Many resources describe how churches might make more effective use of social media. But in this series my concern is how individuals might use it more faithfully. Here are three ways:
Perhaps the most important way to use social media faithfully is to simply listen. When I asked my Facebook community about their use of social media, Jennifer said she uses it to touch “people who are not like me.” This is important, because there is a temptation to talk too much, mostly to ourselves. Facebook is often and justly described as an echo chamber, but it doesn’t have to be like that.
James the Apostle tells us to be “swift to hear,” and that is where any effective Christian witness on Facebook begins. Jennifer’s Facebook friends include “trans teens talking about being homeless, sorority girls talking about hazing, and single moms talking about dating nightmares.”
“They would never sit down and tell me about these things, but they’ll tell the internet,” she says. And she is listening. Jesus himself spent time with prostitutes and publicans, asking them questions, pointing them to His Father. And of course if we listen we can pray, thoughtfully and even urgently.
By listening we can engage the loneliest and neediest among us. Sometimes they will be different, sometimes just overlooked. My friend Terri has used social media to reach out to young women on the edges of her youth group. We can all do this, but we can not do this by answering questions they haven’t asked yet.
So we often have to wait for an opening. Francis tells about a woman who asked on a Facebook buy/sell page about a good church to go to. While many flooded her with information about their churches, Francis messaged her and began a friendship, a relationship that now includes going to church together, praying about life issues. The woman has since indicated she wants to follow Christ.
“I scroll through those pages looking for opportunities to help people,” Francis says. But helping them takes time and focus and commitment, private messages and private prayer. Facebook offers no shortcut to building relationships. You have to build them over time just like any other “real” relationship. You still have to find out who people are, what they need, if they are ready. Facebook “friends” can become actual friends—but sometimes it takes more time and energy. As in our offline life, it is in these sorts of relationships that ministry can flourish.
This flourishing happens most often when people are looking for truth. When that happens we have to boldly say what the Truth is. That’s not to say we have to be defensive about it; God does not need our protection. But we do have to be committed to it. And clear about it too.
As Sherry says, social media is the “language of our times,” a powerful platform we can not ignore. She writes, “Most Christians I know who avoid debating on social media don’t do it anywhere else either. So in the vacuum, the world is swaying the next generation and the church stays silent and sequestered.”
Brielle says she has had frank conversations that turned out to be “extremely fruitful,” for both readers and observers. She writes, “I have received many private messages thanking me for the way I discuss things respectfully without backing away from the truth.”
The Truth is where all Gospel motivated conversations must lead, because the Gospel is a good and true story that must be faithfully proclaimed until the Lord comes.
Gently and respectfully, yes.
But clearly and passionately too.
Tell your story about Facebook faithfulness below.