The ‘digital age’ is wider than social media, e.g. thinking about how Bibles can be got into countries where they are banned on SD cards, etc, but within this short session we are going to look at evangelism as it relates to SOCIAL media.
Often when am working with groups who are fearful of getting involved, focus is upon words such as “digital”, “technology”, “toolkit”, “media” etc. but if we change the focus to “social” then we are back in more familiar territory.. Into the notion of being ‘in relationship’, using ‘communication’….
And as Prof David Wilkinson would say - we are created by a God who rejoices in our 2-way communication with him… so note that we are called also to be extravagant communicators… - for much of what I do, it’s about commonality, finding a starting point and then getting to know each other. These have always been the essential building blocks of any relationship (and for want of a better term, relationship evangelism), in which there is a strong focus on LISTENING and ENGAGING, rather than “pushing stuff out”…
In a world where it’s OK to be a Mac evangelist, but not a Christian evangelist… seen militant supporters for/against Apple, and also for evangelism, and this is not a new thing!
What is possibly different is that we need to understand “the culture” that we are engaging with… and when I say “the culture” – we have to remember that “digital culture” is comprised of a range of systems, including email, websites, different social media platforms – each with different etiquette (like Australasia has several v different cultures within it)…
As the church has previously sought to understand overseas cultures, for the purposes of both discipleship and mission, so now it seeks to engage with digital culture – a space where many spend a considerable amount of time daily. (previous) Pope Benedict XVI put it this way (2013): [quote]
The Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) was mission-centric, respecting and adapting to the culture in which he found himself, rather than imposing himself upon it.
We might want to challenge the research methodology, but still significant proportions – and remember also, that one person reading, may then share (offline) with other friends so… worth noting that people are not 100% digital so need to think how to make the ONLINE/OFFLINE work together…
Meantime: Ofsted - Over eight in ten (83%) of adults now go online using any type of device in any location. Nearly all 16-24s and 25-34s are now online (98%), and there has been a nine percentage point increase in those aged 65+ ever going online (42% vs. 33% in 2012).
I wrote this piece for Durham university the week before the election on how political parties are not really getting the hang of social media, because they are NOT EMBEDDED USERS– they are still using it as a broadcast tool, top-down, and for the purposes of propaganda, rather than to truly engage with the electorate.
This was partly drawn from my experience of discussing how churches can reach out – and many are using digital technology/social media in similar ways – and that churches are organisations would probably do better to concentrate their efforts on ensuring that the content that their congregations want to share is easy to find/accessible, so that the congregation members (of whatever age), who are the ‘NETWORKS OF NETWORKS’ can share that content…
Sites that do this kind of thing include Jesus Daily, with over 26m likes on Facebook, with this kind of image that they hope people will share (and over 250 had in less than 45 mins), but also ones that I find more problematic, e.g. “If you love Jesus like/share/type Amen”, which I find rather “chain-letter-ish”, but if that part of a general discomfort with overt evangelism in general?
Does numbers involved equate with effective evangelism? Or is it just reaching the already converted?
Another site that seeks to provide content for people to use is YesHeIs.com (and yes, there are other sites), which seeks to provide videos, etc. that users can share with their friends. We see here the most popular draws upon the ‘celebrity’ factor – despite the oft shared idea that social media has flattened “voices” and that all can have a voice – old power structures continue to exist, and those that have power offline, typically have power online (possible online, but not the utopia we were first presented with) ….
BUT these only really have power when used with a personal story. People are interested in their friends, and want to know why x is being shared – e.g. I typically tweet or Facebook through or after sermons, but usually just things that really stand out – and therefore are connected to something that is meaningful to me, which makes sense to friends…
It’s possible at a simple level to e.g. share Bible verses in our FB/Twitter feed, but without personalised context as to why something is meaningful to me, does it make any sense as communication (of course we could do it for ourselves, but there’s a limit to how many times we might do that!)…
Student who just had Bible verses in their feed – lacked personality, but also complete lack of faith-based content, what does that say about who we are?
Lifestyle = includes online!
Important in our thinking on this is the notion that we are talking about ‘online/offline’, not ‘virtual’real’ … relationships online have a different nature, but they are as valid and real as offline relationships, and for many the edges are entirely blurred as conversations online in between face-to-face meets change the nature of offline conversations (sometimes allowing for deeper conversations in either space)…
Disinhibition – seen as problematic (bullying), but also leaves space open for conversation, including ‘seekers’ who know that particular users are Christians – may ask questions …
An old verse still stands true here … be prepared to give an answer, when ASKED (rather than throwing out), with GENTLENESS and RESPECT … we can’t DICTATE what other’s say online, but we can think about our own interactions…
Of course, sites such as this (by CEA) can help people answer the questions that can seem difficult (don’t need to rely on supernatural intervention for the answers, we have been given the skills/technology to share)… important of KEYWORDS, and back to the idea of LISTENING – do we know the terms that they are SEARCHING for so that we can adapt the wording (naturally!) so that can be found…
Note: where is the place of proclamation – social media is more about sharing our own stories with friends and being ready to respond – there is still a place, but it’s in the wider digital platforms…
So – what do you think? What does it make you think about engaging online, how we share our faith, how we make Jesus real to people?
Evangelism in a Digital Age for Christian Enquiry Agency
Evangelism in a Digital Age
Dr Bex Lewis, Research Fellow in Social Media and Online Learning, CODEC, Durham University;
Director, Digital Fingerprint
Assigned Creative Commons Licence 4.0 non-commercial
For: Christian Enquiry Agency
Rev Prof DavidWilkinson
God is a communicating God:
“In the beginning was the
word, and the word was
God is extravagant in
communication – he is not a
silent God who has to be
tempted into communicating
Image Credit: Durham University
The digital environment is not a parallel or
purely virtual world, but is part of the daily
experience of many people, especially the
young. Social networks are the result of human
interaction, but for their part they also reshape
the dynamics of communication, which builds
relationships: a considered understanding of
this environment is therefore a prerequisite for
a significant presence there.
Pope Benedict XVI (2013)
As indicated in my book, Raising Children in a Digital Age, although
children aren’t ‘digital natives’ who are ‘fundamentally different
from us’, they have grown up in a time when the digital is an
embedded part of their everyday life.
Most politicians are clearly not using social media in an embedded
way, but as a digital marketing tool, and this is seen as inauthentic.
We need to look at the underlying culture and assess whether
traits such as collaboration, innovation, transparency, and
openness belong solely to the younger generation. Reports such as
the Ipsos MORI Who is Generation Next? have indicated what the
concerns of the younger generation are, and what they might
expect from their politicians.
Young people want to know that they are being listened to, that
their voices count, and that they are not being patronised.
Darren Hill,TheWorship Cloud
All these great Bible verses
arrive on my feed without any
context, background or
explanation. As believers we
are fine with this, we of
course know the context to
any text that appears online…
don’t we? But what about
Image Credit: Darren Hill
The greatest single cause of
atheism in the world today is
Christians who acknowledge Jesus
with their lips and walk out the
door and deny him by their life
style. That is what an unbelieving
world simply finds unbelievable.
Image Source: Stockfresh
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
But in your hearts revere Christ as
Lord. Always be prepared to give an
answer to everyone who asks you to
give the reason for the hope that you
have. But do this with gentleness and
Relax, enjoy your friends. Enjoy their
company along with the company of
Jesus. Point him out, freely, without
fear or intimidation. You’re not
responsible to sell him to them.
You’re simply saying what you’ve seen.
You're not the judge. You’re the