Francis Chan is right. Sharing a meme on social media is not digital discipleship. Having a conversation online though is digital discipleship.
First, make time to engage with people. Start with, “How are you?” or ask them about the things they have posted online. Statuses and posts are conversation starters, even the ones about food.
Second, be discerning. I’ve encountered many posts where my fingers were ready to tap out a reply, but instead, I prayed and remained silent. Debates are unnecessary and mostly useless. All they do is create a divide. Invest in the relationships of the people you friend or follow. Get to know them as a friend, not a ministry leader, a pastor, or a missionary. People want authenticity. They want to see Christ in your life first.
Third, don’t be satisfied in simply sharing a meme or someone else’s post. Share your heart about why that post was worth sharing. While keeping your emotions private may be a generational thing, it doesn’t have to remain that way. Encourage questions. Be compassionate. Put the relationship and your concern for their eternal destination above a desire to be right. Reply to them promptly in private or public.
Discipleship is a long process. My goal is to help churches build digital teams that eventually become the whole church body using social media to share the Gospel in relationship to their communities and beyond.
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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.
Social Media professional, Giselle Aguiar, says, “You need to look at everything objectively. Step back and look at it through the eyes of your target market.”
When using social media, as not just a tool for business, but as a tool to disciple and spread the Gospel, you need to listen to her advice. Look at her suggestions here.
As a writer, you are taught to know your audience. This advice is applicable in life, planting churches, mission work, etc. Knowing your audience as a believer means following, mentoring, and praying for them. Shape your audience with the truth from a place of compassion. You can’t share the truth with them unless they let you in their community.
Have YOU ever listened to unsolicited advice?
Your blog or social media is an extension of your livingroom. Make it a great visit so they return.