“As social media ramp up in the majority world especially, many in the West are finding themselves increasingly disillusioned. Some are convinced that nothing good can possibly come of social media usage based on the fracturing and division it brings, especially amid recent political differences. While Facebook has unprecedented potential to bring people, ideas and groups together, it just as equally can degenerate into a soapbox that rarely changes anyone’s opinions.” Facebooking the Unreached
As I finished reading Facebooking the Unreached and the Media Impact Report, I am no less convinced that social media and technology in all its forms are capable of reaching the unreached. I could talk about the barriers I have encountered, but instead will share what this kind of ministry needs…
- A teachable spirit.
- Bold courage.
- Faith to walk the unknown and face fear.
- An understanding that the culture has changed and the world has changed. Time for grieving what was and for stepping out into this new frontier is now. In the words of one of my pastors (paraphrased), “The good old days are not here yet. When Jesus comes, then it will be the good days. The good days are coming.”
- People willing to learn how to write emotion and show emotion. Social media is a visual story. It’s an open canvas with unlimited possibilities of expression.
Church leaders only need to make the connection of the online world and Biblical application, adding how to reach people online via even Facebook, in a consistent manner in spite of how the congregation may feel. Over time, if the leader is the example online that he wants of his congregation, the congregation will eventually follow. What we need online are people who can…
- Exercise self-control (A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. – Proverbs 25:28).
- Get to know their audience so they understand trigger words which may shut down communication. Say the same thing a different way. (Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.)
The quote above accurately portrays the West (that’s us, by the way) and their use of social media. Some are disillusioned because they only need our leaders in church and our missionary organizations to help us get a better grasp on this tool and use it more intentionally.
(or why I don’t post like other social media people)
The leaves on the trees were an explosion of bright oranges, greens, and reds. Last week was peak Fall viewing, and by Monday, only a few brightly colored leaves hung from their boughs. In six months, those trees will begin to bud, and by summer, the cobblestone walkways will sit under the shade of the tree canopy again. Like the seasons, change is a normal part of social media and technology.
Take a breath, wait a day, or a week and something has already changed, or someone has already made a new, hot app that people rave about–Another opportunity for digital discipleship. My favorite social media people will have posted their tips or written their blogs (or updated and re-published their old blogs). When I started learning social media, I learned from people who called themselves “experts.” They were, and are, still my most valuable places to get new or updated information. But, if I post my strategies, if I share so openly, I realize I could be helping others who do not believe in what I believe be better at getting their beliefs in front of other people.
Already, I’ve seen this happen. People read the same blogs and they follow each other even if they do not share the same beliefs. Because it’s effective, that belief will succeed. I am also aware that what I post can be interpreted differently than what I intend. I let the “experts” share because they make a living out of it and because I’m not in competition.
One of my hard, fast rules is…I do not help businesses or nonprofits with social media unless they agree to do digital discipleship, too, as there are many great social media marketers who offer their services for a price. I can refer people to others. What I do is different, pioneering a new way where the church or non-profit can team with the missionary organization to work together to share the Gospel. Two articles pointed out that missions will come from the church and technology as we enter a new era of missions. My supported position helps all of WorldVenture–their global community, their partners, their church partners, and the community.
This is why I do not post like other social media people. I want to use what I’ve learned to help get the Gospel in front of people and the body of Christ to be the bridge that helps people cross the ravine of disbelief. The world is hurting and it is dark. Life means very little. I view my position as a support position that helps people see that marketing is also the accidental byproduct of digital discipleship. If you care, people will see that and come to you, if you are patient enough to pray and wait on the Lord for the results.
For the past month, Francis Chan’s book, Letters to the Church, weighed on my heart. His comments on social media and obscurity occupy my mind. In fact, as WorldVenture’s social media presence continues to grow, so do the conversations. Someone said social media is like someone’s personal paparazzi. In America, the temptation is to use our social media to become known as pastors and leaders, even as individuals in our communities, but what if obscurity is best?
Rick Warren and Francis Chan are celebrity pastors. Francis Chan’s Facebook fan page has 17,000 likes. Rick Warren’s Facebook post has 101 comments. According to Grand Canyon University, Francis Chan spoke to a packed stadium. That stadium seats 7,000 people.
The more well-known you become the fewer options you have in digital discipleship. Obscurity is key. People who work regular jobs (or are retired) with a couple of hundred social media friends can more successfully do digital discipleship with training and guidance than a celebrity pastor, and should; but when pastors hear about this vision God has placed on my heart, they think I am adding to their overpacked schedules. The opposite is true and more difficult.
For too long, the American church congregation has let the pastors and missionaries do discipleship. My pastor even said, “My job is to equip YOU.” A missionaries job is to equip national leaders that equip local Christians (basically working themselves out of a job). As I work with a church to develop a new way of discipleship and mentoring, I am reminded how little time pastors and missionaries have, and see the potential of an equipped church working in cooperation with their missionary agencies.
Churches focus on numbers on Sunday. Social Media marketers focus on stats, visits, likes, reactions, and comments. Each number is a face with a history. Each person we invest our time in can potentially complicate our lives. It can even be dangerous. Success isn’t a large congregation or 17,000 likes on a Facebook page.
Success is in how those numbers are being discipled, encouraged, and held accountable in their walk. My question when reading stats like 30 or even 30,000 was baptized is:
- Who is walking with them?
- Who is discipling them?
- And who is discipling the discipler?
Someone with zero Bible knowledge mentoring someone else with zero Bible knowledge reminds me of Matthew 15:14, “Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
“Just 11 percent have read the entire Bible, and the majority (30 percent) of Americans surveyed have read no more than several passages or stories. Even more shocking is that only about a third (36 percent) would describe the Bible as true, while 56 percent describe it as “a good source of morals.” (Influence Magazine, Jan. 2018)
Pastors like Rick Warren, Francis Chan, and our own pastors provide us with knowledge, and on social media, content (or they should) that we can use to share our faith walk online and disciple others. Those pastors are in the spotlight, but you can enjoy and embrace obscurity to share the Gospel and mentor others on and offline. Embrace obscurity. Embrace courage. Follow Jesus.
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On the tails of Facebook’s security breach, someone started a hoax that caused nation-wide panic and reminded me of Elf Bowling.
Elf Bowling began in 1998. Like Solitaire, we all had it on our computers at home and at work. In 1999, a hoax went around insinuating that, at midnight on Christmas Day, a hidden virus would infect every computer Elf Bowling was installed on. I still recall the panic I felt with my colleagues as we hastily dumped the game off our work and home computers only to realize we were duped. An unconfirmed rumor at the time suggested a competitive video game company created the hoax to drive profits away from the popular Christmas game. Passing on rumor does have consequences.
The Facebook hoax began with a message that said, “Hi….I actually got another friend request from you which I ignored so you may want to check your account. Hold your finger on the message until the forward button appears…then hit forward and all the people you want to forward too….I had to do the people individually. PLEASE DO NOT ACCEPT A NEW friendship FROM ME AT THIS TIME.”
Let’s explain why this hoax caused nation-wide panic.
“Hi….I actually got another friend request from you which I ignored so you may want to check your account.” This first line says the person who sent it received another friend request. When a person sends this to one or more of their friends, they are saying, “I received a friend request from you or someone acting like you on a duplicate Facebook profile,” when in fact, the person didn’t receive any requests. When a person sends this to someone they know on Facebook, it’s easy to take it at face value because we trust our friends.
This part of the message caused nation-wide panic. Numerous Facebook statuses began populating my newsfeed stating people had been hacked. This last part made one person uninstall their Facebook messaging because so many people did exactly what the last part of the message said, “Hold your finger on the message until the forward button appears…then hit forward and all the people you want to forward too….I had to do the people individually.”
Thankfully, I only received three forwarded messages. Others received far more, and it reminded me of Elf Bowling’s hoax because this hoax followed the recent Facebook security breach as if the hoaxster intended to discredit Facebook and cause people to delete their profiles. We need to take care what we forward to others.
If we are building relationships online, we need to act with discernment in what we choose to forward. Ask yourself these questions before forwarding an email or Facebook message:
- Is it true? If not, don’t send it. To check out a forward, do a Google search. I used, “Facebook Hoax” and, because it was the latest news, this particular hoax popped up. You can put in a few words in the story you are reading to see if anything will pop up on Google.
- Does the person you send the forward to like forwards? If you don’t know, have they ever responded to your forwards? If no, don’t send it. I once sent a group message and received irritated responses. I haven’t sent a group message since as I understand it annoys my Facebook friends. It’s all about knowing your audience.
In case you get messages like the latest Facebook hoax, send a text to your friend to verify if she sent the message. And, if anyone sends a message similar to this, and it asks you to forward it to all of your friends, don’t do it.
To kill this hoax, many, including myself, replied to statuses and posted our own statuses alerting everyone to this hoax so the forwards would stop and people’s phones would no longer vibrate with messaging notifications. Remnants continue, but for the most part, it is slowly fading, but like all forwards, I’m sure it will re-circulate with different words to see if resurrection is possible.
We can all fall for hoaxes once in a while. It happens. Don’t be hard on yourself if you did it. Learn from it and continue using your online profile to build relationships that open up to Gospel conversations.
As far as Elf Bowling…
I still miss Elf Bowling. Once it was deleted from our work and home computers in 1999, we all mourned the loss of the file. Between phone calls and projects, it built relationships between employees as we laughed together.
Your Church or organization’s Facebook is more than just an extension of your bulletin. Make it a rich experience that offers value in the way of inspiration, content that helps someone navigate life, discover who they are in Jesus, and personalize it with stories of what God is doing in and through your congregations. Your Facebook page is not about marketing, but about serving.
Mobile Ministry Forum has it right. In an article called What You Need to Effectively Use New Media by Dr. Frank Preston, one quote made me nod vigorously,
“The research theory that underpins this is what is called the use and gratifications model. This theory states that people are limited by both cognitive capacity and time and therefore will only consume media that fits their needs in their timeframe. Since consumers have a limited attention span, then they quickly forget the message if it is not immediately applicable to them. This is what is called “recency and regency” (recent time and importance) of a media message. By nature, New Media is data driven. Every step in the process needs to be measured and evaluated. If a person “hits” on your media (listens, buys, tunes in, lands on your page, goes to your Facebook, etc.) it is because they want to. (emphasis mine)”
That’s what I’m trying to do as I revamp how WorldVenture uses their social media. Even though I work a full-time job to pay the bills while I raise the capital to take on my new position with WorldVenture full time, I am doing a small part of my job description–coordinating their social media and working with our workers globally to tell their stories. Social Media is all about digital discipleship. What I discovered was how many of our worker’s newsletters come with snippets of wisdom and inspiration from a point of view most of us will never experience. Marry that with nice graphics and put it on social media and it’s not surprising how people take to it.
The data are people, not merely numbers, who are looking for something. We can’t put that data into a box away from our emotions. We have to care. We have to love even the trolls who pepper our posts with ugliness. That’s why I see every person as real and give each person my time. But there are too many people, and no one can run a Facebook page and expect to do digital discipleship alone.
There are 500 plus workers and appointees with WorldVenture. How many people are online in your church congregations or ministries? Why aren’t you training them to use Social Media to do more than just hit the share button, and instead, share their life experiences with people hungry for the Gospel? Some simple things you can do right now with your Facebook page:
- Reply to comments as meaningfully as possible. If people left you comments, they deserve a response because each comment is a gift.
- Don’t just post content to fill space. Who are your followers? What do they need?
- Follow up with people. Do they live in the area? Can you foster good relations, maybe make a new friend, and meet them for coffee in the face-to-face world?
- Can you help connect them with a church or ministry who can help meet a need in their life?
Whatever you feel about social media, it is here to stay and will continue to evolve quickly. We can either adapt or become obsolete. It can nicely partner with face-to-face activities, but like our friendships in the face-to-face life, it will take some effort and prayer.
Strategy, marketing, and all the ugly words we associate with the secular world make it difficult for the church body to embrace media. How do we turn our online habits into healthy habits and use strategy? Tony Whittaker wrote, Why Bother with Strategies for Lausanne Media Engagement Network, and he says,
“Some people might ask, “Why do we need evangelistic strategies at all? Surely we are just called on to preach the gospel, plain and straight, and leave God to do the rest?” Even the words ‘communication strategies’ may seem to imply worldly marketing methods rather than a dependence on the power of the gospel through the Holy Spirit. There are a number of answers to this very reasonable question. The Word ‘preach’ does not just mean ‘one-way verbal communication’ – as in a sermon or evangelistic address. It has a much broader sense – ‘to effectively communicate’. If the receivers have not understood the message, real communication has probably not occurred. The word ‘communicate’ also has a root meaning that helps us: that of ‘communing’ or interacting over ‘common’ ground.”
This article effectively outlines what that strategy should look like and gives ideas. All strategy employed must begin with prayer. My prayer has always come from Matthew 4:19 of the CEB when Jesus promises to show us how to reach people. Marketing or strategy are simply methods used to get information in front of people in a format they can understand so a conversation can happen. Social Media is built around relationships. How can we build relationships with people if we don’t show them some common ground? People in ministry aren’t the only ones who should pay attention to strategy. Everyone is capable of learning new things and should seek to understand the communication tools marketers and ministry partners use. Because each person has a social media profile, each person can prayerfully determine the audience they wish to reach, but don’t be a preacher.
Communicate. Talk to people. Converse.
An article about Google search terms years ago reminds me daily that God is asking us to serve outside the walls of the church. In that article, the writer said suicide was a term searched from midnight on. Maybe some of us ought to take the night shift on social media and learn to listen, armed with resources to give when the moment calls for it?
Sometimes, I think the church needs to re-learn how to make a conversation. Like in church when someone asks in passing, “How are you?” to which “fine” is the expected answer, a reaction or like shouldn’t be the only responses online. How you converse or respond to someone is up to you, but social media allows us to have conversations at any time of day or night.
In either case, you are online whether by boredom or just to see the grandkids’ photo. You’ve developed a habit with your phone. Let’s make your online habits healthy:
- Are you talking or preaching? Are you listening?
- Are you preaching to the choir or are you making a difference?
- Is your social media a pulpit for your favorite political party?
- Are you aware of trigger words with people you are friends with? How are you using your words online? Do you know the people you friend?
- Do you pray for a people group? Is your social media friendly to that people group or religion? Your social media can connect with them personally.
If communication shuts down because of a disagreement, your opportunity is lost. Do everything possible to keep that line open. How you post online is really determined by who you have friended, where they are from, and what they believe. Social Media is known for its dark side. Ask the Lord to show you HOW to follow Him and HOW to build good friendships online so we allow God to shine a light through it.
Learning a computer and using social media is about creating a habit. According to a Google search, it takes 21-days to create a habit. If you love to journal, instead of writing out your journal by hand, practice using Word or Google Doc each day to write your journal. Next, practice saving it in folders separated by month, day, and year.
Do this each day for 30 minutes to one hour. Include sharing a public portion of your new journal onto your social media and add a photo you took that supports the story you are telling.
That is uncomplicated, authentic influence.
In 7 Trends Impacting the Church by Chris Railey, he says,
“We never compromise the centrality of our Gospel message, but we are always on the lookout for ways to preach it to more people.”
As a Digital Engagement and Disciple-Making Coordinator with WorldVenture, currently an appointee, that quote sums up my feelings about the church and missions. The article talks about 7 trends currently impacting the church.
- We should be flexible and be ready to adapt.
- Being aware of trends helps us better serve a broken world.
The article goes over church planting trends, evolving consumer trends, etc. What I focused on was how other generations are focused on the quality of discipleship. They don’t care who writes the discipleship material, but what’s in it. One part talked about the church as an investment for a generation. Church shouldn’t be treated as an investment. Then, the article explores immigration.
- Young professionals and immigrants are moving into the cities.
- Gentrification of urban areas or urban renewal brings more expensive housing, forcing other diverse peoples to move into suburban areas. Suburban areas are now flavored by diverse points of view and other cultures.
- Urban areas face income inequality, open hostility to Christianity, and people who are more alone, detached, and divided.
Major concerns were:
- Not many Christians sharing their faith. The article says, “People are afraid of not being able to answer questions and are afraid of arguments.” With the support of our church and international workers and the internet, we can get comfortable saying, “Let me get back to you.” It’s okay not to have all the answers.
- Over-politization of everything. I loved what the article said, “Christianity’s cause is the Gospel, not a political party’s platform.”
- Our young people live in a global community with the onset of the internet.
- Is our church prepared to serve cross-culturally? We should partner with our missionary organizations to learn how. Even non-urban areas are experiencing cross-cultural ministry. It’s an ever-increasing reality.
The article gives a lot of good insight. The church can adapt without compromising the Gospel and do whatever it takes to share their faith with others. Sometimes, it just means learning new disciplines or new habits, like utilizing their smartphones and tablets for more intentional usage.