. In teenagers, higher rates of depression correlate with more time spent online. We compare the worst moments of our own lives with the selected and filtered posts of others, so it’s not a surprise that 67% of teens say using social media has made them feel worse about their own lives. Self-worth can now be evaluated by how many likes you receive, and the apparent success of going viral means that those you don’t even know have the opportunity to pass judgement on you.
It’s also a great deal of effort to break out of the echo chamber of following and hearing only from the people who are and who think like you, which can lead to opinions becoming more and more extreme overtime.
Benefits of the internet
And yet, as we discovered in 2020 with the pandemic, it’s possible to form and maintain genuine friendships over social media. It’s a place where your particular interests are validated and enjoyed by others, a place to share your talents and to start a conversation.
The possibility for learning and discovery through the experiences of others has been made possible without expensive travel; you’re able to connect with people from places you have never been to and learn about what is normal for them.
All nations, tribes and languages can be found online. The question is; can we reach out, in the right way, with the best message the world as ever heard?
Is posting a picture of some flowers with John 3:16 on it communicating the joy of being saved by Christ? Are our efforts of trying to share Jesus online just a shower of sparks; burning bright for a moment before succumbing to the darkness again?
Authenticity and Integrity
Most books contain an author biography; just a couple of paragraphs telling you about their family, their writing habits and an unusual hobby. If you’re lucky there may also be a small headshot of the author on either the last page or the flap of the dust jacket. If you picked up the book because the font cover caught your eye, those two paragraphs may be all the information available to you about who wrote it.
Social Media does not work like this. If you post anything Christian; from tweeting, “Jesus loves you” to an essay on how Christians can use socials to evangelise, the reader has at their fingertips so much information about you. They will have enough photos, posts and tweets to be able to tell what kind of church you go to, who the influencers you’re following are, and if you act in a way that is consistent with being a follower of Christ.
We are ambassadors of Christ online and here as much as anywhere, the credibility of our message is tied to our character.
One answer, of course, is to be the kind of person who doesn’t really post, whose socials are used for scrolling and stalking, but whose infrequent pictures and posts might reveal an impressive list of church events and nothing more. This has been my natural tendency ever since I graduated.
But it reads as impersonal, as excessively curated, in a place where people really value the authentic. The launch of the app BeReal in 2020 gave people a chance to “show your friends who you really are, for once” in a social media app without filters or the time to stage a perfectly posed selfie.
Authenticity on the internet means showing the ugly, the realistic, the unfiltered, the inconvenient; the way you did with your friends at school who saw you on good hair days and after running cross-country. Opening up about your struggles makes you real, which is encouraging to other imperfect people, and if you share your lowest moments, it validates those more Instagramable highs.
Avoiding the Bubble
It is of course easier to exist online in a Christian bubble than it is in real life, to only follow Christians, even to limit that to Christians who share your opinions. But this isn’t how Jesus lived, he went out to where the sinners were and dined with them, it contaminated him in the eyes of the religious leadership of the day, but it meant that those who were willing to listen heard his message.
Most of us will not need to go that far to come into contact through social media with people who don’t yet know Jesus: friending some former classmates, joining a group for your hobby, following your favourite band or artist. If we interact carefully in those spaces; with integrity and honesty, re-reading our comments before we send, seeking to encourage rather than to put others down, then we can build genuine connections and reflect Jesus’ light into dark spaces.
We might even become a trusted enough voice to share something of the gospel through our words as well as our character.
Lighting a fuse
Social media will never be a place that will effectively replace our interpersonal interactions and we shouldn’t try and use it that way, but a blogpost about how your favourite character reminds you of Jesus, or a tweet sharing how knowing Jesus has helped you in a time of failure, can light the fuse for someone and lead to a conversation in the office you would never have thought to start.
A series of short form videos showing snippets of your daily life, on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok, may be enough to convince a friend who had dismissed Christianity as not for them, that you are normal, rational, fun, or open minded as well as being a person of faith, making them more likely to approach you when they have problems or questions.
Passion for Evangelism exists to support women in sharing their faith. In prayer, through mentoring and training opportunities, by connecting speakers and events and creating online content by real women for their friends.
Connecting to culture
Both the Greenhouse Mentoring Scheme and the Greenhouse Collectives encourage and equip women to create social media content which connects directly to what is happening in the world around us.
The mentoring scheme focuses on Christmas or Easter with more experienced mentors giving feedback in small groups on videos, blogs or live events at every stage from prayer and preparation right up to making it public. Collectives are shorter and involve creating with peer feedback a one-off piece of content about Halloween, International Women’s Day or the latest film release, all with a gospel twist.
Women have written poems, started podcasts, created wonderful music and art all with the intention of pointing their friends to Jesus.
These women have been beginners, trying out something new-ers, academics, bloggers and professional content creators, we’ve had teachers, mothers, students and freelancers from Mexico, Germany, North Macedonia and Australia join in and be supported to share their personal experience of the gospel.
Connecting to our friends
The greatest joy of social media is being able to see what is going on in each other’s lives, to share updates and photo dumps, our thoughts and our memories. And it’s a massive boon to evangelism to have so much information to help guide you as to which friend is likely to read about how Dr Who connects to Christmas, who is suffering from the January blues and is in need of some hope, and who is all in for coronation events and who has had enough already.
This means you can tailor what you are making specifically for one or two friends, pray for them, send them a link and make a plan to catch up over a coffee afterwards. And because it’s out there on the internet anyone can read it and receive thew benefit. It can be given the personal touch and brought to the attention of individuals while at the same time it’s not pushy or intrusive as though you’d tried to sit them down and tell them all your thoughts on the existential crises in the Barbie movie.
The need for Christians to share the gospel online is as great as it is in ‘real’ life. And the opportunities are there! If we can be people who reveal Christ’s character by being authentically thoughtful, loving, wise and good in a place often characterised by rudeness, ignorance and self-promotion, then we can hold it his message out in a way that connects with people where they are and engages them.
It’s not an easy task and it will require much prayer, perseverance, and a willingness to own up to our mistakes but, thankfully, our God is Lord over the whole earth and the internet is not an unknown place to him.
Hannah Lewis writes for Passion for Evangelism engaging culture with the gospel.